Washington, DC — It’s always nice to see standout marketing from the pharmaceutical industry featured in the advertising press. Sure, Coke and Google are in almost every isue of AdWeek. But, when we create something that actually rises above all the fine print to deliver an experience that people want to spend time with, and even pass on, well, that’s like the advertising master class.

So, when Juli Cavnar and Ryan Deshazer sent me Joan Voight’s article, Welcome to the New Face of Big Pharma, it went to the top of my reading list. Voight’s focus was on how the Accountable Care Act (ACA) will change healthcare marketing, moving us, in her words, “from pill pusher to best friend”:

  1. Rush on the doctor’s office: Hundreds of thousands of newly insured Americans will overwhelm primary care practices, increasing the amount of help the practice needs from partners like pharma. Voight pointed to MerckEngage as an example of just how that could work. The site has offered its 8.2 million visitors “free personal health tracking, daily planners, food and exercise tips, email messages, and content updates.”
  2. Pressure to not get sicker: One of the core cost-reducing tenants of the ACA is that if we can keep people with chronic diseases from getting sicker or having unnecessary hospitalizations we can change the game. That gives adherence programs center stage. The article mentions an AstraZeneca program that lets “Patients enrolled in the program collect, transmit and review their own clinical data, while their doctors use real-time information to personalize each patient’s care, adjust meds and possibly prevent hospitalization.” Pretty cool.
  3. The expectations of strange bed fellows: Overall effectiveness will become a big driver in determining what drug can be prescribed. That means it’s not just up to the doctor to decide. Instead, insurers and efficiency-focused healthcare networks have important seats at the table. Bundling an Rx with education or tools – also called creating value around the pill – can increase the total effectiveness. Voight points to Eli Lilly’s online diabetes marketing and Disney partnership as great examples. The most used part of the site is the bundle: download portable customized tools.

What’s interesting about all three is that there’s not a mention of message in the bunch. Those standout examples really are experiences. They’re moments when pharma stopped telling people what it wanted them to think and started showing them what it could do.

Lane Degenhart recently reminded me of a Ty Montague article that illustrates just that point: Good Companies Are Storytellers. Great Companies Are Storydoers. Storytelling companies know who and why they are. But Storydoing companies use that narrative to create compelling, useful experiences. Montague points to brands like Red Bull, TOMS shoes, Warby Parker, and Tory Burch as leaders in letting their actions tell their stories.

These are the companies whose stories are most frequently told by word of mouth – they’ve earned that evangelism with action. To try to prove that value, Montague and his partners at co:collective looked at 42 publicly-traded companies – divided between storydoing and storytelling – to try to determine if the investment in actions/experiences had real dividends. The results are preliminary, but they start to show an interesting story of their own.

That’s even better than an AdWeek mention.

The team also uncovered six attributes of a storydoing company. What do you think pharma – does our new story start here?

  1. They have a story
  2. The story is about a larger ambition to make the world or people’s lives better
  3. The story is understood and cared about by senior leadership outside of marketing
  4. That story is being used to drive tangible action throughout the company: product development, HR policies, compensation, etc.
  5. These actions add back up to a cohesive whole
  6. Customers and partners are motivated to engage with the story and are actively using it to advance their own stories

Posted by: Leigh Householder

About the Author:

As Managing Director of Innovation and Insights for Syneos Health Communications, Leigh is responsible for building and scaling a global team of healthcare experts who together help life science leaders better understand the complex lives, influences and expectations of their customers. Specifically, they uncover actionable insights that fuel empathy and creativity; lead co-creation events that let marketers learn from peers, trends, and new possibilities; and help clients identify the most valuable and useful new customer experiences to create.

Leigh has worked with Fortune 1000 companies to craft their digital, mobile, social and CRM strategies for nearly 20 years.She’s worked for category-leading agencies in retail, public affairs, B2B technology, and higher education. Prior to moving to Syneos Health Communications, she held several leadership roles at our largest agency, GSW.  There, she founded an innovation practice fueled by the zeitgeist and spearheaded digital and innovation thinking across the business.

Leigh has taken a special interest in complex healthcare products that can change lives in meaningful ways. She was recently a strategic lead on the 3rd largest launch in pharmaceutical history: Tecfidera. Before that she had keys roles with Eli Lilly Oncology, Abbott Nutrition, Amgen Cardiovascular, and Eli Lilly Diabetes.

A critical part of Leigh’s work is trends and new ideas. Every year, she convenes a group of trend watchers from across our global network to identify the shifts most critical to healthcare marketers. This year, she led over 250 experts to experts to focus on the most important changes in the commercial, consumer, marketing, digital and healthcare landscapes. (See reports at trends.health)

Leigh is a sought-after writer and speaker. Recognized as one of the most inspiring people in the pharmaceutical industry by PharmaVoice and Top 10 Innovation Catalysts of 2017 by MM&M, Leigh also was recognized  as a Rising Star by the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) for her overt passion, industry thought leadership and significant contributions in new business, strategy and mentoring.