Be Authentic in Your Content

How pharma can up their game with a smart content strategy.



The Big Social Media Conference held in Manchester in July provided thought-provoking insights into the world of content marketing, an area where the pharmaceutical industry has to be particularly careful. Given that direct to consumer advertising of prescription medications is illegal outside of the US and New Zealand, how can content marketing be used by the pharmaceutical industry?

Sharon Flaherty, Managing Director of content marketing agency BrandContent, presented at the conference. She says, “The pharmaceutical industry is often accused of being slow to embrace digital and content marketing and it responds by blaming compliance and the regulations it is bound by.”

Some common ground can be drawn from pharma and the financial services industry, which is also highly regulated yet leaps and bounds ahead when it comes to content marketing. Yet, it doesn’t have to be this way. The pharma industry has a crucial role to play in educating society and content marketing can help the industry fulfil this.

“Rather than it being seen as a compliance headache, it should be embraced as a huge opportunity to put patients at the heart of the industry. Content marketing isn’t a risk, but not embracing it is.

“For example,” explains Flaherty, “patients need reassurance and support over medical issues and medication - all of which can be achieved through strong content marketing. As another example, behavior in patients may need to change, again a key place for content marketing to step in as a motivator.”

“Rather than it being seen as a compliance headache,” she adds, “it should be embraced as a huge opportunity to put patients at the heart of the industry. Content marketing isn’t a risk, but not embracing it is.”

The magnitude of opportunities content marketing presents can be seen in the AOL and Nielsen finding that people spend on average 30% of their time on social channels. However, just having content doesn’t mean that your information will get noticed.

So, what exactly are the guiding principles behind a strong content strategy? Flaherty believes that creating effective content requires considering two important principles:

1.      Defining a purpose

2.      Being authentic

Defining a purpose

The content of the pharmaceutical industry means that appropriate content could, for example, consist of high quality information aimed at easing the everyday lives of people who are ill, as well as providing tips on managing illnesses or preventing them.

Flaherty says that the question “What are you giving your audience?” has several possible answers. Content produced by the pharmaceutical industry could be aimed at providing:

  • Support: advice on dealing with or reducing the symptoms of certain conditions.
  • Information: such as answers to questions that patients frequently ask when a certain condition is diagnosed, or advice to parents and caregivers.
  • Education: educating patients on lifestyle choices that could prevent illness or ease the symptoms of certain illnesses.
  • Reassurance: addressing concerns that certain groups of patients frequently express.
  • Motivation: as an example, TB patients often become discouraged during treatment and risk discontinuing their medication. Could carefully crafted content help to keep them motivated?
  • Inspiration: providing patients with the opportunity to inspire others by sharing their experiences.

Content that has purpose results in relevant information that serves the dual purposes of assisting the public and contributing to the building of brand image and loyalty.

Being authentic

Authenticity builds credibility and trust. According to Flaherty, three vital elements contribute to authenticity:

1.      Getting to the core of what makes you “you” (brand personality)

2.      Bringing the voice and story to life

3.      Giving the audience something real, which often means something different.

1. Brand personality

Marketing professor Lea Katsanis conducted a study investigating how consumers perceive the brand personality of pharmaceutical companies, finding that competence and innovation were the primary focus. Therefore, public perceptions of authenticity seem to rest on factors such as elements of competence (dependability, reliability responsibility, stability, practicality, and the provision of solutions), as well as elements of innovativeness (being unique or original).

2. Voice and story

A review of pharmaceutical corporate websites conducted by Mads Peterson (2015) found that, “Tone of voice, design choices and user experience are fragmented.” He observes that modern internet users prefer texts written in an engaging style with easily readable text, rather than the traditional, ‘corporate copywriting.’

The ‘story,’ Peterson argues, should have an outward focus rather than an inward focus that concentrates purely on the company and its achievements. The message is clear - the time when stilted language and ‘about us’ focus were considered the appropriate way for the pharmaceutical industry to express itself has passed. Effective content consists of a more casual, approachable style and a greater focus on the reader’s interests than the company itself.

3. Something real and/or different

Given Peterson’s findings, getting ‘real’ and ‘different’ will mean changing the tone and focus many pharma organizations are accustomed to using in their content. He suggests that more engaging content might include elements such as real life patient stories and real stories about innovation and health advice. Only one of the websites he reviewed included any health advice for the public, so just adding this element would make the content offering of a pharmaceutical company more “real and different.”

Plan and implement your content strategy

Flaherty sums up the process of implementing a content strategy into actionable steps. First, she says, consider the “nuts and bolts of your brand and what makes you different.” Now use this information to determine the purpose of your content. Then, to see if you have achieved an effective strategy, measure the impact of your content.

Before these steps can be taken, however, you need a content marketing strategy to implement. Understanding the needs of your target market or audience is important, but in the pharmaceutical context, these needs differ according to product category. The author of ‘Pharmaceutical marketing: strategy and cases,” Mickey Smith maintains that pharmaceuticals fulfil a wide spectrum of needs, including:

  • Achievement: e.g. weight loss, health supplements
  • Independence: e.g. home diagnostics, seizure prevention
  • Dominance: e.g. doctors exerting authority in prescribing medicines
  • Nurturance: e.g. pediatric or geriatric medications
  • Succorance: e.g. being helped, encouraged or supported
  • Sexuality: e.g. oral contraceptives, erectile dysfunction medications
  • Stimulation: e.g. fostering alertness through prescribing non-sedating anti-histamines
  • Diversion: e.g. the need to relax; sleeping tablets, anti-depressants and mild tranquilisers
  • Novelty: e.g. new products or new formulations.
  • Understanding: e.g. the need for learning and comprehension
  • Security: e.g. the need to feel safe and avoidance of harm

Once you have grasped what needs your audience has within a certain context and how your organization can fulfil them, purposeful content goals can be set. Existing content should be reviewed to determine whether it addresses audience needs, and be adjusted or overhauled if it doesn’t. Once this step has been completed, new content can be planned to fill in the gaps.

The last step of devising a content strategy is to determine the when, where, how and who. When will content be published? Where will it be published? How will the content be used? Who will prepare it?

Joining the dots: what was the impact?

Once you have launched your strategy, you will be wondering whether you have achieved the purposefulness and authenticity that you have been striving for and whether your audience is finding your content as meaningful as you hoped. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that you will be able to measure the impact you’re making immediately. Content marketing experts agree that you need to run your campaign for at least six months before there is sufficient data available to reach a conclusion.

The question is, how do you determine the magnitude of a campaign’s impact? Most businesses would examine sales figures and determine whether there have been cost-savings. To a certain extent, the pharmaceutical industry could use these figures, but the primary metric would be end-user satisfaction and retention.

With this in mind, online readership studies and the information obtained through interaction with readers would be valuable indicators. Analytics can be studied to measure engagement, and pre-and post-awareness studies could be conducted to determine whether the market is better informed as a result of a particular content marketing campaign.

The pharmaceutical industry can benefit from updating its content to increase engagement from end-users. Flaherty says: “If you remember anything, remember these two things: Define your social purpose and let your content bring that to life. Be authentic. Be different.”


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