Want to build better patient relationships? Take a page from consumer marketers, advises Harvard fellow

Consumer companies know how to use data to build customer relationships, create trust and craft better experiences. Who better for healthcare companies to learn from?

So Kathy Giusti, a senior fellow and co-chair of the Kraft Precision Medicine Accelerator at the Harvard Business School, organized a workshop at Harvard to make that happen. In this case, she specifically brought in direct-to-patient cancer organizations—including the group she cofounded, the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation—to listen and learn. But the best-in-class ideas and strategies can be put to work across the healthcare and pharma landscape, she said.

Consumer-focused and data-savvy companies such as Under Armour, Wayfair, Peloton and Rent the Runway met with the groups to talk about how to apply their learnings to working with patients, starting with acquisition, moving to adoption and continuing through to retention.

“Why are we loyal to our banks and our retailers and other favorite brands? It’s because of the value they give us—that ability to show us that they know us. Over time that builds trust, because every time we work with them the experience gets easier, better and more thoughtful,” Giusti said.

The lessons began right away with the consumer marketers advising the patient groups with ideas such as using a simpler and more consistent lexicon and ditching talk of complex science in favor of talk about the end benefit, she said. They also noted the lack of social media savvy across most of the healthcare spectrum.

Along with Richard G. Hamermesh, her co-author and co-chair of the Kraft accelerator group, Giusti outlined several other key tips and ideas that came from the workshop in a recent Harvard Business Review article. Those include using data to get to know patients, using heartfelt storytelling to connect with patients, boning up on social media practices, starting small and taking time in building patient relationships, and working to create value for patients.

“It’s interesting how consumer companies use data in all different ways and how they use it real time. You can look at the ‘n’ of one patient, and that’s critical because you could help extend that patient’s life, but you also want to look at it as the ‘n’ of thousands,” she said. “When I worked at the Gillette Co., we lived and breathed market research and consumer dynamics. We studied consumer behavior like crazy and we’re not necessarily doing that on the healthcare side as much.”

The pharma industry could likely use some advice. Surveys and research continue to show the industry reputation is in a slump. Most recently, Harris Poll, owned by Nielsen, found that only 9% of Americans believe pharma companies put patients before profits.