It’s March! And that means a team from Intouch is taking on the world-famous South By Southwest (SXSW) festival and conference in Austin, TX. We are here to find new innovations, hack thru healthcare challenges, debate and eat with clients, and generally GET INSPIRED!

This year’s Day 1 was our most inspiring yet! After fanning out to see speakers all over Austin, we compared notes on our favorite sessions, identified macro and micro trends, and talked about how these trends can be employed to drive our clients’ businesses.

Image of a sign that says "listen"

The first trend we explored is a seemingly simple one: listening.

As our culture evolves, the tribes and villages that filled our need for community in the past have been replaced in many ways by technology. “Social” media, ironically, has become a place where we hide, curating a public persona but suppressing our messier inner self. Machine-learning-driven bots make our lives easier and assist our choices, but they aren’t yet listening to us as individuals. We hold technology in our hands that offers us unlimited choices and unparalleled freedom, yet humans today face a crisis of loneliness.

We can overcome this by creating and enhancing real connections! Connection begins with conversation – talking, listening, and reacting in real time – in our relationships, in our marketing, and in our daily interactions. A number of speakers from widely divergent backgrounds touched upon listening as a core need:

  • Speakers from the data company Optum talked about their decade of work in trying to create a common language from global healthcare records. They shed light on the wealth of information in that data, and what we can do as marketers to pull insights into real-world solutions.
  • IBM executives in “Scaling Design Systems: Pixels to People” illustrated the value of conversations and empathy to bridge communication in their design team members scattered across the globe.
  • Melis Senova noted in her session “The Shadow Side of Human Design” that not listening properly when designing can lead to what she termed “accidental evil” – for example, objects that need to be recalled from store shelves because they weren’t designed properly and can injure their users.
  • Keynote speaker Esther Perel knows from her experience as a therapist that conversations are the heart of relationships. In her session (which you can view in full here) she asked her full audience to wear eye masks, block-out external stimuli and focus instead on listening to an emotional conversation. “When we listen deeply to the experiences of other people, we find ourselves standing in front of a mirror,” she said. We can recognize our worries in those of others, and in sharing that empathy, we can begin to build back our true community.

It’s time for pharma to do a better job of listening to the people we are here to serve – healthcare consumers. This listening will start with data, prescription patterns, social patterns, behavior patterns.

But it must move on from there. Our communities, our speaker dinners, our advisory boards, and our foundations should be activated to provide true listening opportunities.

Finally, after listening, we must react! Intouch is working hard today across a number of clients to build systems that will help us customize and change messages in real time. But those systems will not be successful unless they are created to listen.

So we are sending out a note to all those who market healthcare to humans: remember to listen! The closer we listen, the better we can understand, and the more empathetic and useful our solutions will be. We have the power to change lives, but if – and only if – we learn to listen.