Strategic communications: Insights, connections and the science of storytelling

Dr Zoe Healey discusses practical and smart ways for the pharmaceutical industry worldwide to plan and deliver communications that engage with real people who can help us advance patient care.

Good news! There is no longer a need to spend a lot of money sharing information with a large number of people who may not act on it. This increasingly digital world has driven development of tools that can channel masses of data into useful insights to help target communications and test that strategy is effective. We are moving to a seemingly old-fashioned environment of personal connections, except our new world is filled with extraordinary tools to facilitate these connections.

Informing communications strategy through insights

Just because the individual is king, this doesn’t mean your perspective is the most important. Actually, it means that the perspectives of ALL the people in your market are important. Having facts to hand on perspectives and behaviour is vital to develop, test and refine healthcare communications. Those facts need to be sourced and regularly checked – via online analytics, market research and other means. Here are some key questions that you should know the answers to in order to consider these perspectives and shape your communications strategy.

Figure 1: Insights needed to inform communication strategy

A Practical approach to storytelling

So now you know more about your audiences, what they care about, and what information is already out there. You know what your audiences need to do their job better. Now you can revisit your brand / disease area and tell a story your audiences will care about and want to engage with.

“…you can’t underestimate the identification of shared values to create the emotional connection to your message.”

Identifying shared values and relevant benefits

Whatever your function, you can’t underestimate the identification of shared values to create the emotional connection to your message. Spend time identifying what the attributes, rational and emotional benefits of your product / solution are for your audiences (preferably relevant across all audiences) and these will help identify the values you and your audiences share. Include shared values as well as practical and proven benefits in your story.

Figure 2
Figure 2: Building the story

Build a ‘message house’ to support your story. Include sources of facts and opinion to back up your message. This should help you get to a simple ‘elevator pitch’ message that will resonate with your audiences while at the same time assure you that you have the support behind it that different situations may need: detailed data, expert opinion, patient experience, related evidence. Remember that support can come from market research, reviews, surveys, HE&OR, advocates and experts – of course the more robust the central data with regards clinical trials and real world evidence, the better – but your story will be so much richer and of more interest to varied audiences if you consider other elements and use the language that the key influencers and their sources use.

“…use the language that the key influencers and their sources use.”
Figure 3: Building the story – message house


Making real and lasting connections that matter

Business design

In our world today, prompt, relevant and transparent communications are increasingly expected from all stakeholders. In order to facilitate this, communications must be at the heart of your business set up and executive committee. In the evolving healthcare space, companies are changing their business structure to ensure they are positioned to deliver for customers and shareholders – this is an opportunity to ensure you are structured and empowered to support communication.

Right content, right place

Supporting relationships with your audience includes making it easy for them to connect with you, and your story. If you have answers to the earlier questions:


• Where are influential audience members present online? Offline?

o Where do they get their information from?

• What content is missing in areas of audience need AND within your expertise/objectives?


…and regularly assess these, you are well on the way to a targeted content strategy.

Relationships with real influencers

Often the best people to tell your story are other experts and advocates. With the increased focus on communications, it is important to test that you are reaching and engaging with those influencers who regularly communicate on topics relevant to you. If you have answers to the earlier questions:


• Who out of each audience is most influential?

o Where are they present online? Offline?

o Who are their main collaborators/audience members?


…in terms of your topics and audiences, then you can be assured these are important people to engage with, and you can regularly check that you are meeting their needs.

“Often the best people to tell your story are other experts and advocates.”

Support for peer-to-peer communication

Engaging with an idea or product has several stages. First, you need to become aware of it. Then you will assess what it means for you. If it fits, you’ll take action. Then you’ll assess how that went. If it went well, and keeps going well, you’ll love it. You’ll want to share it. Then you’ve become an ambassador. So how can you help drive ambassadorship for your story? Encourage people to take action? One way people assess things, which has always been important in clinical and consumer environments, and is becoming increasingly important in the digital age, is peer recommendation or experience. This doesn’t replace data, or expert guidance, but it is an important part of the mix. Knowing how influencers share content, with whom, and where they get it from will help you deliver content that is useful for them to share, to support awareness, assessment and action.

If you:


• Consider what your audiences need in order to improve care for patients

• Know who the real influencers are who can make that happen

• Assess how and where the relevant people communicate about your topics

• Hone your story to resonate with your audiences’ needs and values

• Deliver your story in the manner and places that the influencers and audiences need

• Are supporting interaction long term


…then together you and your audiences can advance patient care.



About the author:

Zoe holds a BSc in biotechnology, a PhD in gastroenterology, and has around 15 years of publications, marketing, education and communications experience. She provides strategic scientific counsel on global and local campaigns for pharmaceutical, biotechnology, food, device, diagnostic and service provider companies, implementing integrated communications programs, disease awareness campaigns, reactive and internal communications.

You can contact Zoe at

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