The Ghost in the Machine


By Marty Hardin (@mjhardin)

In Gilbert Ryle’s 1949 book The Concept of Mind, he introduced the phrase which titles this blog entry. He is arguing against Descartes’ concept of mind/body parallelism and the ambiguous point in which the two function in conjunction with one another. Think daydreaming while running on the treadmill as opposed to deciding which wire to cut when diffusing a bomb. Regardless, the level of mind/body engagement fluctuates and the point of separation isnt a cardinal rule. It can be observed to change over time. What the heck does that have to do with the current state of pharma marketing? Glad you asked.

Ive had the opportunity recently to attend several of the key congregations of pharma industry marketing folks: the FDA hearings on Social Media, The ePharma Summit and the DTC National. At each of these events, thought leaders, industry trend setters and others have been gathering and discussing micro-slices of the current pharma marketing world. A piece of conversation or sound bite would typically go something like this:

Its all about relationship marketing. Building that “one on one relationship with the doctor/patient/consumer/caregiver. Building a community of people empowered to engage. Blah, blah, blah.

In the world of digital pharma marketing, there seems to be an almost myopic focus on singular, tactical executions. The technology du jour. A bit of social media here, an app there, and the occasional e-detail. While each of these tactics could be useful, what seems to be missing from the equation is a larger, more holistic approach as to how all of these pieces work together. And more importantly, have we taken a look to see if what we are proposing is what our target audience even wants?

We spend countless hours and dollars creating fragmented tactics, many of which are based on traditional research. But, unless your current pet tactic is relevant to the target at precisely the moment they need it, your executed tactic becomes a hindrance bordering on the edge of being a nuisance. That 10 minute “viral video will be anything but “viral. More like virulent. Why? Because the need to tell your story has superseded your targets need for information or assistance. A thinly disguised sales message will fall flat. Lack of insight will spoil the point of contact. No matter how well researched it was.

As an industry, we are often too quick to ask people what they want. Thats fine, but people can only base what they want on what they know. As we sit in research facilities, behind one way mirrors listening to physicians and patients, we are hearing a recollection of their subjective desires. They are too close to their own world to be able to observe and cognitively surmise what they truly need. What they need is an objective third party, who can impartially observe the worlds of the patient, doctor and care giver. In the end, it may turn out what they need is something they never dreamed of.

The hope of the future of a systematized approach to marketing, advertising and branding will come as the result of thoughtful observation. The end result will lead the next wave of marketers to discover some great latent unmet need within our target audiences. Believe it or not, each of our products have a message of great importance to many people. The difficult part of the equation will be removing any trace of ourselves, and allowing the message that the end consumer wants to hear come through.

That said, what will lay at the heart of truly “breaking through solutions, will be truly getting to know your doctors and patients by intense observation. Only then will you truly understand;

  1. where your product fits within their lives
  2. the pieces that are missing, relative to your product, in their lives
  3. how to develop an “assistive philosophy, rather than an assertive point of view
  4. how and where there are opportunities to shape and modify behavior that will yield observable results

What I am proposing is more than getting patients and doctors in a research facility and asking a few questions and then plotting the results against an algorithm. It will require in-depth ethnographic research, observation, and investigation to lead to a relevant insight. This means spending weeks and months of observation in peoples homes, offices and lives. To get an idea of the power of this type of thinking, visit ideos website section on design thinking:

There you will be given a glimpse at how thinking moves beyond the sale and reaches deeper into the heart and soul of people deepest desires, needs and problems. While we each have a product to sell, we also have a responsibility to help inform and comfort our audiences with the knowledge that they have made the best, informed decision when they engage with our products. We also have an obligation to empower them to take control of their lives.

At the end of the process, we will have information, education, and assistive aids that will not only engage the consumer; they will ultimately enrich their lives. Instead of single hits of ad messages, we will be able to offer applications that integrate into their lives. And, if we have truly gotten to the heart of observing and defining our consumers needs, the ghost in the machine, will be the closely observed needs of the consumers the lay way to the wants they never knew they had.



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