The 7th Era of Marketing: Content-Driven Experiences

Marketing today is all about patient experience, and pharma must respond with strong content strategies.



The landscape of marketing is changing. In the last two decades, businesses have been operating and growing within the so-called ‘relationship era,’ which analysts have described as the 6th era of marketing. This era focused on one-on-one marketing and the personalization of products. Today, however, according to Robert Rose, Chief Strategist at the Content Marketing Institute, the 7th era is here - and it’s all about experiences, specifically experiences that are content-driven. Consumers today prefer to be informed and to experience products and services instead of simply acquiring them.

According to Rose’s book, entitled Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing, co-authored with Carla Johnson, “…the idea of providing education, delight, and general usefulness (as a brand’s approach to engaging potential customers) provides a new way to enrich interactions with customers at every stage of the buying journey.” The use of content in this way, he writes, shows “no sign of slowing down.”

However, despite the changing landscape of marketing, which features this continually evolving role played by content, many companies in the world of pharma are sticking with outdated strategies and processes. According to Rose, “For the last few years, there has been quite a bit of what I’d call ‘content in marketing,’ not ‘content marketing.’” 

In their book, Rose and Johnson describe how content has historically been treated as a product or a final output rather than an essential element of the marketing process. Indeed, ‘content’ most commonly referred merely to elaborate descriptions of products and their features. Given today’s ease with how information can be digitally published and shared, several companies have also released large amounts of information targeted towards the consumers. Yet without a proper strategy, this kind of information can be perceived by consumers as bombardment, which eventually leads to them disengaging from the product or service, as well as the brand.

On the other hand, “7th Era” content marketing treats content as a process, which implies that it is a fundamental method of operating a business. Content today needs to be strategic because it has become an integral component of marketing in business. Content is affecting all methods and channels of marketing. Rose poses the challenge that, “Enterprises must make a choice: Content can be managed as the strategic asset that it has (or can) become, or it can be an expensive by-product that ultimately weighs down a company as it tries to navigate the broader disruption taking place.”

Specifically for pharma, the content marketing approach is already being adopted by some organizations. For companies who have yet to learn about and adopt it correctly, the immediate challenge is to create and manage content that leads to valuable patient experiences.

Latest trends in content marketing

“Actually doing content marketing is probably the biggest trend. Businesses are scaling, staffing, budgeting and treating content marketing as a real thing,” observes Rose, who notes the positive results already evident for companies that have begun to embrace the ‘7th age’ approach. “What we see in the market now is that brands, especially those in pharma, have started to see real results from actually launching a content brand and delivering value through content, that are separate and discrete from the value delivered through the product or service,” he explains.

According to Teradata Applications Vice President for Content Marketing, Rebecca Lieb, “Content is the atomic particle of marketing. Without it, there's nothing to fill all those web sites, blogs, emails, or social media platforms.” Lieb, who previously worked as Altimeter Group’s Digital Advertising and Media Analyst, says that content has become so critical to businesses that larger brands, like GE and IBM, sometimes publish more weekly content than Time Magazine ever did during its heyday.

Leading edge examples from inside and outside pharma

Rose identifies Pfizer’s “Get Old” effort as a strong example of content marketing. It encourages older consumers to develop a new attitude and fresh perspective about ageing, by providing stories and information on how to fulfill some old and long-forgotten dreams, and thereby increase their enjoyment of life. Stories and activities that are shared on the Pfizer website relate to anything from traveling experiences, to graduating from college or otherwise reinventing oneself after the age of 65.

Rose points to Kraft Food as offering a good example from outside the world of pharma. Kraft has been practicing the concept of content marketing, even before it was labeled as such, by providing recipes and other useful information to engage customers. Kraft’s content marketing team employs a special matrix that helps classify content into four sections: produced, executional, perishable and evergreen content. This matrix helps the company come up with just the right content mix at the right time in order to stay relevant with new topics, but at the same time promote a brand that has been in the food industry for quite a while.

Another good example is Hubspot, which is an Internet marketing company that helps businesses adapt and deliver inbound experiences to engage their customers. The stories and information published by Hubspot are inherently useful for clients who have an existing business online or would like to have a stronger digital presence. Hubspot is a good example of how content marketing can apply not only to B2C companies, but to B2B players as well.

The internal changes needed for pharma organizations

The common thread between good content marketing practices of large companies inside and outside of the pharma industry is that they have an integrated organizational structure that places content at the heart of company strategy. Many internal departments adhere to this core strategy to increase brand engagement, loyalty and cost-efficiency. Pharma companies must learn to produce and disseminate relevant and engaging content across various touch points, and marketers play a crucial part in this process. Their role has expanded from merely being brand stewards, to being the leader for organization-wide transformation.

The first step to restructuring a company towards a unifying content strategy is to acknowledge content as an asset. “Once that cultural hurdle is crossed, then it’s simply creating a real function in the business to create, manage, measure and utilize that strategic asset,” says Rose. He recognizes that various departments can have different residual communication goals. It’s rare that the organization is going to be de-siloed based on trying to unify a single communications strategy.  However, if content can be managed as a strategic asset that fits all of those communication goals, then a more integrated process can be achieved.

Creating relevant and engaging content that can be re-used across different channels can contribute towards a centralized content structure. “In this way, we find most organizations actually reduce the amount of content they are creating on any day-to-day or month-to-month basis. This creates a much better cost-effectiveness for content, and usually a much higher quality,” he adds.

Teradata Applications offers a good example of what success looks like in this respect.  Lieb recently published two research reports that focused on producing and disseminating relevant information from across her organization. In one report, she looked at the cost benefits that aren’t necessarily linked to sales, but nonetheless had business value. “What reactions are you getting from your audience that can speed or inform product development, for example? How can content help address customer service issues, or benefit recruiting and retention?” asks Lieb, posing questions that pharma companies can ask themselves in order to identify possible cost-efficiency points.

Building a consistent brand story

Both Lieb and Rose highlight that to build a consistent brand story with the potential to unify an organization, it is essential to find and excavate stories. Rose first discriminates between the task of finding stories and creating a consistent brand story. To excavate stories, the key is to have people act as reporters, who go out and find potentially compelling stories in various parts of the company. “The real key in creating a consistent brand story is understanding the larger narrative we are trying to create, so that the excavating and finding exercise has a true purpose,” he says.

On the other hand, Lieb has focused on what she describes as the “culture of content,” and observes that doctors, patients, research and development officers, customer service personnel, sales, and just about any other outward facing part of the company were great sources of relevant stories. “Stories and topics don't just live in marketing. They must be identified and harvested across and beyond the organization,” she suggests. Content strategy, of course, dictates what type of stories should be gathered, and to whom and how they should be told. Content needs to be strategic, otherwise the impact on the audience can be superficial.

In creating content and finding stories, some outside industry companies have made use of third party content contributors. Since pharma is heavily regulated with mitigated risks, however, some companies are uncomfortable with accepting content from outsiders. According to Lieb, “Most brands want to create their own content, but there's so much demand to feed the beast that this isn't always possible.”

In her experience with regulated industries like healthcare and finance, Lieb has observed how strategy in this area doesn’t only account for the ‘what’ of content, but also the ‘how,’ which pertains to the content governance process. “Having documented processes, and training teams to follow them, is integral to content strategy. “Certainly, there are [third party] vendors and providers who specialize in healthcare and pharma, but it's ultimately the organization’s responsibility to ensure compliance,” she emphasizes.

Providing patients with a meaningful experience

After identifying content as a strategic asset and thoroughly excavating stories from across their particular organization, some pharma companies and individual healthcare professionals still wonder whether a prior company-client relationship or an existing loyalty to the brand is necessary before any content-driven effort can lead to a meaningful experience for the patient. “I don’t think a prior relationship is necessary to develop a meaningful experience, but you have to have some kind of value promised or delivered before you can ask for something in return,” Rose advises.

Creating content-driven experiences is all about delivering value. “What is the value that we can deliver to that person at this stage in their journey?” asks Rose. The value could be education, entertainment, a practical ‘how-to,’ or simply anything that illicits an emotional response.  “Whatever it is, it should be separate from our product or service that we sell.  That meaningful experience is something that delivers value to the consumer’s life. In this way, content marketing much more closely resembles a product development process than a campaign-oriented one,” he adds.

If they aren’t yet doing so, pharma companies need also to understand the Voice of the Customer so that there is a basis for creating meaningful patient experiences. To do this, “Pharma must listen. Where are customers discussing health and pharma issues? What information will help them as they deal with healthcare issues? Where are their watering holes on the web?” asks Lieb. Content marketing is all about attraction, and she suggests that pharma must embrace the challenge of being there when people seek out knowledge, information and thought leadership. “There's a whole family of technology solutions that help achieve just that,” she adds.

Key performance indicators

Ultimately, company executives will pose the question: will content marketing drive a positive change in the bottom line or not? It is often difficult to directly compute the results of content marketing in terms of monetary value, but there are key performance indicators that measure customer engagement and loyalty, as well as other results that represent a good proxy for improved bottom line.

Rose identifies audience subscription as one core indicator. “Any successful content marketing program should deliver an increasing audience, independent of whether that audience is a customer of ours or not.  As long as we are building an increasingly loyal and engaged audience, we can always shift focus to how that audience can be better monetized. That’s the true magic of content marketing,” he explains.

Data results from non-buyers are also potentially valuable. “Building an audience is building an asset that can provide multiple values to the business over time. It may be a buyer today, but a loyalty tomorrow, or an insight into a new product next year,” Rose surmises.

According to Lieb, content and patient experience should flow seamlessly across devices and platforms. “It's a brand's responsibility to know customers well enough to create not just the appropriate content, but to do so on the right channels, at the right time,” she says.

To measure whether content strategy has been optimized, Lieb suggests using analytics and mapping of customer segments and personas, but warns that this analysis should be more sophisticated than simply concentrating on ‘likes,’ ‘shares,’ and other volume metrics. “Focus on KPIs that are indicative of business results,” she emphasizes. In research she conducted with colleague Susan Etlinger, some indicators of business value identified include measures of customer experience, innovation, brand health, and operational efficiency.

An era of personalized content

The 7th era of marketing is coincidental with the emergence of wearable devices and the ‘Internet of Things,’ which pertains to the concept of sensors attached to devices and appliances that are then used to link the physical world to the Internet in order to centralize collection, analysis and usage of data. Lieb says, “We're about to enter an era of highly contextual and personalized content everywhere.” She predicts that this will have a dramatic implication on marketing in this area by making content more site and location-specific.

Technology and communication are ever-changing and advancing. With this in mind, Rose urges pharma to treat content as a process that must be embraced at an organizational level. In order to adapt to the marketing era of experience, companies must organize their own core content strategies, find and excavate relevant stories from within their product range, and create meaningful patient experiences.

In the end, content marketing means designing content-driven experiences that deliver value and create a foundation of engagement, loyalty and trust. It will place any pharma company in a much more effective and strategic position to offer products and services going forward into the future.


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