Is empathy part of your health-care marketing campaign?

When it comes to your marketing campaign, ask yourself this: Do you understand your audience or do you simply know them? At first this question may appear to be nothing but a simple game of semantics, but there is actually a dramatic difference between knowing your audience and understanding them.

When a company knows its audience, it has a basic understanding of the demographics where it needs to make the most sales. It has successfully identified the proverbial 20 percent that will make 80 percent of the purchases, and it knows these people by age, income, geographic location, past purchases and a score of other indicators. In the health-care industry, these indicators could also include conditions and insurance plans. That’s what you get when you simply know your audience — customers broken down into little data pockets.

On the other hand, understanding your audience means going beyond baseline statistics. To understand them is to look for the motivations that influence their decisions, instead of just focusing on the decision itself. Why does a person buy what they buy, live where they live and earn what they earn? Why does a person buy a certain medication? What condition do they have? What relief are they looking for? Understanding your audience means looking past sales figures and considering the people behind the numbers. In short, it means showing empathy for your customers.

The power of empathy in pharma

If you've never tried to instill empathy in your marketing campaign, you're missing out on a powerful opportunity. A marketing campaign that is empathetic reaches customers on a personal level and forms a stronger bond than you would get from simply targeting demographics. In the year 2009, Hyundai masterfully released their Assurance Benefit, allowing customers to simply drop off their new Hyundai-financed vehicle at the dealership and walk away if they could no longer make payments. The tactic was perfectly timed, given the common financial struggles of the period; not surprisingly, Hyundai’s sales climbed that year.

Hyundai’s campaign was successful because it reached out to people in a time of need and connected with them on a personal level. In pharma, we have the potential to do this every, single day. Be they doctors or patients, our customers turn to us for solutions to ease pain, cure conditions or even save a life. The customers in our industry deserve empathy more than anyone else, and as marketers, we can show it to them.

Instilling empathy in your marketing campaign

Incorporating empathy into marketing messaging is only possible when we're willing to take the focus off ourselves and put it where it belongs, on our providers and their patients. The more we can do this, the more we can support that connection and foster that understanding. To instill empathy in your marketing campaign, your messaging should:

* Be relatable. Step away from the jargon of clinical trial data and percentages and tell your customer the story of Joe, the patient who used your medicine and benefited. Joe's experiences are relatable to your customers, and hearing his story allows them to place their feet in Joe’s shoes. They’ve all already experienced part of his story at one point or another. Let them know there is hope at the end. Let them see the happier, healthier Joe.

* Share, don’t tell. Empathetic marketing doesn’t talk down to readers; it doesn’t talk toward them at all. Empathetic marketing opens a dialogue that invites and encourages readers to participate in the discussion. Customers should look at your campaign and understand that you want to help them, not merely sell them something.

* Encourage response. If you’re striving to better understand and relate to your customers, there is no better way than to elicit responses. Seek comments from your doctors and illness journeys from your patients, and encourage others, such as caregivers, to add their thoughts as well. The more your marketing can feel like a community effort, the more effective it will be.

* Remember you’re there to help. Many of us entered this field because we have a desire to help other people; don’t prevent that desire from appearing in your marketing campaigns. In the end it’s all about our patients, so offer them a solution that eases their pain, cures their disease or saves their life and everything else will take care of itself.