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Time to tear down the wallpaper?

By James Mayfield

Jeff diligently entered his customer, channel and behavioural data into the marketing communication machine and pressed ‘go’.

He stood back and waited, satisfied that his new campaign would be a success. After a few encouraging noises from his campaign printer, out popped a tightly crafted, but frequently repeated and rather generic pattern: the communications wallpaper.

Our ill-fated, but fictional marketeer, Jeff, isn’t just a figure of our imagination. His plight is representative of marketing executives across the pharmaceutical industry. So, where do people like Jeff go wrong and what can be done to help?

Where did it all go wrong?

In short, Jeff hadn’t done anything wrong. He’d understood the audience, targeted a behaviour change, considered the channels and crafted the messaging. The only problem was that everyone else had done the same.

With a limited audience, some restrictive covenants and, crucially, access to the same data and channels as his competitors, it was inevitable that his communications would end up like wallpaper.

But what about unique products, such as those offering distinct outcomes, special benefits or a patient-centred approach? Surely there is an opportunity here to stand out. And yet, how many times have you heard the phrase ‘it’s a bit pharma’ levelled at an advert for a novel treatment or breakthrough drug?

Finding points of difference

Clearly, Jeff needs a new approach. However, that doesn’t mean throwing out the communication science – that’s there for a reason. He just needs to be smarter about how he applies it to create a differential point of engagement.

This elusive element may not necessarily be found in the advertising visual or messaging. It may be found elsewhere in the customer journey, in a different medium or in the choice of communication placement.

Where do we start?

Let’s start with a new objective: how can we engage our audience? The key to success here is ‘engage’, not ‘like’. Too much market research in pharma ends up tracking doctors’ likes and dislikes, for example, data-based content and patient-focused imagery.

With digital forms of engagement becoming increasingly popular in pharma, there are smarter ways to measure which content doctors engage with and how they engage with it. Understanding these drivers fuels smarter strategies and better creativity.

Doing things differently

So, back to Jeff and his next campaign launch. He’s done all the market segmentation and research and has identified a key group of early adopters (maybe only 5-10% of the overall target group). Insight tells him these are likely to be his first users and key to driving uptake.

So, he builds his communications single- mindedly around these needs. If they engage, the communications have done their job.

Whether the other 90% likes or dislikes the approach is not important. Why? Because the most effective influence on a doctor is other doctors – ie, peer-to-peer endorsement. If the target group has a great experience and tells others about it, he can reach out to this extended audience.

Time for lift-off

Effective and efficient communication can be achieved by picking your audience and your moment. If your research is on the money, your key targets will extend your reach. Now’s the time to build the momentum, whether it’s through video, advertising, social media or meetings.

Have both the courage and the vision to push the possibilities for your brand. Let’s put up rockets, not wallpaper.

James Mayfield is Creative Director at Purple Agency

In association with

20th October 2020

From: Marketing

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