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February 19, 2019

By Moa Netto, Chief Creative Officer, RAPP NY, in collaboration with Lina Shields, Chief Media Officer, Eli Lilly and Company

In marketing — especially in industries such as healthcare and pharmaceuticals — empathy is the name of the game. Bringing meaningful promises and effectively marketing products is contingent upon an ability to understand deep emotional insights of target audiences and what their core needs are. A brand's success lies in the ability to elevate medical benefits to brand promises that deliver a higher emotional benefit. Empathy, therefore, is the pillar on which successful communication is built.

While this may seem daunting to marketers, it's actually a boon: Brands can't limit themselves to telling stories about how good they are; one-way communication just doesn't work anymore. Instead, their task is enabling stories to be unearthed and shared by consumers. The result is a community of advocates that uses genuine empathy and meaningful real-life experiences to connect with a brand's offerings.

It could be a new service, new content, a new cultural point of view, or a new tool that empowers consumers to experience life and brands in a better way — a way that is powerful enough for them to share their unique story that results in advocacy and earned media.

A Privilege and a Responsibility
Lina Shields, Chief Media Officer at Lilly, knows first-hand how vital creativity and empathy are to enabling her teams to craft inspiring messages that resonate with consumers.

"Given the many constraints that we face in the pharmaceutical industry, sometimes teams can get discouraged or, worse, complacent because they feel a highly regulated industry does not allow for the same level of creative expression as other industries," Shields explains. "I believe the opposite and I have seen it play out over and over again through the course of my career. Because we market life-saving products, we have the privilege of getting to know our consumers at a deeper, very authentic, and intimate level. When talking to people about life-altering diseases and illnesses, we get to know not only the impact that diseases have on their lives, but we also get to know their hopes, their dreams, and their fears."

To that end, creativity in the pharmaceutical arena often comes in the form of being fierce protectors of consumers’ dreams and in finding a way to show them a promise that they can feel could be attainable because of a role that a medicine or procedure can play.

That’s the job of Lilly's creative campaigns and execution: Creating an emotional promise that its products can help unlock while fully informing consumers of the safety considerations they need to be aware of in order to have an informed and empowered conversation with their healthcare provider.

"It is a privilege to be able to offer information and options about life-improving products and solutions, so it is our duty to find a meaningful way to communicate with consumers and to do so with the highest level of integrity and respect," Shields says. "That’s where creativity comes in."

Genuine Empathy in Action
CMOs in every industry should heed that advice while remembering that creativity in expression is not the job of the marketing team. That's a task better handled by creative agency partners who have the required skill sets, expertise, and artistic abilities to craft effective advertising.

Shields constantly coaches her team to identify the core insights and tensions of target patients and to elevate product features to promises that ultimately fulfill higher-order emotional needs. Creativity is the visual and emotional conduit that transforms value propositions to a moving promise for consumers.

Shields points to the "Armor Up" campaign for Merck's birth-control solution Nexplanon as one that does a particularly fabulous job of communicating the product's emotional benefit through visuals. The emotional insight is clear; the art and music does a great job at quickly conveying confidence, power, and self-reliance; and the talent is diverse and aspirational. The creative campaign translates effortlessly in digital and social media as well.

For me, the Imaginary Friend Society (from RPA, Los Angeles) is also an amazing example of the power of empathy. It helped kids with cancer to understand what they were going through in an entertaining and kid-friendly way, removing all the scientific jargon from their lives. The campaign had different content for different moments of the journey, addressing specific emotional needs at every stage.

These patient-centric approaches echo the parting advice of Lilly's recently retired CMO, who reminded Shields and her team that the company was not supposed to be the hero of the story.

"Every time we put Lilly at the center of what we do, we make significant mistakes," Shields recalls. "When in doubt of what to do, he advised that we ask our patients what they need and keep them at the center of everything we do."

A bit about the authors...
Lina Shields is the Chief Media Officer at Eli Lilly and Company and can’t start her day without music, drawing creative inspiration from anything from Chopin's Claire de Lune to Tupac.

Moa Netto is RAPP NY's Chief Creative Officer. Lately, his inspiration comes from games he invents with his daughters and from trying to see the world like they do.

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