Listen up: online conversations key to brand relevancy and loyalty

With consumers increasingly sharing personal health experiences and information online, Sam Welch (PHCG) explores how to leverage such insight to create more relevant brand strategies that drive loyalty and growth.

Achieving brand loyalty is difficult in the pharma industry – picking and putting trust in a medicine is complex, especially as brand and product choice become a more frequent and critical discussion under the Affordable Care Act.

Healthcare marketers throw out a lot of buzzword strategies to create loyalty: patient engagement, content-centric, brand humanization. These all boil down to relevancy – the ultimate goal for customers to understand how your brand fits within their daily life, and to build a brand-customer relationship around that.

“The missing element is how well we understand our audience, on a level deeper than our current market research and sales data.”

How do we become relevant?

The missing element is how well we understand our audience, on a level deeper than our current market research and sales data. The increasing use of social and digital media for personal health information sharing has brought this rich insight within reach and at our fingertips online.

This is evident through websites such as and new data from the PEW Internet Health Tracking Survey showing that 40% of Internet users who post a health-related question or comment online also share their personal health experience.

Marketers should view social and digital media as a real-time, patient-created insight database – key information that can help us to more relevantly connect with customers, grow our brands and hopefully, improve lives.

The critical factor is listening.

Through digital and social media, marketers have access to rich, qualitative data that can yield insights applicable to marketing communication strategies within and beyond the digital space.

Listening to and observing health-related online conversations, questions, comments and search behaviors can help healthcare marketers to identify:

1. The unmet needs and concerns related to a patient’s medical condition and day-to-day life. Understanding a patient’s health experience, how a disease impacts (or doesn’t) their everyday life, emotional needs versus treatment needs, what’s working and what isn’t – all is golden insight that must be applied to an effective brand strategy and narrative.

2. How patients talk about a medical condition compared to clinical terminology or pharma jargon. Patients don’t use the same vocabulary and phrasing as doctors or healthcare companies. In fact, in most cases, the first rule is not calling them patients at all. Using the right words that will resonate with an audience is critical to being perceived relevant to the individual.

3. Real on-the-ground testimonials around a medical condition, treatment efficacy / quality, and brand perceptions / preferences. Marketers should use the Internet as a global, non-stop focus group when it comes to understanding the lifestyle and behaviors of a target audience. This also includes identifying influencers and potential partners around a disease state.

As healthcare marketers segment target audiences into increasingly unique groups and deliver more personalized messages, this granular level of data is invaluable. Market differentiation hinges on how a brand can deliver against a customer’s unmet needs and add value – or optimize CRM content by giving customers more of what they want. Meaningfully applying customer insight to communication strategy can help pharma advance brands toward a place of loyalty.

“…40% of Internet users who post a health-related question or comment online also share their personal health experience.”

Broad strokes for how to get started and make an impact:

1. Listen to and observe online communities without interacting or interrupting through a brand presence. This is not a time for product promotion.

2. Don’t neglect search and media data. Consumers tell us so much through media preferences, search terms and the digital path from search to website. This is simply another form of listening that we need to tap into to be successful.

3. Collecting data is only the first step. Data can’t inform strategy if it’s not well-organized and analyzed, and we likely amass more than we know what to do with. Bring in data experts to manage this process and plan to work together to get the most out of your data. Today, data miners and marketing experts are two sides of the same coin.

4. Consider the quality of the data before you jump to insights. An appropriate analog is clinical trials – the methodology, primary and secondary endpoints and results should all be pressure-tested before we extrapolate any kind of conclusion.

5. Seek out the perspectives of patient advocates for greater understanding of your customer and to validate your findings.

6. Share these data with developers, designers, creatives and copywriters – the entire marketing team – to build a value- and solutions-oriented integrated campaign that resonates with patients.

I’d like to see more brand marketers translating rich data into opportunities to create personalized, relevant experiences in the year ahead. Personalized marketing remains underdeveloped in healthcare, even as personalized health and focus on the individual continues to trend upward in consumer health products.

Approaching digital and social media with a keen eye and ear on how patients talk about their medical conditions, and the content of those conversations, is the first critical step toward creating a relevant experience between brand and customer.



About the author:

Sam Welch, Global Group President, Publicis Healthcare Communications Group

Sam Welch serves as Global Group President for Publicis Healthcare Communications Group, overseeing the worldwide business of Discovery Worldwide, Razorfish Healthware, the Saatchi & Saatchi Health brand families and Heartbeat Ideas and Heartbeat Ideas West.

A veteran marketer of some of the world’s most recognizable names in health and wellness, Sam brings a broad perspective to marketing and frequently shares insight on his blog brandgagement and via Twitter @1samwelch. Sam serves on the board of The Child Center of NY, an organization dedicated to serving at-risk youth through early childhood education, counseling, child abuse prevention, and youth development services.

Closing thought: How can we encourage brand marketers to translate rich data into opportunities to create personal relevant experiences?