Direct to Consumer: Culturally Relevant Marketing

Through culturally relevant marketing, pharma can seamlessly weave its brands into consumers' lives.
Dec 01, 2005


Meg Columbia-Walsh
Today's consumers live in an era of informational overload. Bombarded by exceedingly general advertisements that offer little application to their lives, consumers have become skeptical and distrustful of mass-market advertising. As a result, they have created their own information filters by turning to the Internet. Using blogs, wikis, and podcasts, consumers are finding information that has meaning, relevance, and value to their lives.

While consumers may have tuned out traditional mass market media, they do pay attention to more targeted marketing approaches. To that end, a new DTC model has emerged that seeks to be more relevant. By identifying cultural shifts taking place in society and particularly among a targeted demographic, marketers can better direct their messages to obscure, smaller, interconnected subcultures, which are harder to reach with broad-based advertising approaches. Armed with insight into how they think, companies can seamlessly weave their products and services into the lives of consumers. Once the brand reflects the values of their lifestyle—and becomes part of their culture—consumers will be more apt to listen to that company's message.

Guiding Principles

To achieve cultural relevance, pharma marketers must first understand how consumers respond to promotional messages. Today's consumers see through spin. Less than 13 percent of consumers believe healthcare information from a pharma company is more trustworthy than information provided by any other organization, according to 2005 data from Datamonitor. Unless pharma makes its messages culturally relevant, consumers will stop listening entirely. To achieve this, a campaign must abide by the following principles:


Reigniting Consumers´ Interest
Authenticity Today's consumers have an unerring nose for fakes—brands that try too hard or do too little to justify their premium price. Consumers see honesty and transparency as a sign of integrity. Therefore, brands should acknowledge their mistakes before consumers do. Johnson & Johnson set a standard of openness and trust in 1982 by turning a potentially disastrous tampering case involving Tylenol into a model of corporate honesty.

Lifestyle affinity Consumers don't buy products based on functional merits alone—they choose products that support their interests and lifestyles. Mercedes Benz understands this concept. Because the brand exudes luxury, people who identify with or aspire to a lifestyle of luxury buy these cars. Therefore, by understanding consumers' lifestyle preferences, marketers can integrate a brand's identity into their lives.

Commitment Consumers like to feel that a brand is invested in their well-being for the long term. Brands will see the payback in dollars as well as in longevity—just look at Nike's line of sports gear for women. Marketers can buy media, but they must invest in culture.

Specificity Culture comprises a mass of interlinked subcultures. Identifying those that fit best with a particular brand will help determine which populations represent the highest opportunity segments. To weave a brand into a consumer's reality, marketers need more knowledge than sterile quantitative research can provide. By immersing themselves into the culture of the targeted audience—visiting where they live, shop, and consume media—marketers can discover what consumers need before they demand it, allowing them to proactively attract their target.

Regain Trust

Cultural-relevance tactics can help marketers navigate through the new consumer landscape. Whereas patients of the past felt uninformed, reactive, and disempowered, now they hunger for health education. Consumers' regard for health has transformed from preventing illness into proactive wellness. That means they don't want glitzy marketing messages—they want advice they can trust.

Ultimately, the success of a campaign hinges on whether key influencers—those whom consumers trust—support the brand. By associating brands with real-life leaders, not just celebrities, consumers will see the brand as trustworthy (See "Reigniting Consumers' Interest").