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Seeing Pharma through a new cultural lens

David Berman
Associate VP
Global Commercial Capabilities
Merck & Co, Inc


Abigail Stuart, Global CEO of Hall & Partners Health, sat down with David Berman, Associate VP of Global Commercial Capabilities at Merck, to talk about the impact of cultural trends on pharmaceutical branding, and the role that insight plays in uncovering cultural nuances and norms that are relevant to today’s pharma marketing. Five broad themes emerged from David’s commentary:

Shifting the lens from patients to people

People don’t want to be thought of as patients – we’re all human beings. Historically healthcare companies have applied a pharma lens of ‘consumer as patient’, but this is a very insular view. Over recent years the culture has gradually shifted; patients think of themselves as people, so we in the industry all now need to shift our lens to embrace this viewpoint.

To understand patients as people we must first relate to their cultural context

Changing the definition of old age

People no longer feel old at the age of 60 or 70; they’re getting out and about, exercising, swimming and cycling. Healthcare companies need to start keeping up with the ‘older’ generation, and shift their mindset to accommodate this cultural change.

Creating a digitally connected healthcare eco-system

It’s interesting to look at Millennials and their behaviours. The early-20s all want to get hold of their healthcare providers via FaceTime, text or email, and access healthcare solutions digitally with minimal direct or face-to-face interaction. How can we start thinking of a digitally connected world where healthcare needs are delivered with less direct contact?

Need for transformational research to uncover cultural values and norms

We have to remember that market research has a tremendous influence on how we connect with our customers, and it’s the industry’s responsibility to elicit insights into the most accurate and realistic methods. I believe we need a transformation – making a big leap forward, not moving in incremental steps. To understand patients as people, we must first relate to their cultural context and evaluate what their lives are without the drugs. We therefore need to transform the ways we research customer behaviours: for example, following someone around is better than a one-hour interview. We’re even looking at using an implant. We have to find better methods, whether through social media, universities, or other means. We need to get up close and really understand markets and their cultures.

Filtering creatives and communications through a cultural lens

We want our customers to engage with us. Some of the best commercials out there are the ones that are slightly different – ones that are culturally relevant. For example, the new campaign from GE, which targets Millennials, works because it’s relevant to the audience. Adverts with old men walking on the beach aren’t effective anymore; that isn’t real life. Another good example is an advert for the HPV jab; it’s shot in a contemporary docudrama style and shows how younger people are more informed and can instruct their parents. We need to eliminate cookiecutter approaches to developing our creatives and communications, and start bringing culturally relevant material to the market.