Pharmaceutical Empathy

Empathy is defined as the intellectual identification with the thoughts, feelings and attitudes of another.  Isn’t that really what the art of marketing is all about?  In many ways, isn’t that what life is all about?  Take a minute and really think about how much you build the thoughts, feelings and attitudes of payers, providers and patients into the mix as you develop your new strategies and tactics.  There could be a growth opportunity here.

Clayton Christensen released his new book, How Will You Measure Your Life, this week and it is an incredible read.  You will remember, Christensen has already given us in the pharmaceutical industry much to consider with his two foundational works, The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Prescription.  His theory on disruptive innovation is widely viewed as a model for change by most business leaders today.  In his new book, Christensen takes many of the principles from his earlier books and transfers them to the personal and professional lives of business leaders.  Empathy is one of the centerpieces of his theories.  Take a look at this blog by James Allworth, one of his co-authors, on the importance of empathy in the business world.  He calls empathy the most important lesson taught at the Harvard Business School.

Our industry is quite complex in that our customers are really made up of payers, providers and patients.  When you sell somebody a newspaper, the customer is just one person.  In our industry the patient benefits, the payer pays and the provider decides.  It is very weird.  I would suggest that we need to have empathy for all of these, as together they really make up our customer.  We must understand the “thoughts, feelings and attitudes” of each of these if we are to make the right decisions for our brands.

One of the other concepts in the Christensen book is that you can easily see what is important, or what your strategy is, by how you allocate your resources.  How much time do you spend actually meeting with and talking with those that make up your customer base?  How can you have empathy if you don’t really know your customer?  Around the industry, there are those who are incredible at this, and they seem to be winning.  If Time or Newsweek asked you to write 3 five page articles, one each on patients who take your products, payers who pay and providers who decide, could you do it this weekend?  Five pages requires you to dig pretty deep.  Could you go beyond just the obvious?  Could you tell all the personal stories you have heard from your work with these customers?  You see, empathy requires some depth.

For those of us living in Chicago, this weekend should be an incredible test of and example of the importance of empathy.  The NATO Summit will be held in our town and the protesters are ready to show the world what needs to be changed.  The Chicago police are also ready.  Our city has a rich history in this type thing from the Haymarket riots, that led to the 8 hour work day in 1886, to the convention riots in 1968, that perhaps turned the tide on the Vietnam War.  Looking back at both these events, it is possible to have empathy for all sides.  The challenge this weekend will be whether both sides can have empathy for the other in a time of potential crisis.  The lesson spills over into marketing.  Everyone knows the importance of empathy, but in times of crisis or competing priorities does empathy get pushed aside for what appears to be a short-term solution.  Perhaps the true marketing professional is able to see everyone’s view, even during times of crisis, and this allows real solutions to emerge.

Do you want to become a better pharmaceutical executive and enjoy your job more?  Tell you boss you are going to a one-on-one seminar with Clay Christensen.  Load the book on your iPad or Kindle, shut your office door or go outside and spend 4-5 hours reading the book.  That’s right, allocate your personal and company resources to what is really important.  Read everything, but take special note around empathy and then put a plan together to improve in this area.  The pharmaceutical world really needs to start getting this empathy thing right.

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