How to drive brand engagement in the pharmaceutical industry

Insight agencies Legend Engage and Customer Faithful were invited to speak at the healthcare industry’s BHBIA Customer Engagement and Loyalty Workshop on 22 September.

For a highly regulated industry with rigorous rules and adverse events reporting requirements, the pharmaceutical industry has it tough when it comes to building customer and brand loyalty. A lack of audience engagement as well as costly, traditional market research practice also add to the challenges that the industry faces, at a time when Big Pharma is looking to reduce costs and learn at a rapid rate.

So how can the pharmaceutical industry tune in, engage and win the loyalty of its customers?

While loyalty in commerce suggests getting something back in return, being engaged with a brand or a corporation is more about the relationship – often involving experiences that are repeated, positive and even memorable. Those highly engaged with the brand become more proactive – as advocates they openly promote their positive experiences through word-of-mouth and align their personal image and reputation with that of the brand.

To build loyalty and engagement, the pharma industry needs to follow the example of many other sectors by:

  1. Pinpointing what provides value to different customer types
  2. Driving loyalty and profitability by targeting benefits to segments
  3. Nurturing relationships by responding to customer feedback and lifestyle / life-stage change

This may seem obvious, but there are a great deal of companies who market their proposition based on an imprecise understanding of the varying benefits that different customer groups take from their products and services.

‘Big data’ might provide a detailed record of what customers have bought, where they went and when, but the emotions and attitudes behind the behaviour are rarely captured. Instead, such insight lives in customer stories, sometimes recorded in blogs, forums and social media, or simply described in conversation, should such a discussion occur.

It’s here that organisations can identify what customers value, framed in the stories of their lives, rather than the narrowcast scope of a product or service.

During the workshop, myself and Rick Harris (Customer Faithful) showed how these valuable insights can be organised as functional, emotional and life-changing benefits. This framework then enables brands to target its communications to different segments, according to the needs and values they hold. And in the digital world, such communication can be delivered at an individual level, aligning to personal digital behaviours and trigger moments, such as when people are active in social media or ecommerce.

For pharma companies, there is much to learn from adapting such techniques already well established in industry sectors such as retail, leisure and hospitality. These sectors work hard to nurture relationships, such as how hotels and airlines leverage business travellers and extend the relationship and reward into leisure and family occasions. Healthcare companies can also support lifestage relationships, by producing content framed around stages in customers’ lives (holidays, work life, family achievements and milestones) rather than solely in clinical terms such as time on treatment, or dosage levels.

The end game for pharma should be to aspire to memorable experiences too – of how positive patient outcomes were sought, achieved and reinforced, built on metrics that are as much patient-defined as clinically. Such an ambition drives brand reputation, respect and engagement – factors of loyalty not just for patients but many other stakeholders too.

To find out more about the patient-centred work we do in pharmaceutical and healthcare get in touch at or

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