Our proprietary framework for building winning brands, the Motivational Edge (ME), works because it connects with people in both their internal and external worlds. This month, we’re featuring a four-part series, corresponding to the four core human truths on which the ME is based:

  • We are emotional
  • We are driven to be validated
  • We are shaped by context
  • We love motivation quickly


We’ve already dived into the centrality of emotion and the power of validation. In this piece, we’ll explore the role of context and how the environment we’re in can support or limit our ability to change behavior. We’re always responding to hidden cues in our environments. They prime thoughts and feelings and can trigger learned behavior. As such, it’s the brand’s job to optimize context to sustain motivation. 

Context can include everything from the physical space around us to our community and relational environments to everything in between. And those contexts change constantly. Here’s one example of context challenges and how we can flip them to our advantage in nurturing someone’s motivation to change…

In recent years, the human attention span has grown significantly shorter—from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to 8 seconds or fewer now. (For reference, consider that the average attention span of a goldfish is understood to be greater, at 9 seconds.) And regardless of attention span, as the volume of content increases, our consumption of it can’t keep pace. This is especially important given the profusion of content nowadays on social media and other platforms. 

When content output spikes, engagement levels take a sharp downturn. There is simply a limit to how much content can be consumed. And that limit gets even more pronounced for HCPs—whose professional burdens, including indirect patient care and administrative tasks, create extraordinary time crunches and stress. And within these constraints, they’re presented with so much product information that doesn’t necessarily give them what they need: Only 53% of doctors feel that an increase in medical information makes them better doctors.

Timeline  Description automatically generated

Given these incredibly tight and complex contexts, HCPs often feel under-equipped to offer patients the empathy and support they need beyond direct care. The brands that break through the content clutter, nurturing motivation and earning preference, are those that create ways to empower the HCP to do more within their contextual confines. Such brands step in and make a doctor’s own context richer and more productive. This way, they make themselves the obvious choice—and the easiest choice—among competitors. 

Let’s take a look at some life sciences leaders that, across categories, have found ways to do that. 

Merck: Quantify Support

Merck recognizes that within the context of the usually short physician-patient interaction, doctors often don’t have ample time to profile their patient’s support needs. To help, Merck created Adherence Estimator, an evidence-based survey, which gives physicians three simple questions to ask patients to determine whether they’re at a low, medium, or high risk of not adhering to treatment. HCPs can use this intel to “prescribe” resources, have extended conversations about the important of action steps, or set future appointments and check-ins with the practice. In this way, their short interactions, which often yield suboptimal outcomes due to adherence hiccups, are made more powerful and more promising. 

Amgen: Automate Signup

Amgen also recognized that, in their overly busy contexts, HCPs often struggle to keep patients engaged in their treatments and motivate them to follow up. To foster lasting commitments, Amgen’s Enbrel created an easy way for Canadian doctors and nurses to opt patients into ongoing messaging and support right in the exam room. Once enrolled, patients were tracked to quantify the impact of the program. A retrospective analysis showed physicians just how much longer their patients stayed on therapy when they’re enrolled in the program. That data was used in sales calls and direct marketing to encourage practices to enroll more patients. It’s a seamless way to supercharge the potential of a doctor’s cramped context—and improve outcomes. 

UCB: Meet Doctors Where They Are

Meeting doctors in their contexts can be pretty simple. In China, to fuel more effective, useful rep conversations, UCB added WeChat—which was already used frequently by 90% of China’s HCPs—to its reps’ communications toolbelt. Now reps can use the instant messaging platform to have direct, solution-finding engagements with physicians wherever they are. UCB found a way to better leverage resources that were already part of doctors’ contexts.  

Bristol Myers Squib: Facilitate Patient Communication

For a doctor, the context of a normal patient interaction may trigger some of the ineffective communication they’ve used in the past, language that HCPs understand but may be too dense to motivate new behavior in patients. Bristol Myers Squibb saw this disconnect as an opportunity to help optimize doctor’s contexts. To that end, they launched the Universal Patient Language (UPL) project, an open-source effort that engaged patients, caregivers and advocates, who co-created new principles and tools to change how HCPs talk to patients. BMS saw that a doctor’s context was frequently defined by a major communication chasm, so they stepped in and built a bridge.

You’re offering your customer so much more than just another product when you optimize their context. You’re creating a brand experience as valuable as your therapy. This experience doesn’t just make for a compelling case to try your product—it makes it easy to keep choosing your product again and again.

About the Author:

Carolyn Stephenson is SVP of Strategy for Syneos Health Communications. Her unique healthcare perspective is complemented by nearly 20 years of strategy expertise across sectors as varied as retail, financial services and higher education. She has built nationally recognized branding, digital, content and commerce programs for brands like JPMorgan Chase, Nationwide Insurance, EXPRESS, as well as on the agency side with Ologie and SBC Advertising. Her work has been spotlighted in industry publications like Mobile Commerce Daily, Mobile Marketer, and even featured on an NBC reality television show (Fashion Star). But her passion for healthcare is palpable: she’s also a Certified Hormone Specialist and a Precision Nutrition Coach.