Avoiding The Failure To Communicate

That famed marketer from Cool Hand Luke was right.  Bad things happen when we fail to communicate accurately.

Today, launch success is driven by strategy.  Gone are the budget-less days of hammering impression after impression with near reckless abandon.  Without a validated strategy to conduct the orchestra of communication, one opens themselves to major downstream implementation issues. 

A key proponent of effective brand communication is ensuring that everything said is on target for the intended customer.  The language must be right, not just free of grammatical faux pas & hyperbole, but also specifically relevant for your audience(s). 

So the answer is obvious.  The language you use to communicate to a customer is very important.  But, what about the words used in internal strategic tools, such as a brand’s positioning statement?  Surely if it will never be directly communicated to a customer, language cannot be all that important, right?

WRONG.  A brand’s positioning is one of the most important tools in ensuring your communication partners execute against what you’ve intended.  Following the funnel from intention to communication, all conversations become softened and watered down. The more laser-focused and concrete we are with our wording behind-the-scenes, the more on target our conversations with customers will be.  And, here’s the best part; your customers are ready & willing to help wordsmith!

Qualitatively evaluating positioning candidates is nothing new, nor is it an incorrect approach.  The issue traditionally lies in the objective of said research.  Our industry has developed a habit of seeking validation & approval from stakeholders, however as a whole, pharma tends not to dig deep enough.  Anyone who has sat behind the two-way glass during a qualitative interview has seen it first hand. We move on too quickly when the feedback is positive or dismiss anything negative.  Rather than setting out to understand how a particular idea makes someone feel and specifically why it makes them feel that way. Too many agencies/researchers set out on a beauty contest to reassure their preconceived notions of what strategic avenue is best.

Language can be the difference between success and failure in pharmaceutical marketing, but it is not often considered in that light.  The customer & moderator are already there.  You are already paying for their time.  It’s a no brainer to also ensure the words we use are evoking the same meanings that were intended when pen met paper. 

If you haven’t tested linguistics before, you’ll be surprised (maybe even shocked) at how even a beautifully crafted brand description, written by top marketers and copywriters, must morph dramatically to correctly communicate the intended message.  That take-away message must be consistently interpreted, across geographies, by patients & physicians alike to ensure our product is building towards the perceptual space we seek to own.  Anything we can proactively do to minimize the level of misinterpretation and the risk of misalignment will smooth the road to solidifying our position in the marketplace.  The solution is simple, use qual. to perfect language and quant. to pick the winner.

We build psychological-based probing & semiotic analysis into all of our qualitative studies, as language is nothing more than a form of data and must be treated as such to reveal the real meaning behind the superficial answers in the artificial process of “interviewing.” The result is a thorough understanding of meaning, motivation and decision-making and how to capitalize on target audience thinking.

Components Of Semiotic Analysis:

Semantics - meaning of words and ideas

  • Are the words used clear, understandable, and meaningful

  • Ensures that the words used convey the intended meaning

Syntactics - ordering of words and ideas

  • Are the ideas clear, logical, motivating, and interesting?
  • What story do they build?
  • Ensures that words are sequenced to communicate the intended idea

Pragmatics - context of words and ideas

  • What message element is the best opening contact to catch the attention of the target
  • Ensures that the remainder of the message capitalizes on the chosen tone

Our approach came about after years of interviewing. Far too often we saw words within a positioning concept replaced with so-called synonyms with no real rhyme or reason behind the decision.  Finally we encountered the straw that broke the camel’s back, and began probing around how the replacement of a single word or phrase, or the restructuring of a sentence impacted decoding & interpretation of the message. Even we were surprised with what we found.

Something as simple as describing a patient’s situation as leaving them with a feeling of dependence or with a lack of independence entirely shifted how the overall idea was understood, and how it made the reader feel.  That finding has serious implications when it comes to messaging, and also when the time comes to craft a story for the brand.  Certain words, however fitting, have also been known to trigger a defensive response from audiences.  Qual. is the time to find these, understand why they create an issue and correct the path.

The difference between success and failure is often as simple as finding out what you don’t know for sure.  These two tips will help optimize your brand’s future communications:

  • Identify and mandate use of specific words that best communicate your message
  • Understand today how prescribers will respond to your brand (Don’t wait to learn this after launch!) 

It is one thing to accurately describe something to patients & physicians; it is another to do it in a manner that is universally meaningful to both of them.  After all, if a patient is driven to request a specific product it is imperative that what that product represents to them is reciprocated by the doctor writing the prescription.