Once upon a time, marketing was brand-centered. Marketing messages answered the question, “Who is the brand?” – and not much else.

Then, about ten years ago, we turned a corner. Marketing became customer-centered. It tried to provide answers to the question, “What does the customer want?”

Today, we have arrived somewhere new. Some call it human-centered marketing, but perhaps it’s better to say that there’s no more center at all. There’s no hub occupied by either a brand, or a customer, from which everything radiates.

Our channels are myriad. Customers come and go throughout their journey, and they don’t interact with content in the order we might hope. We don’t rely on one morning paper, one evening newscast, one Main Street shop. A brand can’t be sure when or where a customer will receive information.

In our increasingly digital world, we’re always receiving information in constantly changing ways. Our relationships to brands are stateless, not mediated by predictable, prescribed channels. So what’s a marketer to do on constantly shifting sands?

Today’s digital information environment is fluid. To succeed in it, a brand must be, too. But this can be a minefield of opportunities for a brand to lose its way. We can create innumerable micro-interactions, but if we become overly concerned with addressing every possible approach, we risk losing track of who we are.

Focus on Message Quality
We must stay true to the underlying principles of branding: showing up authentically, based on not just what we think the customer wants, but on what our brand truly is. It may mature, but at heart, our brand and its personality should be perennial.

Embrace Loss of Control
This is the hardest part – especially in our regulated industry. The idea of losing a monologue and engaging in two-way dialogue made many pharma marketers uncomfortable in the early days of social media, and it’s not much different today. However, our industry gives us a unique opportunity. Many consumer brands are relegated to preferences and convenience. In life sciences and pharma, we’re based on science: validated, objective truths. We can succeed in a fluid environment if we’re confident in our ability as factual experts to help people and guide them to the information they need.

Remember Both Needs and Emotions
Our work, at heart, is about creating affordances for interactions that result in positive emotions.

An affordance is an action made possible by the properties of an object or an environment. Something is created in specific ways to drive specific interactions. If a door has no handle, it’s telling you to push. If a line of text is underlined, it’s telling you to click. We must build useful things based on an accurate understanding of behavior, rather than creating things and getting people to adjust to them.

And positive emotion is the key to this. Rewards rewire our amygdalas. They can take the form of a “like,” a useful search result, a reassuring statement – something that makes us feel better.

We must understand how to do three things:

  • give our customers what they need,
  • stay true to our brand in the way we do it,
  • and make them feel better as we do.

Just Stop
This brave new world of “unprescribed” interaction was created by digital. But its challenges can be solved by digital too. The abilities afforded us by tech, when used strategically, are what make it possible for us to reach our audiences in coherent, consistent ways.

Being a good marketer has always meant being able to create and grow brands successfully. Today, it means maintaining internal consistency even without being able to be prescriptive in how those messages may be received.

It’s time for pharma to stop prescribing. The journey has changed; how we sell has changed; technology has changed. Pharma marketing must change, too. Agencies and brands that understand digital behavior and emotional needs, that are able to recognize those intersections and share the right messages – are the future of our industry.


Mike Hartman is chief creative officer at Intouch.