Storytelling in pharma

People-Centred Storytelling to Restore Trust in Biopharma

Compelling storytelling on medical success can help restore trust in biopharma

Arran Frood, SciencePOD writer

Big Pharma has come in for stinging criticism over recent years: over-priced medicines, aggressive lawsuits and neglected patient groups have all contributed to a decline in trust between the biopharma giants and the patients and medical professionals who buy their products. A solution for this disconnect it storytelling. The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer global report reveals that healthcare is one of the least trusted industries, behind the automotive, entertainment and food and drink sectors. In fact, across nine major areas, healthcare is the only one to show no improvement over the last five years. The perception remains that pharmaceutical companies put profits ahead of patients, especially in European countries like Germany where trust in pharma is as low as 30%.

How can companies reconnect with their principal audiences, namely healthcare professionals and patients?

One way is to tell engaging stories about their successes in developing innovative medicines. For many patients, medicines do work and are the difference between life and death, or comparative health and debilitating disease. Finding the right medium and voice to tell these important stories can help the industry regain the faith amongst patients and biomedical practitioners alike.

Communicating value through storytelling

The pharmaceutical industry has always devoted serious money to communicating the value of its products – millions spent on expensive PR, marketing and advertising campaigns. One study found that nine of 10 large pharma companies are spending more on marketing their existing products than researching new ones.

But is there now a cheaper, more effective – a better –  way to reach both patients and medical practitioners?

Many journals now offer researchers the opportunity to create content about their latest research paper, sometimes working with seasoned science communicators. It could be in the form of an editorial-style article or an infographic aimed at the general public and based on their work in specific disease areas. These pieces of content can be read and digested by anyone and shared on social media.

There is a lot to shout about. New medicines have led to record survival rates for some cancers, for example. Individual storytelling can connect with people on an emotional level, like innovations and solutions to decades-long challenges. The promise and optimism around genomics and personalised medicine are also fertile grounds for positive storytelling.

Content marketing through storytelling

The opportunity is there. The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer global report reveals that trust in business has increased modestly year-on-year and is higher than trust in the media. This means pharma has leverage to harness positive stories to good ends, especially in Europe where trust in traditional media is lower than the US. Engaging storytelling can also focus on narratives that appeal to female researchers and readers, as women are greater amplifiers of stories on social media. In disease awareness campaigns, experts can also be recruited to pitch the specifics alongside disease survivors who can regale against-the-odds survival stories.

Biopharma companies can use the right storytelling to address the lives of their patients and their place in society as a whole, as part of disease awareness campaigns.

If stories carry real and easy to understand evidence of success, trust will increase.

One company that appears to be a step ahead in Bristol Myers-Squibb, who came out on top in DRG Digital’s Manhattan Research’s annual Taking the Pulse survey. Doctors rated the company, along with Biogen and Celgene, as the most trusted, praising them for their strong online digital content. When many overworked doctors are opting out of emails and traditional PR content (remember the medical rep?), high quality content has a place to tell a story that can get medical professionals to reengage in what the hard-working clinical researchers behind biopharma have to say.

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