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Do Words Still Matter in Pharma Marketing?

Kevin Wohler

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"Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them. Sometimes it’s an ad."
~ Howard Gossage

The rise of visual social media like Pinterest and Instagram has hastened the downfall of the written word. It seems no one reads anymore. If content is still king, more and more of that content is wrapped up in top 10 lists, infographics, video clips, and other bite-sized digestibles that are manufactured to share via social media.

Marketing too is increasingly a visual medium. But pharma marketing isn’t about getting a good buzz on a social network. It’s about giving vital information to a patient, caregiver or healthcare professional when they need it.

And that requires words. Right?

Good writing improves search engine optimization (SEO) — helping audiences find the content they need. Content must be organized in a way that helps readers read it and digest it easily. Long blocks of text will be ignored, so making content scannable is essential. The challenge is to break up copy while retaining its meaning.

A good copywriter knows how to deconstruct dense medical copy into smaller bites for patients and caregivers. Even healthcare professionals don’t want to be hit by a ton of jargon. So content must be organized using:

  • Informative headlines — A good headline informs readers and improves SEO.
  • Logical subheads — Subheads are great for dividing long copy into more digestible portions.
  • Smaller paragraphs — On the web, ignore the old rules about keeping a single idea in one paragraph. Make reading easier. Use transitional words and phrases to keep the flow going.
  • Shorter sentences — Forget complex sentences. Keep sentences brief. Use one idea per sentence.
  • Bulleted lists — Bulleted lists allow the eye to scan for vital information easily.

But short paragraphs and shorter sentences will only go so far. We need to keep the audience engaged, even when there’s a lot of ground to cover.

We can’t skimp on content. It’s not enough to highlight the top 3 benefits of a medication (or the top 3 side effects). Having a video clip that is little more than a commercial doesn’t help anyone. Content must be complete. In order to get across a big idea, sometimes it takes more than words.

Ultimately, there needs to be a marriage of copy and design that allows complex concepts (e.g., a drug mode of action) to be explained visually.

Ultimately, there needs to be a marriage of copy and design that allows complex concepts (e.g., a drug mode of action) to be explained visually. Copy and design can also work together to bucket information in easy-to-read charts or graphics, determining the best presentation for important ideas.

Because of the nature of the pharma industry, the words we use are also heavily regulated. Meeting the demands of medical, legal and regulatory bodies while trying to keep content easy to understand offers its share of challenges. Content must still be simple and scannable, despite the addition of required safety or fair balance information.

Words will always be necessary for human communication. And that includes pharma marketing. Whether written in a webpage, spoken in a video or transformed into an infographic, words will always be the basis of our dialogue with patients, caregivers and healthcare providers.

Words will always matter.


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