Ten Minutes to Connect

Apr 01, 2009

Marcee Nelson
Marketing preparation for a brand takes years. The fate of a brand, however, can be determined in as few as 10 minutes. Today, that is the average length of the office visit between patient and physician. When that patient or caregiver is a woman, the 10-minute interaction becomes even trickier. Because of subtleties in how women communicate, brand potential can be affected by as little as a look, a word, or one question left unasked.

What women are looking for is less consultation and more conversation. This is especially true for non-life-threatening conditions such as menopause or contraception, or manageable conditions such as migraines and chronic pain. The new ideal in health management is physician-as-partner. But that doesn't lend itself well to a few short minutes in the doctor's office.

Is the conversation dynamic impacted by the fact that there are more female physicians in women's health? The common belief is that women prefer female physicians, but a recent "She Says" national survey of 1,200 women conducted by Marketing Technology Solutions indicated that the preference is less about gender and more about the qualities commonly associated with women: empathy, listening, partnership. If women leave a physician's office without experiencing those qualities, they leave feeling uncared for, regardless of their physician's gender.

With pressure from managed care and the resulting demands on medical practices, healthcare professionals are torn between a desire to give the best care possible and their daily race against the clock. Meanwhile, women's expectations are increasing. Medical knowledge is becoming a commodity for patients, caregivers, and consumers because information about any drug or disease state is just a Google search away. Women search health information more than any other topic online. The digital age has created an instant gratification factor that extends even to the doctor's office.

The Conversation Destination

Pink Tank is a full-service consultancy specializing in marketing to women. The company conducts qualitative research on behalf of clients, including focus groups and other research done by brand counselors with expertise in psychology, patient advocacy, gender, and cultural studies, as well as extensive experience in marketing to leading consumer and healthcare brands.

In recent qualitative research on the subject of menopause therapy, an OB/GYN said, "A successful conversation is when we both come to the same conclusion." In the same research a patient answered, "When I'm involved in the decision." Physicians want to feel they are giving the best care possible, and women want to feel cared about. The key is that they both want to agree. The contribution a brand can make to this insight is twofold: First, it helps both physician and patient walk into their visit prepared to agree, and secondly, it acts as a conversation catalyst to facilitate agreement, so both leave feeling more satisfied.

Every conversation has two sides; each side is equally important to success because conversation can be derailed on either side. Every time a doctor says "I don't think so," or a woman leaves with unspoken concerns or unanswered questions, an opportunity evaporates. To help each side prepare to agree means looking at the conversation as a destination in the marketing communication plan, rather than just another channel. On each side the beliefs that drive behavior must be addressed. To assume those beliefs are simply about therapy is a limited, product-centric view. The beliefs that need to change could be how the physician or patient feels about the disease itself, about each other, or even about themselves. Taken from real-world successes, below are some guidelines on becoming a conversation catalyst—and what to avoid—in the physician/patient dialogue.

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