Within the Brexit and Trump phenomenon there is a striking insight into assumption.
In both cases, what turned out to be a minority of the population made an assumption about the majority.
The privileged few thought that the majority would naturally think the same way as they do. How wrong they were.
The resulting cognitive dissonance is making a lot of people feel very uncomfortable with the world, but the truth is that the world hasn't changed at all, it's just punched through the membrane that was previously allowing us to deny it. There many interesting parts to this puzzle, not least the backlash against Facebook for serving targeted articles that reinforce the beliefs of self-selected communities of friends. How does that make any sense? You 'friend' a group of people you grew up with, studied with and work with; by definition they're likely to share similar beliefs to you. It makes no sense to be offended when the same algorithm that serves up artisan gin adverts serves you articles reinforcing your own politics.
Then there's the middle class petition to lobby middle class brands to stop advertising in newspapers that don't support the middle class narrative. I despise prejudice too but trying to detach a brand from an advertiser because you think that brand is only for 'good' people is an attempt to shore up the very social divide that lies at the root of the problem.
Recently I attended a workshop where a lovely metaphor was used to describe the response of established brands and businesses to change. It works for people too. Think of a fresh egg broken into a hot frying pan, as the oil heats up it is the fat at the very edge of the pan which begins to sizzle first, and then moves towards the egg albumin which begins to cook and turn white. The last part the heat reaches is the egg yolk.
So it is for markets, populations and audiences; it's often not until the change is right on top of us that we notice it approaching and react. We are the yolk, the white is our immediate category and the pan is the broader market/population.
Brexit and Trump are indicators of massive change that we would do well to accept and understand so we can adapt
Brexit and Trump are indicators of massive change that we would do well to accept and understand so we can adapt. The audience that has chosen this change is growing and occupies a different world and a different mentality from that of the 5%. If you are reading this you are very likely to be in the 5% and quite possibly in the top 1% wealth-wise.
Much of this global audience is less concerned with the quantified self than they are with the fed and employed self.
What, I wonder, would be the Trump or Brexit for the pharmaceutical industry?
Are the pharma 'haters' simply undereducated and ignorant of the complexities of the pharmaceutical business? Oblivious to the fact that it takes $2bn to bring a new medicine to market and that most drugs don't make it past phase II?
Or is that completely missing the point?
Maybe the level of understanding doesn't matter because after all, perception is reality.
Maybe the millions spent on PR and infographics for Twitter is directed in the wrong direction?
However unpalatable the outcomes of the referendum and US election may be to some, it's obvious that both Trump and Farage did something very differently from what has happened before:
Let's separate the intent from the execution:
Suddenly this all sounds like common sense and a completely plausible communication strategy. So why don't we do it this way? Why is the approach so often more like the following…
OK, so this an intentionally exaggerated perspective, but if you recognise anything in the above then there's an opportunity to change and improve.
A lot of what we do and think in healthcare marketing is driven by decades-old dogma. Our regulation has become detached from the reality of how people expect to access information and what they believe their rights are in terms of content: I can Google better quality information about my white goods than I can about my branded arthritis medicine. Customer service, or UX; the goal for every major brand seems to be a distant dream for pharma. The few patients who are aware they can call medical information are presented with a process designed to deliver effective pharmacovigilance rather than a great experience.
Many of the changes in communication are about shifting perspectives and abandoning long-held assumptions
We've always been a bit slow to change in pharma, but the egg white around us is now well cooked and most of our yolks are still very runny. Some of the above needs regulatory change to happen, so let's start driving that change, but many of the changes in communication are about shifting perspectives and abandoning long-held assumptions rather than lobbying governments.
Some of it is about fundamentally revaluating what it means for a healthcare company to 'care'. Maybe cracking that last part and uncovering the fundamental underlying connection is the key to building bridges back to the neglected majority, and maybe there's an implication behind that idea that we need to return to servicing a high-volume, low-cost model in consumer healthcare, and a parity pricing model in Rx.
Combine that with great UX and high integrity communicated through modern channels and suddenly it feels like we're adapting to change rather than being a spectator to it.
Michael Le Brocq is planning director at McCann Health