Why pharmas need to lean into brand experience to shift their reputation in 2020

One of Jack’s health care marketing experts, Nigel Downer, shares his thoughts about the health care space – more specifically, pharma – and discusses why overall brand experience is integral to advancing the industry in 2020.

It’s a new year. But guess what? Pharma still has a reputation problem. With high drug prices, expensive research and development failures, suspect marketing tactics, and the opioid crisis dominating the mainstream news cycle, can you blame consumers for feeling disillusioned?

Pharma falls dead last on the 2019 Gallup industries poll – a ranking of consumers’ views across a range of industries – and it’s unsettling to say the least. Pharma is now viewed more negatively than the federal government, which held the bottom spot for the past 8 years (yikes). For an industry that strives to deliver positive results – medicines that can cure diseases, extend life expectancy and fundamentally improve the quality of peoples’ lives – to be viewed so negatively speaks to a bigger issue. Trust.

The trust issue isn’t a new one and there is no quick fix. But there is one playing field that offers brands a starting point and an opportunity to tackle the issue head on and make an impact on changing the minds of the audiences that matter most to them. It’s through the brand experiences they deliver.

Here’s why your brand experience (BX) matters. We know that brands that rank higher than others on the Experience Brand Index have a higher Net Promoter Score (NPS) and higher customer loyalty. We know that brand experiences can change customer behavior. And we know from looking over the fence that brand experiences in pharma lag behind those in other industries.

With this in mind, below are a few ways the industry can begin to shift the experiences they deliver – creating more notable interactions and moments with their key audiences. (Hint: Two very well-known brands can help!)

Provide meaningful interactions on social platforms – and IRL

Facebook – a platform known for building communities – is still doing just that, despite its privacy and trust issues. With nearly 2.45 billion monthly active users, people continue to use the social platform to stay connected with family and friends, be entertained, catch up on news, or simply pass time. For health care and pharma brands, Facebook allows brands to connect with audiences in a meaningful manner. It can pay off too. Health care brands are seeing a return on investment from executing less “sales-focused” behaviors, resulting in more traction from their social spend.

Two simple ways to provide meaningful interactions online

  1. Instead of promoting the latest drug or product update by paying an influencer to simply post about it on social, team up with him or her to create more personalized and engaging content that addresses a topic or issue in an authentic manner.
  2. Avoid canned, robotic responses to your social audience. Invest in community management and use social media as a mechanism to connect, engage and interact. Humanize your brand.

Let’s talk real life

So, how does this behavior translate for health care brands IRL (In Real Life)? First, take stock of existing opportunities for in-person, meaningful interactions with patients and HCPs. These are the critical audience touchpoints where HCPs and patients experience your brand. Make them proofpoints!

Start by developing unique content and experiences that will create meaningful, face to face interactions at places like:

  • Congresses & Exhibits
  • Peer 2 Peer / KOL Education Events
  • Point of Care
  • Patient & HCP Activation Events

Brands must invest in these opportunities to do something different than what’s been done before. Redefine how you show up at these events and deliver meaningful experiences to the audiences that matter most. I bet you’ll change their behaviors and set yourself apart from your competitors. That translates into real world likes, shares, and comments.

After all, HCP’s are 3X more likely to share information with a friend or colleague after an excellent experience.

Your employees matter just as much as your external customers

One of your most influential assets in customer experience (CX) is your employee base. It’s pretty simple. How employees feel about and act at work, matters. So much that it extends to their customers. So how you treat them as an employer matters too.

From monthly well-being reimbursement, to allowing time to volunteer, to perks like Google’s “20 percent time” where employees can dedicate work time to personal projects that may even benefit the company in the long run– investing in employees is crucial to your bottom line. And for recruiting efforts. People want to work somewhere that has happy employees, and where they are valued. Google has ranked at or near the top of the list of best places to work (Glassdoor, Forbes) for years with Googlers enjoying “the best perks, opportunities for career growth, work that positively impacts the human race, and innovative culture.”

For health care brands that get a limited number of direct touches with their customers, employee interaction is especially meaningful. Think about your “brand ambassadors” who are telling your brand’s story. The sales reps, marketing professionals, medical staff and KOLs – how do you empower and inspire them not just to share your data, but to tell your story?

These are highly trained, well-educated and hard-working teams. Are you investing in creating meaningful interactions with them, or have you reduced your budgets allocated to celebrating their success, empowering them with crucial new skillsets, and inspiring them with both purpose and culture? This is how storytellers are born.

Think about it this way. Your employees are your internal customers. Invest in the experience you deliver to them, which will help drive the experience they deliver to your external customers.

Invest in experience

While budgets might be tight and an investment in the types of programs that empower and inspire employees needs to come from somewhere, it’s an important pivot to make. A shift in dollars from one marketing category to another should start with an honest assessment of where your opportunities for meaningful interaction lie.

Let’s make 2020 the year of investing in experiences. In CX. In employee experience. In BX. And begin to build a new level of trust with patients, HCPs and employees.

Need a kick start? Use this checklist and begin to think about where the experiences you deliver to HCPs, patients, and employees rate today.

pharma reputation


1 Gallup. (2019, September 3). Big pharma sinks to the bottom of U.S. industry rankings. Retrieved January 27, 2020 from https://news.gallup.com/poll/266060/big-pharma-sinks-bottom-industry-rankings.aspx

2 Sprout Social. (2020, January 21). 18 Facebook statistics every marketer should know in 2020. Retrieved January 31, 2020 from https://sproutsocial.com/insights/facebook-stats-for-marketers/

3 Smith & Jones. Top 4 digital marketing mistakes to avoid in 2020. Retrieved January 31, 2020 from https://smithandjones.com/resources/blog/top-4-digital-marketing-mistakes-to-avoid-in-2020/

4 Aptus Health. The state of the customer experience in the pharmaceutical industry. Retrieved January 31, 2020 from https://pharmaphorum.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Aptus-Cx-graphic-4.jpg

5 Mashable. (2018, May 11). How the ‘20% time’ rule led to Google’s most innovative products. Retrieved January 30, 2020 from https://mashable.com/2018/05/11/google-20-percent-rule/

6 Investopedia. (2019, July 29). The top 10 reasons to work at Google. Retrieved January 30, 2020 from https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/060315/top-10-reasons-work-google.asp