Personalization, health equity, and TikTok: How trends occupying pharma leaders will shape 2024

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By Nick Paul Taylor, Phreesia

Excitement is mounting across the industry going into 2024 about data and digital innovations’ potential for improving engagement among consumers, patients, and caregivers. That excitement is evident in conversations with eight industry leaders who are embracing digital to advance personalization, support health equity, and reach patients on new channels. While the pace of change can sometimes feel overwhelming, Pallavi Garg, head of global oncology products and pipeline strategy at Takeda, is leaning into the turbulence in the belief that there are fresh opportunities to transform how brands connect with audiences.

Data and digital innovation

For Roz Silbershatz Tomás, who leads the Global Libtayo Core Brand Team at Regeneron, the COVID-19 pandemic clearly demonstrated the key advantages of digital over print. She recalls that when the pandemic situation was changing quickly, “Digital was a landscape that could really push out information much more quickly than print could.” She adds, “[Digital] allows for more of that personalization and direct connection versus broader media, so I think it will be more of a trend this year and moving forward into next year as well.”

Personalization is high on many industry leaders’ 2024 to-do list. Cassandra Sinclair, a senior health and wellness advertising executive and board advisor, anticipates “more of a focus on personalization in 2024, as patient-centric brands will strive to build stronger relationships with patients and healthcare providers much earlier in the health and wellness continuum.”

Sinclair’s forecast is derived from technological advances. Data analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are empowering companies to optimize their campaigns, better measure their effectiveness and gain more actionable insights for improvement.

Sinclair’s prediction that brands will strive to build relationships earlier in the health and wellness continuum echoes an observation made by Alexandra Beneville, VP of content strategy at Phreesia. As Beneville explains, companies have “always thought about the patient journey, but usually with a narrow focus on a key moment.” Today, however, she believes the timing and breadth of that focus needs to change.

“We as an industry will have to think as much about engaging with patients at early healthcare moments such as screenings and supporting their genetic-predisposition and risk-factor understanding, rather than just communicating diagnosis and treatment options,” she says.

Personalize messaging to support health equity

The growing focus on personalization is emerging in tandem with industry efforts to close gaps in health equity. Health education can empower patients to access care but it must be tailored to their specific needs to be effective, says Arielle Chavkin, group director of digital partnerships at Initiative. Chavkin expects brands to leverage digital solutions that offer patients content relevant to their unique medical – and social – needs.

“Considering your audience not as a group, but rather as individuals, and personalizing messaging to address their varying social determinants of health needs is crucial,” Chavkin says. And brands should incorporate a goal to improve access to affordable care to a larger, more diverse population into their messaging and creative strategy development as well.

Delivering the right message to the right patient at the right time requires both personalized communication and consideration of where different audiences gather online. Patients receive healthcare content from a wide range of media channels, so it’s critical to identify the channels that key patients trust and regularly engage with to maximize every campaign’s impact.

As Alison Tapia, senior director, performance marketing and digital innovation at Dermavant Sciences, says, “If your message isn’t there in the moment when the patient is looking for information, someone else’s will be.” While that suggests value in a more-is-more approach to messaging that minimizes the risk of missed opportunities, it’s also important to recognize that patients are contending with data overload.

“Even myself as a consumer, just from scrolling on my phone in the morning when I wake up, I think about how many messages I’ve been served before I’ve even gotten out of bed,” Tapia says. 

Explore new channels to maximize reach

The list of channels patients use to access health information continues to evolve. Juli LeDoux, director, marketing–patient at ImmunoGen, expects the pharma industry to continue exploring the short-form video app TikTok in 2024. Introducing new channels poses challenges, as teams must learn the audience demographics and the types of messages that resonate, but it is vital if brands want to keep reaching key audiences.

“As trends evolve and change, and new platforms come out, we’re going to want to be there,” LeDoux says. Faced with an expanding set of channels, it’s important to continually consider whether those channels are reaching the right people – and be prepared to pivot if a campaign is failing to live up to expectations. 

Brands also must assess whether campaigns are having their anticipated impact and meeting patient expectations. Today, patients are taking a more active role in their care, from accessing their test results before meeting with their physician to researching potential treatments online.

As Meredith Odell, senior marketing director at AstraZeneca, explains, the rise of the engaged patient is putting pressure on healthcare stakeholders “to consider that patients are going to have higher expectations and want to be active in their care.”

Nick Paul Taylor is a contributing writer at Phreesia.