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Time to tear down the wallpaper?

How do you create effective and efficient healthcare communications that stand out from the crowd?

James Mayfield

Author: James Mayfield

Creative Director

Date posted: 22/12/2021

Jeff diligently enters his customer, channel and behavioural data into the marketing communication machine and presses ‘go’. He stands back and waits, satisfied that his new campaign will be a success. After a few encouraging noises from his ‘campaign printer’, out pops a tightly crafted, but frequently repeated and rather generic pattern: the communications wallpaper.

Our ill-fated, but fictional marketeer, Jeff, isn’t just a figure of our imagination. His plight is the same as marketing executives across the pharmaceutical industry. So, where do people like Jeff go wrong, and how do they fix it?

Where did it all go wrong?

In short, Jeff didn’t do anything wrong. He understood the audience, targeted a behaviour change, considered the channels and crafted the messaging. The only problem was that everyone else had done exactly the same.

With a limited audience, some restrictive covenants and, crucially, access to the same data and channels as his competitors, it was inevitable that his communications would end up like wallpaper.

But what about unique products, such as those offering distinct outcomes, special benefits or a patient-centred approach? Surely there is an opportunity here to stand out. And yet, how many times have you heard the phrase ‘it’s a bit pharma’ aimed at an advert for a new treatment or breakthrough drug?

Finding points of difference

Clearly, Jeff needs a new approach. But that doesn’t mean throwing out the communication science – that’s there for a reason. He just needs to be smarter about how he applies it to create a different kind of engagement.

This doesn’t have to be found in the advertising visual or messaging. It may be elsewhere in the customer journey, in a different medium or in the choice of communication placement.

Where do we start?

Let’s start with a new objective: how can we engage our audience?

The key to success is to ‘engage’, not to be ‘liked’. Too much market research in pharma ends up tracking doctors’ likes and dislikes, like data-based content and patient-focused imagery. With digital forms of engagement becoming increasingly popular in pharma, there are smarter ways to measure what content doctors engage with, and how they engage with it. Understanding these drivers fuels smarter strategies and better creative.

Doing things differently

So, back to Jeff and his next campaign launch. He’s done all the market segmentation and research and has identified a key group (maybe only 5–10% of the overall target group).

Insight tells him these are likely to be his first users and key to driving uptake. So, he builds his communications single-mindedly around these needs. If they engage, the communications have done their job.

Whether the other 90% like or dislike the approach is not important. Why? Because the most effective influence on a doctor is other doctors – i.e. peer-to-peer endorsement. If the target group have a great experience and tell others about it, he can reach out to this extended audience.

Time for lift-off

Effective and efficient communication can be achieved by picking your audience and your moment. If your research is on the money, your key targets will extend your reach. Now’s the time to build the momentum, be it through video, advertising, social media or meetings.

Have both the courage, and the vision, to push the boundaries of possibility for your brand. 

Let’s put up rockets, not wallpaper.


James Mayfield is Creative Director at Purple Agency, guiding the multi-skilled creative team to produce cross-channel innovative solutions for a diverse range of clients.  Prior to joining Purple, James worked for a number of integrated agencies in the City, producing award-winning campaigns in the Health, FMCG, Technology and Automotive sectors.