September 24, 2019

Multicultural Marketing: What Pharma Needs to Know, Part I

Man and woman smiling

Pharma marketing still has a ways to go when it comes to matching itself to our multicultural reality, as we pointed out recently in this piece on diversity and inclusion (and offered some suggestions on how to do it well). Particularly in a country that’s increasingly “majority-minority” (Americans age 15 and younger are now mostly nonwhite), it’s important for our industry to catch up and more accurately reflect our world.

It’s vital that we move ahead not by paying lip service to the idea, but by working to truly understand how different cultures interact with healthcare: how they feel and why, what they need and where, and how brands can best respond.

We recently sat down with three Intouch experts – Chastity Spencer, Associate Media Director; Antonio Rivera, Associate Director, Inclusion & Diversity; and Chanel Hemphill, Senior Marketing Strategist – to get their thoughts on what brands need to know about why this matters so much, how to do it wisely, and what it can do for patients.

Mindful Messaging
“Addressing patients through advertising in a patient’s native language, and in environments that they actually frequent for research, leisure and entertainment, can help brands succeed,” says Chastity Spencer. “But in an industry that limits the amount of addressable messaging that goes to nonwhite audiences, it can be difficult to get brands to spend additional dollars to make these bigger efforts happen. Some brands still approach a message in only one way, but it’s important to realize that every patient may not be in the mindset or condition that the ‘general’ messages assume.”

Working to reach patients of color matters not only because all brands should seek to market in ways that reflect our world; it might literally be a matter of life and death.

BiDil is one frequently cited example of pharmaceutical makers beginning to address multicultural differences – not only in marketing, but in drug development itself. In 2005, it was the first-ever drug approved by the FDA to treat heart failure patients of a specific race: African Americans. Other treatments have been shown in studies to have varying effects for heart failure, depending upon whether a patient is African American or white.

Other diseases, such as sickle-cell anemia, are well-known for having similar disparities in terms of treatment, but conditions like these are further complicated by cultural suspicion of healthcare based upon centuries of mistreatment by researchers and providers.

On Building Trust
“The healthcare industry needs to work on improving trust and transparency with African-American patients,” notes Spencer. “Events throughout history, such as [use of] the Henrietta Lacks ‘HeLa’ cell line [without permission] and the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment [in which black men with syphilis were unknowingly “treated” only with placebo so the progression of the disease could be studied], have motivated African-Americans to not share blood or participate in studies due to fear of the ultimate outcome.”

This recent article from Stat further explains some of the challenges, both historical and ongoing, that diverse communities have faced in the healthcare space.

Antonio Rivera agrees and points out that increasing trust – and, therefore, positive healthcare outcomes – for the African-American community requires not only an understanding of patients, but also better representation among HCPs. As the hematologist who wrote on the need for African-American blood donors noted in the above-linked article, “Shared ethnicity saves lives.”

“Consideration of audience and their preferences is important, but it’s important for marketers to also understand the issues behind the lack of diversity in HCPs,” Rivera says. “Working to improve healthcare across races and cultures isn’t just about understanding the differences between different groups – though that’s very important to consider. It’s also about understanding how the lack of representation in the healthcare industry leads to unconscious bias and ineffective communications to these groups.”

He recommends the recent Harvard Business Review article, “Research: Having a Black Doctor Led Black Men to Receive More-Effective Care,” which covers a study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Tools They Can Use
“In addition to supporting diversity in the professional community, marketers can also do a great deal to help brands foster better connections between patients and HCPs by creating tools to help them to better empathize with diverse patients,” says Rivera. “Discussion guides and other HCP-focused materials or programs can help white doctors create a deeper connection with their black (or multicultural) patients. They can adopt behaviors and practices that work toward dimensionalizing the patient – and they can better understand how the color of a patient’s skin, their accent or their gender might unconsciously affect how fruitful their 10- to 15-minute interaction is with respect to fostering a bond that promotes repeat visits and adherence.”

Stay tuned for Part II, in which Rivera and Hemphill explain the difference that data-driven decisions can make in marketing to diverse audiences, and offer several practical examples of how brands can make that happen.