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Indefinable, incomparable and enduring: the value of creativity

Building an environment that encourages, nurtures and harnesses creativity

creativeTwenty years ago, my first ever article as a salaried journalist explored ‘creativity in pharmaceutical marketing’. Two decades later and, though the worlds of both pharma and communications are now vastly different, the core principles described in 1998 remain the same today. Creativity is subjective, intangible and indefinable. It stirs the emotions. It unites and it divides. Good, bad or indifferent, it gets everyone talking. Commentators claim that creativity is the most powerful competitive advantage a business has, possessing the unique ability to change minds and change behaviours. And yet… the formidable power of creativity can often be overlooked, undervalued and unexplored. All of which leads to a familiar discussion: if creativity is the magic stardust that helps brands and businesses rise and shine, how do we create the environment that encourages, nurtures and harnesses it to deliver tangible business value? More specifically, can we build that culture in the highly regulated  market for pharmaceuticals where creative communication plays by different rules?

Challenging the stereotypes It’s a common cliché that creative genius cannot be taught; it’s apparently the preserve of free-thinking, non-conforming eccentrics with big imaginations and a healthy disregard for rules. Yet creativity doesn’t do stereotypes; it’s not an exact science and there’s no formula or textbook to guide us. Moreover, the notion that we cannot ‘learn’ creativity is countered by a paradoxical view: we’re all born creative but it’s educated out of us at school. This fascinating philosophy busts a myth and provides clues for a more creative future. Confused? Let me explain.

In 2016, the Worldwide Chief Creative Officer of a leading global communications agency said that we need to debunk the notion that creativity is elusive, mysterious and the domain of the few. “Young people fizz with ideas,” he said. “But the moment they go to school they begin to lose the freedom to explore, take risks and experiment. We need to empower people to use their imaginations. Not everyone can be Mozart, but everyone can sing.”It’s a theory that got me thinking: did everyone in pharma study at the same school? Because if 20 years of writing about creativity in pharma has taught me anything, it’s that – despite the best efforts of the ‘creative industries’ – freedom, risk-taking and experimentation are not typically associated with pharmaceutical marketing.

But perhaps I’m guilty of old-school thinking. Primarily, pharma has never been creatively starved – its creatives are among the very best. What’s more, recent conversations suggest that historic creative shackles that have hidden behind regulations are finally being removed. The worm is turning.Secondly, my lazy language would no doubt earn a stern rebuke from our worldwide CCO, whose deconstruction of commonly-used terminology frames a wider point about the value of creativity: “Whenever I hear the phrase ‘creative industries’, I’m always surprised,” he says. “I ask myself, are there any uncreative industries? If so how do they survive? Innovate or die is not just a slogan, it’s a vital truth.” He’s right. Businesses without creativity at their heart are dead in the water. Since pharma is consistently one of the world’s most profitable sectors – boasting some of its biggest-grossing brands – it must be doing a lot of things right. Let’s take a closer look.

21st century creative

Primarily, the industry has been on a journey. Twenty years ago, ‘creative’ was purely a tactical output; a print ad, a detail aid and maybe an exhibition stand. Today it’s a whole new ball game. “Creativity is much broader than the tactics of a marketing campaign,” says Aaron Bean, Life Sciences, EY UK & Ireland. “It’s about finding new ways to do things that inspire people to behave differently – and that’s never been more important in healthcare, with all the challenges around affordability and helping patients access innovative medicines. Companies are exploring innovative ways to cut through the noise and make audiences pause, reflect and then change their behaviour. Creativity is at the heart of that process. But to resonate it must be honest, authentic and bold.”

So how’s it doing? Two years ago, an IPA report described a ‘creative crash’, where a shift to short-termism had fuelled an erosion in creativity across all industries. Well almost all; the word on the street in pharma is that creativity is in rude health.

“Creativity in pharma is more valued and more important than it has ever been,” says Kim Hughes, Managing Director, LEC. “Companies know that in an environment where drugs increasingly have similar clinical profiles and data, they need to find something that makes them stand out. Creativity is a differentiator. And as brand teams recognise this, they’re exploring a breadth and diversity of creativity that’s never previously been seen. And their execution through multiple channels is bolder and more compelling. These are really exciting times.”

The industry’s exploration of non-traditional channels is an indication of growing confidence. “The modes we communicate through have changed – we’re now increasingly using platforms where there was once reticence, fear and caution,” says Sinead Murphy, Creative Director, Syneos Health Communications. “Pharma has recognised that many HCPs are now digital natives, so they’re engaging them online and having authentic conversations that use ‘human’ rather than ‘technical’ language.  A recent study cited pharma as  one of four industries likely to dominate social media in 2018 – with companies talking about disease not brands and developing engaging online personalities. That’s hugely positive and a sign of creative confidence.”

Moreover, as pharma’s tactical use of multichannel marketing improves, the ‘creative concept’ is rightfully becoming the strategic glue that binds everything together. “The industry is now in a better place than ever,” says Jon Yuill, Creative Director, Carling Communications. “Creativity is no longer just about creating a great ad, it’s about delivering a great experience. The best creative campaigns are those that take a brilliant idea and integrate it right through print, apps, HCP experience and patient experience. Crucially, ‘digital’ has become just another part of the mix, rather than an isolated function that bolts onto the side of it. Brand teams are really embracing the integrated approach and working hard to ensure that creative  ideas translate both strategically and tactically.”

The art of storytelling

The challenge, of course, is measuring success. The core metrics are invariably sales-led and data-driven, and that’s not necessarily a good measure of creativity. Human choices are based on complex individual factors, cognitive bias and deep-rooted beliefs. Since the rationale for decision-making is often intangible, the influence of creativity on those decisions is largely unmeasurable. Although proxies like how many people have downloaded your app or clicked on your web page are useful, they don’t tell the full story. In fact, in an era where storytelling has become the ultimate creative art, success should not be measured by how long people have spent on your site or your exhibition stand but by the quality of the conversation that they had there. Much of  that is intuitive.

“It all boils down to storytelling,” says Kim “If you’re confident in your story and communicating it well, you’ll win – and you’ll know you’re winning. Marketing is no longer about noise level and visibility, it’s about communicating – and those communications are now more personal and targeted. The creativity is not so much in the big idea but in the stories you tell and how you tell them.

“Great storytelling is about ensuring that the narrative is the right one for your audience. We need to segment those audiences and work out what’s meaningful to them – and then communicate on their terms not our own. We do lots of work around language auditing to make sure communications speak in voices that connect and mean something to the target audience. The challenge is to tell different stories to different people, each of whom has very different decision-making filters. It’s actually the same story, but our job is to make it matter to  the person who is listening.  That’s the art of great storytelling and great creativity.”

Real-world problem solving

So what are the other key components? Jon Yuill believes that the “human connection” is a vital ingredient of creativity but says that, as society’s appetite for technology grows, there’s a danger of this becoming lost. “Creative has to be something that’s arresting, different and perhaps unexpected – but if it doesn’t touch the human spirit, it fails. Technology is increasingly being used creatively to solve all kinds of problems. That’s great. But in the headlong rush to make everything digital, it’s important to remember that there’s no substitute for the human touch. Disruption is all very well, but there are countless ways our lives are digitally disrupted every day – and not all of them are engaging or helpful. The best creative will always disrupt, but in ways that make human connections and touch the soul. We should never forget that.”

Another key component is utility; creativity must be useful. “I passionately believe that the ultimate role of creativity, particularly in this industry, is to help,” says Sinead. “Our job is to help doctors prescribe confidently, help nurses provide the best care and help patients make well-informed decisions. Because fundamentally, creativity is about problem-solving. The best communications are useful and solution-focused. As communicators, our role is to impart information in the most intuitive, seamless, painless and efficient way. The doctors’ journeys see them encounter content across multiple channels every day. We need to interact with them in non-intrusive ways that support them through that journey. There’s opportunity for creativity in all those touchpoints, but we must ensure we connect all the dots and tell a consistent story that helps them solve their problems.”

Creative thinking

In fact, the opportunities for creativity are not just in the final execution, they’re scattered throughout what is a dynamic, organic and ever-changing process. Aaron Bean believes there are five areas where pharma can build creativity. “Firstly, there’s scope for creativity in how you understand your customers, leveraging behavioural economics or new data sources like the Internet of Things, wearables, sensors and social listening. Secondly, creativity in customer experience; how innovative is your customer engagement, from a channel and a content perspective? For example, some companies are using Augmented Reality to explain complex concepts. The challenge is to join everything up and avoid the digital/marketing divide. The third is creative storytelling; how do your campaigns build on one another to create those emotional connections? Fourthly, there’s huge opportunity for creativity around your value proposition; how do you broaden the scope so that it’s not just about the product? Services that deliver value to prescribers, payers and patients will be crucial. It’s a rich ground for creativity. Finally, marketing needs to expand into outcomes-based contracting; how you contract with payers, beyond the pill, provides real opportunity for creativity that integrates all the components of the creative story.”

The key to all of it, says Aaron, is to take a risk-based, rather than risk-averse, approach. “Creativity means being bold – but that doesn’t have to mean risk. With the right frameworks in place, companies can make bold, sensible and creative moves that don’t land them in trouble.”

To boldly go…Ultimately, creative success is about being brave. For pharma, this may require companies rethinking how they work with their creative agencies. “The relationship is king,” says Kim. “If you give your agency clarity, depth of knowledge and the insight they need, together you can do amazing things.”

Trust is pivotal. “Trust your agency with the space to be creative,” says Sinead. “Give them room to move. Creatives like to feel like there are no boundaries at the beginning; let them loose and see what they can do. You can always pull something back. Give them the problem you’re trying to solve and let them explore the best way to attack it.”

Finally, as Henri Matisse said: “Creativity takes courage.” Jon Yuill agrees. “Every agency has great ideas but the best ones are always in the top drawer. The successful marketers are often those that have the courage to pick it up and run with it all the way through. With good strategy, good creative and vast amounts of courage, brands can make a huge difference. You don’t need big budgets; you just need a big imagination and the will to do  it well.”

Chris Ross is a freelance writer specialising in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry

28th June 2018

Chris Ross is a freelance writer specialising in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry

28th June 2018

From: Marketing



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