Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Illuminating Power of Compassion

“He who knows the customer best, wins.”

That’s what one of the best planners in the business, Nat Puccio, once told me when I started in DTC. Now, years later, I feel that knowing the customer is necessary, but is insufficient to win the hearts and minds of healthcare consumers. Instead, I now believe that, “He who has the most compassion for the customer, wins.” 

My view evolved because the most valuable insights I have seen generated came from a client who developed true compassion for the patient. And they are these shifting, tectonic insights that result in creative executions that truly connect and motivate. When patients are moved to tears by the self-awareness they feel from a headline, you know you have made a deep connection. 

So how do you get to the point of having true compassion for your patients? To go beyond the point of knowing, you have to spend real time with them, not just observe them from behind a computer screen or two-way mirror. You have to interact with them continuously over time. You might not have a breathtaking insight with every interaction, but if you keep at it long enough, you will uncover some rich nuggets that change your view about your patients.

It is often the small, seemingly inconsequential interactions that resonate most powerfully:

The panicked call from a patient at 6:30 am when she reads the hotel invoice slipped under her door and is worried about fronting the expense
The jaw-dropping respect you feel in the presence of someone who has overcome addiction 
The anguish of the soft-spoken, dignified patient who “fell off the wagon” due to grief at the death of his two beloved chihuahuas  

Deep insights have the power to change a negative sales trajectory, even in the most mundane categories. P&G’s legendary sales turnaround in 2006 was driven in part by a consumer immersion program that resulted in more tailored products and better communication campaigns. This program included sending marketers to the rural village in the Shaanxi province of China to do laundry, and to small shops in low-income areas of Mexico to see how customers shopped. 

According to interviews with P&G’s CMO at the time, Jim Stengel, the benefits to marketers are multiple. First, interacting with customers gives marketers a larger perspective, “one in which Pampers is not about diapers, it's about helping a mother with her baby's development.” And secondly, it changes their attitudes about their jobs. People come back from fieldwork “more pumped up” because they “understand the product has a role in someone’s life.” 

They are these changes in perspective and attitude that I think make the critical difference. When you develop a more compassionate attitude towards patients, you begin to have more of a sense of urgency to solve their problems. You give it an extra oomph by fighting for a more generous support program or spending an afternoon running around the company to get a product shipped to a patient. It’s part of a larger concept that I call compassion marketing.  

So in thinking about your research needs for 2013, consider adding some potential compassion builders—opportunities to interact directly with patients—into your plan. These interactions can happen in multiple ways:

Research companies that organize weekends where marketers closely interact with patients 
Invite a patient to your office for a set of meetings 
Work one-on-one with a patient to develop materials 
Use patient ambassadors and field “ride-alongs” to hear patient stories 

If you listen long and hard enough, a patient will say something that will change your view about your product, your therapeutic area, or about healthcare in general. And this tiny, brightly burning insight could change you and your business in unexpected, positive ways. 

Thanks for letting us share.

Next Wednesday’s post introduces Customer Service - how pharma can learn from IBM

To read previous 2013 Planning Thought Starters posts about:


  1. Like this! When you develop a more compassionate attitude towards patients, you begin to have more of a sense of urgency to solve their problems." I learn so much from this article. Thanks

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