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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Harnessing the power of cultural insight to build meaningful healthcare strategies

By Gemma McCarthy

Gemma McCarthy

Why would American patients with sickle cell disease put on their smartest outfit before going to the ER for urgent pain relief during a sickle cell crisis, when European patients would not?

The question can be answered when we overlay the cultural context of the opioid crisis in North America and appreciate the potential for negative perceptions of requests for opioids.

We now understand that American patients adapt their behaviour for fear being of perceived as an opioid abuser, whereas European patients do not experience the same stigma.

This scenario is a prime example of how culture provides a broader context to our understanding and demonstrates how it is a powerful decision aid, even in the highly rational world of science and medicine.

Historically, healthcare communication strategy has focused on the rational – the objective facts that differentiate one brand from another, but in an increasingly complex world uncovering the human truth behind decisions requires broader investigation.

Take type 2 diabetes, where healthcare practitioners not only have an increased case load due to increasingly sedentary lifestyles, poor diet and an ageing population, but also have an increased choice in therapeutic options due to the introduction of biosimilars to the market.

The rational line of thinking would be that cost is going to be the main differentiating factor in a commoditised market, but what if the lower-cost options all come as single use or disposable injectors?

A shift in preference for reusable, refillable insulin pens due to a growing eco-conscious movement in some European countries is a cultural factor we cannot ignore and puts marketing challenges in a new light.

Cultural awareness doesn’t just impact understanding of customer behaviour and product choice but can also uncover new opportunities.

This summer, NICE included environmental considerations in their patient guidance material in asthma, based on the finding that some types of controller inhaler emit huge amounts of greenhouse gases.

In this case, the eco-conscious cultural shift highlights the opportunity that identification of novel MOAs can not only improve control but also provide a greener option to current treatment options.

At Havas Life Medicom, we realise that culture is the often-overlooked missing link that underpins decision making, and weknow that uncovering these insights can transform our understanding of the market and the customer experience.


Contact us at havaslifemedicom.com to learn more about how we invert the traditional, rational model to build meaningful healthcare brands and strategy based on powerful human insights.

Gemma McCarthy is director of Strategy and Planning at Havas Life Medicom

11th November 2019

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