How to Layer Innovation into Strategy

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By Brian Geist, Chief Strategy Officer, Publicis Health Media

As the chief strategy officer at a healthcare media agency, I often think about this quip among marketers: “What’s new today in pharma was new yesterday for everyone else.” 

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Pharma is often accused of being five years behind other industries in marketing and media buying, with a reputation of being traditional, rather than pushing the envelope. The accusation isn’t completely unfounded; linear TV remains a ‘tried and true’ format for ad spend and the category’s spend increased on linear TV last year. 

However, as consumers and health care providers shift in demographics and media consumption habits, marketers need to incorporate innovation into their daily practice to find ways to reach new audiences. Easier said than done, perhaps, but here’s how I think about innovation on a daily basis — and how Publicis Health Media has codified innovation strategy into our practice.  

Don’t narrow your mindset with ROI-only KPI

Having a single-minded focus on obtaining return on investment can squash innovation opportunities — if the market or consumer behavior shifts (as they often do), you risk getting caught flat-footed by leaning on the same tactics for immediate returns.

An illustrative example: linear TV has been a huge ROI driver for all advertisers for over half a century yet is something all advertisers understand can’t be heavily relied upon in the future. Over the past decade, clients have increasingly diversified their media mix as they grapple with which channel will provide the same value linear TV once did. 

Now, our goal is to work with pharma clients to shift investments so that they are more diverse, digitalized and targetable; that way, as the market continues to shift and more people leave traditional TV viewing, they won’t be adapting too late. Already, advertisers can’t buy the same amount of TV time that they might want, due to constricted supply and lower reach. But advertisers who were innovating all along in preparation for the loss of TV scale — even as TV drove ROI — know what works, where to keep shifting spend and are keeping an eye on new channels such as TikTok. 

By staying nimble and constantly observing your surroundings, you can avoid being stagnant. 

Teach your employees to be curious and forward-thinking

Big ideas can feel spontaneous, but the best means to have a boundary pushing team is to foster creativity through your daily processes. Codifying a daily innovation practice can yield incredible results and identify future leaders in the field. 

It could start with something as simple as encouraging individuals to share the various test-and-learns that they are deploying and tracking them. This allows visibility into which ideas have greater applicability and can be replicated for other brands and clients, as well as providing opportunities for team members work to be showcased and encouraging the team at large to have an innovative mindset.

Some ideas are small and can be scaled; other ideas are larger and require resources. Operationalizing innovation allows you to align with our clients on which ideas we believe are cutting-edge and should thus be prioritized. It fosters a culture of innovation, and we find team members expand their curiosity outside of their specific role or job as are exposed to more ideas from their expanded team for ideas they can scale or apply to their areas of expertise. 

Team members should also be open to collaboration with an “always curious” mindset. On our research side, we have access to many different data types. The owners of those data are constantly uncovering insights about the brand or market that may not be obvious to others, and when they share those insights, we ask them questions that lead to even more opportunities to find new insights. Through this process of collaboration, we democratize an insight by building a group of people who are thinking about how to leverage said insight. 

Simply put: If you’re not actually looking for innovation, it’s hard to find. But if you foster a mindset every day where teams think about innovation, you can make small discoveries that often lead to more bigger ideas. 

Test and learn

As marketers, it’s our job to understand the audiences we are trying to reach. But behaviors are shifting more than ever as audiences face a broad range of platforms and channels. Marketers shouldn’t expect to know how or why modern audiences will behave to evolving channels or messaging calls to action. 

Thus, it makes sense to utilize an audience-centric approach with segmentation to delineate audience interests. 

This is where the test-and-learn approach comes in handy. Through segmentation, we create layered qualifiers that fit specific patient profiles and thus should be interacted with in a certain way. For example, by separating audiences into groups of people who prefer video or prefer reading online, we can begin to consider what appropriate messaging and deployment may look like. Simply establishing these segments develops a series of hypotheses of what types of messaging and content to test against and observe how they drive the intended behavioral action.  

Through these tests, we either validate segment assumptions, at which point you can scale it and treat your original hypothesis as a guiding truth or principle — or, if the findings don’t align with what you thought would happen, we can determine whether it’s worth investigating further and altering our hypotheses. At the level of audience segmentation, the test-and-learn approach is a tried-and-true method of reinforcing beliefs surrounding patient behavior — or uncovering new ones. 

Advertising is not just a one-way street

The worst kind of advertising is messaging that does not provide value. The endless stream of pharma advertising you see on TV can be akin to someone repeatedly yelling at you through a bullhorn, it is a singular message to all and offers no opportunity to engage. In pharma, the regulations in place to protect patient privacy means we need to be thoughtful about how we connect with individuals, made even more pressing against the backdrop of third-party data changes. 

Advertising can offer an opportunity for a relationship. Consider well-done customer relationship management: This is a tactic more similar to a conversation, in which the advertisers are learning what people have been interested in the past and using that to inform what they talk to them about next. A more personalized media experience with content of value helps build a digital relationship. 

By considering how to make your communications with patient audiences more personal and thus more value-intrinsic, health marketers are approaching a new frontier of innovation — a value exchange in which advertisers give audiences valuable content. That’s a paradigm shift in healthcare communications, and eventually, it will be the norm. Think of instances when people will go online after diagnosis, or when they receive treatment plans; by servicing them with useful and purposeful content, advertisers are positively changing communication. Similarly, on the HCP side, there are ways to be more supportive of doctors by making communications easier, more informative and better to find and aligning to their growing preferences for digital communications.

These are all things that my team and I consider on a daily basis that have allowed us to innovate on a consistent basis — providing more value to our clients, unlocking new insights about patient audiences and converting said insights into innovation, and continuing to shift healthcare marketing toward a healthier, audience-centric path. 

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