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Forging better relationships

Scott Kressner talks to Jennifer Borgmann

Scott Kressner
(Former) Managing Partner Health, US
Hall & Partners Health

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Scott specialises in global market research, offering clients strategic partnership to make sure their complex business decisions are answered.

Jennifer Borgmann
Associate Director of Global Marketing Consumer Lead
Merck & Co. Inc.

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Jennifer has a passion for building the ideal brand experience with consumers. In her current role, she’s helped Merck touch the lives of thousands of patients.

Why Merck needs human insight in order to build meaningful relationships with its customers

Pharma companies are ready to become more patient-centric – understanding patients as people, and helping them along their clinical journey with compassion as well as effective care. To achieve this they’ll need to recalibrate how they get to know consumers, and how they engage them. It’s time for more conversation about the relationship between patients and pharma.

In her role, Jennifer focuses on building brand experiences that enhance patients’ treatment experiences. This gives her a clear view of the opportunities in patient-centricity for pharma, along with the challenges. Her conversation with Scott yielded six key pieces of insight.

To focus on patients, focus on relationships

Pharma is responding to a big change in the landscape. Patients are increasingly involved in decision-making about their own care, as well as being more responsible from a financial standpoint. They’re using technology, going online, and reading blogs to learn about what choices are available. So now we want to create more of a relationship, so that when they come into contact with pharma they don’t perceive us as just in it for ourselves. We want to support patients and send a clear message: “We hear and understand you. We’re here to partner with you. As our consumer, let us help you through your journey.”


We need to understand what’s important to consumers versus what’s important to us as a brand


Good relationships take work… and trust

I think trust is the most important thing to build with consumers right now. More than ever people feel trust is lacking. They see a lot of consumer spend: many more TV commercials than there were a few years ago, and online there’s always a pharma company putting something in front of you. How do we break through that and become a trusted partner? We need to engage with our consumers more, provide them with what they need so they can make the best decisions. We must listen to them to understand their needs and wants. That’s how we become relevant – understanding what’s important to them versus what’s important to us as a brand.

Patient trust is fragile

Because patients have greater control today, there’s so much more they need to know, and the proliferation of digital makes it hard to get to the truth. In my parents’ and grandparents’ generation, whatever your doctor said, you did. They didn’t have the internet to give them information and – in some cases – misinformation. Now a single story has impact. A celebrity can make a statement about a product that can completely change someone’s perception about whether or not they would take it. And once a perception is out there it can be hard for pharma to change it.


We must provide our consumers with what they need so they can make the best decisions


To restore trust, get back to basics

Ensuring that we’re creating an honest and trust-based connection will help to build a meaningful relationship between pharma and patients. I don’t think we’ve cracked that nut, but I do know we won’t build trust by forcing a brand on someone. We’ll do it by helping patients understand how we can help them make their lives better. George Merck said, “We try to remember that medicine is for the patient. We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. It’s not for the profits. The profits follow….” I think we start figuring out how to build trust by staying grounded in those values and remembering that, whatever we do, it has to be right for the patient first.

Timely market research is invaluable

It’s important to recognise when there’s a real need for research. Cost is sometimes a barrier, so we have to build a case when circumstances are unique, and we know we can serve the patient better once we understand everything from their perspective. We did some eye-opening research recently on the patient journey to shingles vaccination vs. pneumococcal vaccination. These journeys can be so different, even for the same person. It’s about asking the right questions and uncovering those deep insights so we can learn what our customers think, and better understand the ‘whys’ and the behaviours that are driving them to make certain choices.

The vision is worth the investment

I want us to become more relevant and serve as a one-stop-shop for patients. Pharma is already starting to do a better job, and you see a lot of effort being put into building resources that can provide an enhanced patient experience. For example, guiding patients through getting their questions answered rather than directing them to a website to read an FAQ or fill out a True/False questionnaire. Increasingly patients can engage in a live discussion, and that’s going to start building trust – and relationships. I’d also love to connect with consumers in the purchasing mind-set. We’ve come so far with apps. Imagine if a patient could be prescribed something, pay for it with a touch, and have it delivered to their home. We have more work to do but we’re really trying to think outside the box and insert ourselves where we can make a positive difference. That’s how we’ll shape better patient experiences.

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