It should be obvious. To alleviate the health inequities that continue to plague the country, pharmaceutical marketers must invest in multiculturalism and target diverse communities. In the process, not only will they reap financial benefits, but they will also earn kudos for doing the right thing. Win/win scenarios don’t get much cleaner.
is it really that simple? And are companies succeeding with this approach?
Julia Kim, vice president of business development at TelevisaUnivision, notes the obvious: the pandemic has shed a harsh light on health disparities that most intensely affect black and brown communities.
“It was a wake-up call for the pharmaceutical industry,” she says. “It told them that they needed to do more to reach out to those communities and resonate with their messages – not just to advertise to them, but also to speak to them in the language and in the culture.”
Indeed, the desire to speak in culture has inspired many smart and creative initiatives, like the Inclusive Point of Care Network launched in April by Publicis Health Media. Such programs are long overdue, according to Karima Sharif, manager of inclusive investments and strategic partnerships at MPS.
“We say the point of service needs to change based on cultural relevance and diverse populations,” she explains. “We need to meet patients where they are, instead of trying to push them into a doctor’s office.”
Sharif explains that in predominantly black and brown communities, barbershops and beauty salons are often seen as more trusted places than traditional health care facilities. “I have family members who are beauticians and I’ve seen them ask their older clients, ‘Hey, did you take your meds today? They become like an extended caregiver.
Through the Inclusive POC Network, PHM partners with Live Chair Health, which describes its mission as “harnessing the power of human connection to close the gap in life expectancy for African Americans, hair salon to that time “. This could even possibly include barbers administering blood pressure checks, etc.
Lili Gil Valletta, founder and CEO of cultural intelligence boutique Cien+, also believes in the power of changing the messenger. She challenges marketers to rethink the individuals and organizations that deliver patient education.
“It can be churches and community leaders – and that scares the pharmaceutical industry. They’ll say, ‘What, I’m going to work with something like the Association of Baptist Churches?’ But they realize that switching messengers can mean greater efficiency, higher levels of trust, and more power in creating referrals or screenings or better results.
Valletta observed the reinvigoration that often occurs when marketers of stagnant mature brands shift their spending to patient segments they hadn’t previously engaged with.
“It happens with categories where there is an over-indexing of cases with various patients – diabetes, heart failure, HIV. Marketers will suddenly realize that, say, 50% of diabetes cases in Texas are Hispanics, but they haven’t spent a dime focusing on that segment. Then it’s, ‘How about we overtake on this segment?’ And boom, the ROI begins.
Familiar with big pharma – she spent 10 years at Johnson & Johnson – Valletta believes the industry is uniquely capable of delivering societal impact and business growth simultaneously.
“We happen to be in an industry that is impacting and hopefully saving lives. There was a misunderstanding that working on various initiatives was an altruistic project, but in fact, it’s also good for business,” she continues. “Healthcare professionals should not be afraid to deliver what is both good for society and good for outcomes. And when you do them in tandem, it becomes sustainable.
Meanwhile, companies finally seem to realize that they cannot effectively reach diverse populations without diverse talent under their roofs. Courtney Murphy, global director of human resources at Ogilvy Health, notes that this requires focusing sourcing strategies on attracting diverse talent as well as fostering a work environment where those employees feel included and supported. For example, Ogilvy Health’s leadership program, Elevate, aims to empower black women leaders in the organization through mentoring, coaching, and a rigorous eight-week development program.
TelevisaUnivision’s mission is to entertain and educate the Hispanic community, and nearly 77% of its workforce is made up of members of minority communities, but not all of them are Hispanic. Kim points out that she is Asian and that her colleague Orlando Reece is black and previously served as CEO of Pride Media.
“Here we not only have a diversity of races, but also a diversity of skills and backgrounds, and those different perspectives reinforce things,” she says.
For her part, Sharif notes that PHM’s mentorship program draws on a range of diverse and marginalized communities: “We just hired four junior black and brown employees who are getting their start in advertising and marketing, and we we partner with organizations such as Year Up and the Boyd Initiative. Both groups are on a mission to help disadvantaged young adults join the workforce in meaningful careers.
For organizations that really want to master multicultural marketing, retraining pharmaceutical sales forces is a must. “It can’t be the same old pitch as before,” says La Valette. “They should present themselves with empathy, knowing that social determinants and health equity factors impact the clients they speak to.”
Marketing materials cannot remain unchanged either. Sharif refers to October 2021 Forbes article by multicultural expert Isaac Mizrahi (not, it should be noted, the fashion designer), who claims that industry studies “estimate that the ROI of brands that understand the drivers of multicultural marketing could be up to ‘30% to 40% higher’ than for brands that simply translate a
public announcement in another language.
Then there is the danger that comes with following trends. This year in particular, there has been considerable pushback against so-called rainbow activism – i.e. companies adding rainbow colors to their logos during Pride month. . The same faux pas can happen with multicultural marketing: a month of randomly named “support” won’t be enough. Companies must act – and react – throughout the year.
“It depends on who is leading the effort,” says La Valette. “You can get some steam for a corporate reputation stunt, but it’s short-lived. People are more sophisticated in the digital age.
A recent study by Cien+ and its data science partner Culturintel examined reactions to rainbow activism. “We found that one in three conversations online about brand messaging during Pride Month are negative, and the top reason people disapprove is because they feel the message is insincere or dishonest” , adds Valletta.
Ignoring diversity can have consequences far beyond disapproval. For example, Valletta notes that Moderna could have brought the first COVID vaccine to market, “but the FDA said [the company it] had to adjust its clinical trial because it did not have enough diverse participants. Oops, Pfizer arrived first!
Likewise, she describes how early COVID vaccines were presented to the public as simply “safe and effective.” But when Cien+ analyzed barriers to vaccination for Hispanics, cost was one of the top three; that vaccines were freely available had not been heard. Once Cien+ published its findings, references to the COVID vaccination began emphasizing that it is free, safe, and effective.
Ultimately, successful organizations will be those that pay as much attention to ROE (return on equity, empathy, and/or engagement) as they do to ROI.
“You’ll have a hard time hitting your numbers if you don’t include diverse patients,” says Valletta. “That’s the capitalist view, but you can also think of it this way: if I don’t, I’m leaving lives behind and giving up preventing the avoidable.”
Excerpt from the August 01, 2022 issue of MM+M – Medical Marketing and Media