By Katie Rogin, strategic planning lead for RAPP’s health practice.


“We must think with the consumer at the center. We must be patient-centric. It’s a patient-demand economy.”

Marketers say and hear these refrains over and over as they plan, activate, and optimize pharmaceutical clients’ communications and customer relationship management ecosystems. But are they just paying lip service to the idea that the patient is in charge when it comes to developing patient acquisition and support programs, or are they actually foregrounding the patient experience?

Patients treat pharma brand communications the way they treat the messaging and content of any other brand: If they’re not interested, they just change the channel, don’t click, or don’t sign up. They have choices about where and when they get their information, and they demand — not want or need, but demand — that when they do engage, the experience must meet the very high standards of personalization and ease of use that they have come to expect from companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Netflix.

Understanding this state of consumer control, brands need to look beyond conventional and largely quantitative modes of research that tend to generalize findings and insights into conditions and treatments. Brands need to dive deeper into the patient experience with a market research approach that actually better engages patients.


Why Market Research Should Be Part of a Larger Platform

Brands too often fail to take patient demands into account in two phases: development and optimization. When developing content — from websites to emails to direct mail pieces — they rely only on high-level insights generated in market research. These are usually insights into how the patient feels about his disease condition, his physician, and his treatment.

Brands make a similar error when they optimize multitouch program content and cadence. They too often look to quantitative data analytics as the only measurement or indication for how successful a program is and how it should be optimized in order to build on that success.

Missteps at these two critical phases dilute the patient-centricity of the efforts and ultimately impede the efforts’ abilities to succeed.

Instead, brands should focus on coupling data analytics that measure communications behavior with actually asking patients why they are or aren’t engaged. This strategy provides a powerful one-two punch of insight mining. The precise rigor of analytics combined with the inquiry into emotions and attitudes allows a company to align their content and programs to the three T’s that are the hallmark of any CRM engagement: trusted, tailored, and two-way.


How to Render Insights on Patients With Patients

Even though this approach may sound a bit “old school,” brands that reground themselves in the basics of patient-centricity drive engagement and create the most effective and impactful programs.

But how do you do this? While market research can help organizations put patients at the center of these communications, on a fundamental level, organizations simply have to reach out and ask patients themselves. Here are three ways to start asking:

  1. Foreground market research to look beyond it. Deepen initial market research efforts to give brands detailed insights into the content, channels, timing, and transactional elements at the moments that matter most to patients all along the condition-treatment pathway. This research can also help brands ensure user-centricity in every dimension and at every touchpoint. As patient demands are met at every touchpoint, greater engagement is generated within acquisition and support programs, and brands better position themselves in the marketplace.
  2. Understand the “why” in engagement. Brands often observe engagement by measuring clicks without actually knowing why a patient clicked. Seeing patient engagement by tracking open rates, time spent, etc., isn’t enough to connect digital behavior with real-world behavior. Instead, and using the insights from market research, brands need to recruit patients who participate in support communications and ask them about these connections in order to or didn’t take.
  3. Let patients tell you how you’re doing. Whether you’re developing a new program or optimizing an existing one, inviting patients in to co-create programs is another way for brands to ensure that solutions and experiences are shaped by patient concerns. Re-implementing the “How are we doing?” survey, which has fallen out of favor in the industry given lingering budget concerns, also allows patients to tell you what they want, need, and demand and can help assess the programs they’re in.


When you fail to build engagement that revolves around the patient on his terms, you don’t meet patient needs or brand communication objectives. By using a mix of deep market research and quantitative data analytics and by soliciting qualitative patient feedback, brands can better position themselves in an industry where patient experience should be at the center of marketing approaches. In this way, brands can have much more measurable and memorable impacts on the dynamic marketplace, can support patient outcomes, and can make patient support programs truly patient-centric.


About the author

Katie Rogin has over 20 years of experience in strategic planning, creative development, and in-market activation. She’s passionate about creating meaningful connections between people and brands by uncovering actionable consumer insights in quantitative and qualitative research, web analytics, social listening, semiotics, and cultural trendspotting. Katie currently serves as the strategic planning lead for RAPP’s health practice.