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Critical condition: Maintaining business health amidst evolving stakeholder demands

As well as the tail-end of the pandemic and current NHS crisis, there are wider forces at play that have brought about significant changes to the operating landscape for healthcare and pharma businesses. Overworked workforces have led to an increased focus on employee wellbeing whereas greater scrutiny on environmental and social concerns has meant that corporate accountability is now a priority issue for stakeholders.

Businesses are facing increasing pressure to deal with a new wave of activism in which stakeholders expect strong leadership within this turbulent and constantly evolving landscape. As well as their bottom line, healthcare and pharma organisations are now also being judged on their fundamental beliefs and reasons for being.

Proactively engaging with a broad spectrum of stakeholders is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ for organisations, it has become an imperative. And with leading global pharma firms exiting the UK drug pricing agreement, the influencing factors are by no means purely financial.

In an environment where change is both constant and drastic, understanding your organisation’s stakeholder groups, their behavioural patterns, and what motivates them, is a business-critical objective that must not be overlooked.

Staying ahead of evolving stakeholder demands

The majority of businesses around the world will be able to tell you who their stakeholders are in general terms. Demographic analysis of age, location and other factors is valuable information, but in order to gain a competitive edge, healthcare organisations and communications agencies must seek to uncover a deeper level of audience insight. This is particularly important for corporations looking to engage a range of audiences, whether they be healthcare professionals, investors, or end-users and consumers.

Analysing your stakeholders on a granular level can provide the key to successful healthcare communications and engagement strategies. In this climate, the importance of understanding your customer cannot be understated.

An effective method to extract this data is audience insight tools. These tools enable businesses to monitor the macro trends at play within society, the potential impact on audience behaviour and, in turn, the degree to which these changes may affect relations with your organisation.

One such trend is an emphasis on firms placing purpose before profit. Consumers, businesses, and investors alike are no longer merely requesting that organisations consider their wider impact on society, they are demanding that businesses play a proactive role and take real action. The onus is on corporations to become the changemakers of today and there are no industries for which this is more relevant than health and pharma. To safeguard future growth firms must now be seen to be taking a stance on environmental and social issues, implementing genuinely impactful CSR programmes, and contributing positively to society beyond just their bottom lines. Research from Deloitte revealed that 45% of the increasingly influential Gen Z stopped purchasing certain brands because of ethical or sustainability concerns.

Another trend that has accelerated is the shift towards personal wellbeing. Terebellum predict that 2023 will see improvements in patient engagement, as people are taking accountability for their own health and investing in their own wellbeing. With many consumers shifting to more ‘natural’ methods of prevention, healthcare businesses face a number of challenges when it comes to engaging this audience. Deciphering the messages and values that will resonate with these end-users should be a primary objective in 2023.

As well as monitoring big picture industry trends, audience insight tools enable organisations to build a more accurate picture of their specific audiences through analysing individual personas. Building these personas is a long-established practice within marketing disciplines but has often been built on guesswork and limited behavioural data. Leveraging tools enables organisations to remove this uncertainty and build personas that are truly individual through combining a range of behavioural, demographic and psychographic attributes. Tools such as GlobalWebIndex (GWI) provide access to this deeper level of insight and can reveal why audiences engage with organisations and content in the way that they do.

Organisations can apply multiple layers and attributes to these searches to create as accurate an understanding as possible of who these audiences are as people. This additional layer of insight beyond purely demographic data can provide firms with the bigger picture, enabling teams to formulate strategies that efficiently communicate with these audience groups.

Quantifying your reputation

The increased importance of brand advocacy and reputation is particularly pertinent for the pharma industry that has long suffered with reputational issues. The industry has been hampered by difficulties on this front for decades, largely due to generalised associations with the opioid crisis and the seemingly opaque nature of the sector. Particularly in high-GDP countries awareness of pharma companies, their services, and the role they play is low. As people grow older their negative perceptions of the industry paradoxically increase as they become more reliant on its services.

This process is not one that will happen overnight but understanding what your stakeholders want will enable you to integrate this insight into your strategic planning and increase your chances of success.

The importance of understanding your audience’s behaviour and priorities is matched in value only by understanding their perceptions of your organisation. The link between company reputation and commercial success has become increasingly clear. Insight into what is being said about your brand, measuring vital statistics including brand mentions as well as quantifying emotion and sentiment, is a vital commodity for any organisation. Social listening can play a key role in your overall strategy.

This monitoring process should encompass all channels to create a full view of audience sentiment relating to your organisation.

Data-led strategies to drive behavioural change

Once your data-led foundations are established the challenge is how to leverage this insight to drive behavioural change.

A practical example of how this could work centres around drug development and uptake. As we observed with vaccine uptake through the pandemic, there are certain communities, age ranges, and demographics that have higher degrees of scepticism than others when it comes to new drugs and medicines. This lagging acceptance is a commonality for most new pharmaceutical products and firms will be able to identify from their own proprietary data where and who those with hesitation are. This data can then be used to build specific audience personas on a commercial level before digging deeper to analyse the psychographic attributes that may be impacting adoption.

Tools work most effectively when combining psychographic, demographic and behavioural data. This provides a full picture on which audiences are behaving in a certain way and why. One element at the behavioural level is developing an understanding of which channels certain audience personas not only use but trust. You may find adoption is slower among older (traditionally more sceptical) consumers and behavioural analysis may show that they do not use social media but hold a lot of trust in physical printed press. Healthcare communications agencies and teams can then build a strategy that is prioritised towards educating end-users via this medium and is therefore more likely to deliver behavioural change.

The opposite is true for digital natives. Tools allow firms to analyse which devices, platforms and channels these individuals are operating on and what their influences are.

Once these tactics have been implemented, organisations must not ‘down tools’ as measuring success is a critical component of this strategy. If your brand has historically suffered with reputational issues, quantifying sentiment among these demographics is vital. If you have launched a creative campaign to engage a new range of consumers, monitoring brand engagement across social is a must to measure the success of your campaign and inform your future strategies.

This state of change is certain to remain. Possessing an intimate and actionable understanding of your stakeholders is the key to unlocking success in the pharma landscape and enables firms to outperform competitors.

To download our latest eBook ‘The growing importance of healthcare communications’ click here.

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