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April 15, 2015

After a patient initiates treatment, the real selling-process begins. More than ever, patients are approaching Rx-trialing with a heavy dose of skepticism. It’s understandable. Oftentimes, long-term treatment is thrust upon patients without time to get comfortable. And sometimes, those patients have healthy fears over side effects. On the other side of the coin, many patients expect treatment to fix everything fast or they diminish the value of Rx treatment altogether (before giving it a real chance).

This net skepticism has fueled – no, skyrocketed – a behavior patients hold dear when trialing treatment. And that is finding the authentic truth – conducting their own in-depth exploratory research into Rx treatment expectations, outside of brand communications. Outside of the brand context is where patients perceive to find this authentic truth and the optimal basis for their own opinions and behaviors toward Rx treatment.

Here, I’ll explore this rising phenomenon a bit more and then present an opportunity for brand adherence communications. Essentially, I’ll show you how to guide patients toward external content, in order to help them find their own, preferred version of the truth. In the end, they want to put the “authentic” puzzle pieces together. If we can help them do that, we can help them feel more comfortable with treatment early on and more receptive to the rewarding possibilities of long-term treatment.

Origins of the truth

A year or so ago, I spent time reflecting on the success of online services such as Angie’s List, Yelp, and others, with large investments into customer review networks. I came to one conclusion: in the digital age, the truth comes from strangers.

My hope is that this speaks to you, as both logically flawed and intuitively accurate. Let me explain. Logically speaking, we put our trust in people/entities we know, or in some cases, those we think we know. In this case, the ol’ saying “never trust a stranger” holds true. But today, we live in a hyper-consumerized world where we have many “long-term relationships” with an array of organizations and companies we really “know” little about (e.g., mobile phone, streaming, cable, grocery delivery, etc.). We expect those companies to meet our expectations or, in other words, be trustworthy.

In many cases, the results have been less than stellar. However, there are exceptions. Brands like Zappos and Wayfair have elevated the benchmark of customer service to a religion – but again, these are exceptions. And, the fault cannot be placed entirely on either side – it’s a combination of consumers and companies. Consumers can exaggerate or even create the problems, yet companies (or brands) aren’t exactly model citizens, when the almighty dollar rules the day.

Regardless of who’s right and who’s wrong, the net result has been a heightened mistrust among consumers. You could even say it’s already hit the boiling point with persistent steam ahead. Who can we trust these days?

The person/entity we often trust is the person/entity with no vested interest in us: the stranger. They don’t want our money, our commitment, or a relationship. They do have opinions, though – invaluable ones about the subjects that matter most to us. And they like to voice these opinions. It’s these anonymous voices we seek in order to find the authentic truth and, as a result, make better decisions.

The patient “truth-seeking” journey

This is the kind of approach patients take when trialing Rx treatment. They get the doctor’s version of the story, they get the brand version (e.g., brochure, site), and then they go looking for the outsider context: the anonymous opinion, the unknown academic perspective, the clinical trial data, the virtuous community site, and even sponsored content, but on a trusted site.

Now, let’s bring these learnings back to the question at hand: how can Rx brands become an integral part of the content system patients tap into when finding their authentic truth?

First, I have to acknowledge that this is not a one-stop shopping experience for patients. They will leverage this behavior at multiple points during treatment. In my experience, the best way to manage this is to glean the most important barriers to short-term, intermediate, and long-term adherence. Typically, short-term issues surround potential side effects, whereas intermediate and long-term issues usually surround side effect experiences, efficacy, and cost.

On the subject of cost, we often think of cost-saving programs benefitting patients just starting treatment. What I’ve learned is that most patients wrestle with treatment value relative to cost, once they’ve come to the conclusion that they’ve experienced said treatment’s full potential. For the commercially insured, if their treatment co-pay is negligible (through a branded support program), they will likely accept average efficacy, for example, and stay on treatment longer.

So, how do we use branded content to encourage adherence, while embracing a patient’s journey to find the authentic truth? Below are five recommendations to help you, and your patients, succeed:

  1. Use a trustworthy environment to evolve your brand marketing into brand truth.
  2. Market clinical studies without feeling like your marketing clinical studies.
  3. Gain their trust by setting them free.
  4. Let patients – even help them – find the good and bad about your brand.
  5. Lastly, recognize how search can unearth issues patients were never searching for.

Patients hold all the power these days. Let’s help them realize that dream… and get rewarded for it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a condensed version of John’s article. To read the full-length feature and learn more about the five recommendations for the authentic truth, check out his upcoming article in the 2015 annual issue of DTC Perspectives Magazine out next month.

About the Author:
John Nelson has spent over 13 years in advertising, working with some of the most iconic health brands of our time. In his role as VP, Strategic Planning at Evoke Health New York, John is responsible for inspiring strategy that creates big ideas and big connections between brands and people – connections that drive behavior change and deliver tangible results for clients. He can be reached at

John Nelson

January 20, 2015

We just recently released a global study on Brand Authenticity here at Cohn & Wolfe that shed a great deal of light on how consumers perceive brand activity and what is important to them. I have to say, we were a little surprised. People from all around the world told us that they care much more about a brand’s behavior than they do about a brand’s products. They care much more about what a brand does than how a product performs.

Say what?

In fact, coming out of the Authentic Brands Study we uncovered seven core pillars or behaviors of any authentic brand:

  • Communicating honestly about products and services
  • Acting with integrity at all times
  • Communicating honestly about environmental impact and sustainability measures
  • Being clear about and true to beliefs
  • Being open and honest about partners and suppliers
  • Standing for more than just making money
  • Having a relevant and engaging story

These are all behaviors that build a brand’s authenticity, creating an open and honest dialogue with consumers. These are all behaviors that demonstrate a great deal of respect for those around you, including your customers.

If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. Product benefits can be obtained from a number of brands within any given category, so it’s the branding that differentiates them from each other. It’s the brand that consumers choose, not so much the product. It’s the brand’s behaviors that people notice and share.

How is any of this relevant to healthcare companies and brands? Brand Authenticity is probably even more important in healthcare than virtually any other industry. In healthcare, we are without a doubt seeking “respect” when it comes to our activities. As healthcare providers we in turn must also show respect in order to be embraced and respected by our constituents.

How do we get there? Let our Authentic Brands study guide us on how to provide information, get personal, and show compassion.

Provide Information

As people become more responsible and accountable for their own healthcare, “honest communication” becomes paramount. Patients and patient groups are becoming more and more motivated and in some cases vigilant in finding accurate information, uncovering truths, and surfing through sales information.

As a result, it’s important for healthcare brands to be completely forthcoming with information, and to provide more content than is perhaps necessary to help consumers make their own decisions. Provide important information in a way that is easy to navigate and understand, without covering up what’s truly valuable. Issues like costs, side effects, and side-by-side comparisons should be presented objectively and honestly, not buried in a lot of lingo to better “sell” one particular product. Let the consumer make the decision based on complete information that is well presented, showing that you respect their decision. They will respect the company in return.

Get Personal

As we see a growing number of consumers participate in different ways to measure, track, and analyze their own health, it’s putting the burden on healthcare brands to help them turn that personal information into action… authentic action that will truly add value to their lives, not just sell another drug. As wearable devices and data portals take on more and more prevalence, consumers are going to turn to those brands that help them the most. But remember that all of that personal information must be treated with respect. 80% of the US respondents in our study said that “failure to protect personal information” would make them extremely angry – the highest in the world.

It’s also important to communicate on a personal level. Talk with your consumers, not at them. “Big” doesn’t always mean better in consumers’ minds, in fact only 12% of our study participants said that big companies “generally do what they say they’re going to do.” You should openly and freely communicate your organization’s value systems and invite participation in them. Learn how to communicate on a local level as well as nationally, perhaps using local spokespeople who are a part of the community. Get personal with your consumers and they will understand and respect you even more.

Show Compassion

Our research pointed to a strong link between authenticity and the belief that a company or brand “treats people right,” including employees, customers, and the community… even if it hurts profits. It’s important to demonstrate how your employee, community, and constituent relationships help people. Involve your employees in community activities, and encourage participation with doctors, nurses, and anyone else you affect. Show compassion for what each of those people go through in their lives and show how your commitment to them drives your company policies. Show the respect that people are looking for, at every level.

So many people question whether a pharmaceutical company can possibly be authentic. Our study would answer with a resounding “YES,” provided that the company and brand behave appropriately in this Age of Authenticity.

To review our full report, click here.

Jim Joseph