At March 2010’s DTC National conference in Washington, Ogilvy (Chicago) and online community research leader CommuniSpace, presented findings from joint research into shifting American attitudes. Their whitepaper, titled “Eyes Wide Open, Wallet Half Shut,” serves up 10 key themes shaping America’s “new” mindset as the country emerges from recession. It also presents significant implications, and poses a serious warning for marketers: overlook fundamental shifts in consumer thinking, at your own peril.
In this spirit, I thought it would be interesting to explore how these general shifts might play out in more specific attitudes toward the pharmaceutical industry, healthcare and American’s attitudes toward their own health. This reflects on two of the broader consumer trends, and I may bring up some of the other themes in the future. Meanwhile ... how do these trends (or my application of them?) spur deeper thinking on your part?
Theme: Trust Lost in Recession
The whitepaper finds trust of large institutions has plummeted. In fact, the circle of trust has really narrowed inward, and includes few outside self and close family, with local community being the farthest it extends. Sadly, pharmaceutical companies count among the large institutions that fall outside the diminished circle of trust, exacerbating the underlying distrust of the industry that was already a challenge. Further, the wrenching US healthcare debate caught up almost everyone (and led to controversial Healthcare Reform that few fully understand), intensifying distrust of big institutions spawned by the recession. Whether we like it or not our industry is affiliated and the public debate leaves trust of our industry even more in doubt. Yup, worse than before.
We must do more, and do better, to make a positive impression. Give Humana’s “Horsepower Challenge” (http://www.horsepowergame.com/#game) a try in your local community, to demonstrate for yourself how we can build good-will and trust for our industry, in the real world. While you’re at it, think about how your patient communications help your brand … and help lift the industry. How are you helping the cause? For your brand? For the industry?
Theme: Stronger Self-Reliance
A flip-side of narrowing trust … self-reliance is on a significant upswing. Taking the whitepaper’s observations one step further here as well … my (obvious?) view is that the internet has liberated the self-reliance trend, especially when it comes to making decisions about health. Perhaps that notion of critical mass, and all the forces have now aligned. Patients know about the internet, they are looking there more and more for their own answers, and they fill in the gaps … ironically with the industry notably absent from the direct discourse (to be fair, the absence is increasingly due to patent expiration - - again, that equilibrium point has been surpassed). In the vacuum, they’ve turned to each other, formed communities around broad health topics (Twit2Fit, dLife (maybe?), or cancercompass.com) as well as more narrow conditions (www.abc-survivors.net/stories/chondrosarcoma, transplantcafe.com, www.epilepsy.com).
Invariably, patients discuss pharmaceutical products they are using. How many of us care what they are saying? We should. Altho few will give credibility to the one patient who tells us her medication made her see ghosts (www.askapatient.com), most patients make significantly less fantastical statements that others will (and do) pay attention to.
While these communities are not “local” in the traditional sense, what they do provide is common ground where people with common health experiences can feel at home with each other. Think of them as pseudo-local, formed by self-reliant fellow sufferers. And oh btw that puts it inside the circle of trust.
Implication for the pharmaceutical industry
Our industry must find ways to speak through more trusted channels like these. Over the past few years, we all hear how pharmaceutical leaders have developed “Patient Strategy” as an important driver of business results for their brands. By now, most recognize something called the “empowered patient,” and have given that patient more mindspace and focus in their marketing efforts.
As we think it thru, this does not necessarily lead to DTC … in fact, it mostly takes the form of very specific, often personal or intimate, communications, that are driven by deep insights about condition, treatment and the clinical setting where patients interact with the healthcare system.