Forever Jung: how early psychological theory is still relevant in patient consultations as well as internal marketing strategy

Matthew Hunt

Grey Healthcare Group

For numerous and frankly reassuring reasons, healthcare practice in the 21st century has distanced itself from the darker arts of alchemy and astrology. Whilst there’s a side to many of us that finds star signs of passing amusement, it’s generally accepted that the causative is preferable to the correlative when it comes to modern medicine.

And yet the proponent of many of these theories, Carl Gustav Jung, in the early 20th century, came up with plenty of ideas in the name of nascent Psychology that warrant a bit more of our attention. Perhaps his works are often dismissed because of his close association with Freud’s own rather shaky theories – based, as many were, on observing just a handful of people around him.

But there are at least two aspects to Jung’s work that I think could affect the way that doctors consult with patients, and how healthcare marketers generate their strategy. Or at least, I’m going to try to make the case, so please bear with me…

“But there are at least two aspects to Jung’s work that I think could affect the way that doctors consult with patients, and how healthcare marketers generate their strategy.”

Let’s take his work with Archetypes first of all. A precursor to Myers-Briggs Type Indicators (MBTI), a popular activity on many office away-days, this theory explores our understanding of personalities and situations as falling into a number of pre-determined categories. Rather than look at someone we’ve never met before from all angles and build up our own detailed view of them from scratch, instead we take short-cuts: we pigeon-hole people as ‘motherly’ or ‘adventurous’ – and a number of other well-known personality types.

Jung went further still and suggested that there is a set of recognisable patterns and behaviours with probably outcomes – and that we’re either ‘hardwired’ or very comfortable with adopting these patterns early on in life, perhaps due to repeated exposure to stories, myths, films and books that serve to reinforce them. As with many aspects of Psychology, it’s hard to determine once and for all if this theory is of epistemological merit, but I’d argue that the power of our intuitive leaps shouldn’t be underestimated.

And here’s one reason why: In August 2010, the scientific journal Nature reported that a group of hardcore gamers beat the world’s most sophisticated super-computer five times – and drew three times – in a challenge to predict the shape that certain complex proteins would take. To cut a long and complex story short (which is essentially what they did), their intuitive and creative leaps obviated the need to build up a watertight and data-rich case from scratch.

“…for consultant psychiatrists, a good outcome involved seeing their patient up, dressed, clean-shaven (where appropriate) and walking down the street to a job interview at 9am.”

So, in an industry that prizes the clinical and the empirical – as well as the sub-clinical and the logical – it seems only sensible to adopt strategies that are proven to work even if we’re not entirely sure how. If a patient presents to a doctor and, in the seven or so minutes allowed for a consultation the doctor forms an opinion of the patient’s character type, should this influence the advice given? I’m pretty sure the honest answer is ‘yes’, although the opinion formed would probably cite only the objective ‘hard facts’. Is this person a smoker? Do they have a history of disease X? However, if Jungian Archetype theory is to be believed, there are probably more subtle factors at play involving a doctor’s view of the patient as a risk-taker, a carer, an introverted worrier etc.

It’s at this point that we could look to fold some marketing strategy into the mix. After all, we’re well versed in the art of making patient profile cards according to their disease progression and other clinical markers, and we’re used to segmenting physicians in terms of whether they’re hospital-based, office-based, KOLs or otherwise. But what we often shy away from is using archetypes. For various reasons possibly ascribable to political correctness, we fall short of ever committing to paper what most of us are happy to give voice to.

Now I’m not suggesting that we should instead describe our target audiences stereotypically, but there’s definitely room in our strategy to recognise some common personality traits – and act on these insights in the marketing materials that we subsequently make. Far from ending up with stereotypical creative concepts, my theory is that we would consciously start developing ideas and tools that acknowledge the pointlessness of depicting happy people dancing along a beach with a dog and a kite – quite simply because we’ve admitted that this is utterly unreflective of who and where most of our target audience are – or genuinely aspire to be.

“…there are probably more subtle factors at play involving a doctor’s view of the patient as a risk-taker, a carer, an introverted worrier etc.”

One of the best concepts I’ve ever seen in healthcare (and sadly it never saw the light of day) was in the schizophrenia and bipolar therapy area. It was based on the insight that, for consultant psychiatrists, a good outcome involved seeing their patient up, dressed, clean-shaven (where appropriate) and walking down the street to a job interview at 9am.

Essentially it acknowledged that the patient had moved from a state of introversion and avoidance of responsibility to a more positive state of self-worth and action. The resultant creative used real examples of patients’ art therapy (the second Jungian idea I promised earlier that I’d try to weave in) that explored what it felt like to move from a state of scared introversion to a more reassuring state of connectedness. The images and words were pure poetry and still make my hair stand on end when I see it.

To attempt some sort of conclusion, I believe that Jung’s work can genuinely affect what we in healthcare do – and for the better. I’d like to see healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies alike focus more on the character of their target audiences, acknowledging the importance of the intuitive leap, and less of a focus on the undisputed ‘objective’ elements at play. I think that if we admitted that character and personality played more of a role in our decision-making than currently discussed, we’d get to the heart of the matter a lot more quickly and make tools that a lot more people would actually take note of and actually use. Yes, we’d run the risk of offending some people – but we’d bravely enthuse a lot more along the way.

About the author:

Matthew is Head of Strategic Planning for Grey Healthcare Group in Europe, which means he spends a lot of time trying to work out what could unite different sorts of people – professional or patient – with all sorts of healthcare brands.

Before working in this sector he worked in the consumer sector, most notably winning Gold DMA for Strategy for his multi-channel campaign for international development charity Oxfam.

With an MA in Modern Languages from Oxford University, a diploma in Interactive Marketing and currently studying for an Msc in Psychology, Matthew’s passion lies in using a wide range of communications channels and techniques to effect behavioural change in today’s complex healthcare ecosystem.

Is it time to admit that character and personality play a large role in decision making?