Precision marketing and the concept of personalized medicine are not new. We know that similar symptoms present across a variety of different illnesses and that treatments that work well in some patients do not work well in others. What’s new is the advances across technology and science that allow researchers, doctors, and patients to be monitored and treated more precisely and effectively. From the Human Genome Project of 2008 to the identification of the HER2/neu gene as a predictor for breast cancer, personalized medicine is making big gains and we have, at last, entered a new era of product development and drug delivery.

So what does all this mean for pharma and how does it change communications, reach, and engagement? Delivering targeted, precise marketing to the right audiences has long been the goal. Today’s marketers must rethink today’s communication constructs in an effort to keep pace and create the individualized, patient-centric communication models of tomorrow. Of course, these shifts are not without a unique set of hurdles. Which ones can we address today? Which should be reserved for tomorrow? And, how do we bring value to a patient while respecting their privacy?

We have always been obsessed with data. And more so today, the role of a marketing professional has heavily shifted to focus on mastering the disciple of data analysis. The unprecedented access to virtually unlimited data sources and the need to capitalize on the insights gleaned are driving this dramatic shift. These data sets continue to multiply – at an exponential rate. Compound that growth with the rapid rise in companion device startups being fueled by over $29.1B across in venture funding across 729 deals. It is becoming ever more clear that “personalized” data sets will play a vital role in revolutionizing personalized medicine and precision marketing. 

A Patient’s Data is Their Currency

In a 2022 Accenture survey, approximately seven out of 10 consumers (69%) say they would share significant data on their health in exchange for a direct benefit or reward. What wasn’t surprising? They want brands to ask for permission. The expectation from consumers is that brands view them as you guessed it… people. Specific individuals with very specific needs looking to receive benefits in exchange for their information. Patient data has obvious value to the scientific community, but to the patient, the value lies in the exchange of better service. Be it in the form of refined medical treatments, health education, better communications, or offers.

The value of big data to advertising and precision marketing is obvious. The challenges – are numerous. These challenges are not just reserved for marketing teams and how we leverage this information to deliver communications. It extends most importantly to the consumer. With the rapid growth of consumer technologies, the control over our personal health data has become very unclear to consumers. Most not knowing exactly where their information is going or how it’s being used. And this has caught the eye of the Federal Trade Commission as illustrated in their ruling for “opt-in” consent to track location through mobile devices.

Transparency Breeds Patient Engagement

We as marketers need to take the responsibility of using collected data for marketing purposes – from any source – seriously and treat patients and healthcare consumers fairly. Consumers are beginning to realize that a free-flowing but controlled exchange of their information – across personal and medical – creates a better value add to their daily lives. As stated previously, the barrier to receiving “informed consent” is very low as long as we ask and clearly articulate the brand’s value proposition for sharing said data. Sharing your personal information, be it medical, location, buying habits, etc. is the ultimate form of transparency.

And we as brands should return the favor. Patient data is a looking glass into their lives, providing a more complete picture both from a medical, demographic, and psychographic perspective. This access strengthens our ability to understand people more to better deliver high-quality content that not only engages patients but potentially coaches them toward better outcomes.

Changing the Face of Personalized Communication 

Personalization can be interpreted in a variety of ways. In life sciences, this word holds game-changing promise. The promise of highly tailored, highly targeted therapies with diagnostic gene analysis can serve as predictors of serious diseases like cancers and diabetes. An approach that treats the individual with the disease – not the individual disease. 

For marketers, it represents a tremendous opportunity. An opportunity to engage on a level never seen before in communication. Personalized medicine and precision marketing share the same goal: identify what audience would most benefit and which one would not and deliver a solution. For marketers, personalization translates to the relevancy of content. The delivery of the right message at the right time to the right person. Relevancy equals frequency and reach. With data shared in real-time from both medical-grade and consumer wearables, the more accurate and valuable our brand message is, the more consumers want to hear from us. And brand affinity will skyrocket!

The delivery of a personalized brand experience for a patient is very possible. Each companion device serves a unique purpose but can serve as the main platform for patient communication. To achieve success, this approach needs to move away from a single outlet towards an omnichannel strategy creating an experiential connection between patients and pharma. A complement of nimble advertising, marketing, and engagement tools that span on and offline channels. Big data allows us to shape our brand story throughout the day: specific to an outlet, a state of mind, place, mood, or current interest. And these new data sets allow us to do just that!

The Four C’s of Precision Marketing 

To apply this omnichannel construct, we must now leverage each outlet to deliver meaningful and relevant content. And relevancy is king. Today’s consumer – knowingly or unknowingly – is becoming more accustomed to messages that are directed to them – ignoring more generalized content. This is the power of precision marketing. Your selected channels merely become the delivery mechanism for the content that the patient’s shared information dictates should be delivered to aid the patient in managing their condition. Content types can be categorized in the following way:

  • Connect: Creating a connection with a patient is critical to care. Each appropriate moment you communicate is a moment you should capitalize on. Even though we are leveraging technology to deliver our message – basic communications skills need to apply. In the spirit of personalization, this method adds a human level to your program. A personal touch. A reflection on your brand. Keep it consistent and always relevant.
  • Coach: The identification of genetic markers of people who may be predisposed to a particular condition is a key component of personalized medicine. While more is being learned about what impact both environmental and behavioral conditions have on disease, wellness and lifestyle coaching catered to your audience become a valuable tool used for early detection and prevention.
  • Comply: Non-compliance is a major obstacle for any medical professionals working to provide optimal care for their patients. Studies have shown that better and more timely communication significantly increases adherence across the board. Content can bridge this gap creating a better experience for patients and ultimately better outcomes. 
  • Care: The care gap for people with certain chronic diseases is vast and continues to widen. With companion devices gradually closing that gap by providing physicians access to reliable datasets that help inform faster interventions and provide more personalized treatment regimens, it allows marketers opportunities to supplement the care experience through encouraging and useful content.

Our Responsibility

There is a responsibility in having this holistic view of our patient population. Pharma and marketers alike now have deeper insights into both the behavioral and environmental influences on a patient’s care in addition to medical intervention. This has created massive opportunities to position your brand in a more patient-centric space. Addressing the needs that extend beyond a prescription and bringing that added value patients expect for sharing their personal information. Positioning your brand as one concerned with treating the whole person, not just the patient, speaks volumes to patients and feeds their desire to be seen as true individuals.

Marketing teams must respect the privacy of patients and scrutinize every communication to be sure it consistently delivers on your brand promise to patients. Content relevancy is key and can only be achieved if we truly understand exactly whom we are talking to. In our highly regulated and controlled industry marketing professionals must do due diligence to understand and explore how to incorporate these data sets in a responsible and effective manner that benefits patients. Creating a divide in health and consumer data will only continue to create a gap in true patient centricity.