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Marketers must focus on getting busy women the help they need in making critical decisions about their healthcare.
The US Department of Labor reports that women make 80 percent of their families' healthcare decisions. While that makes them familiar with the healthcare system, it also means that much of their time and energy is spent managing family health concerns. Yet in addition to these family-based decisions, American women have to deal with their own health issues; reports indicate that one of every two women has two or more ongoing health problems, including significant conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, depression, hypertension, and osteoporosis—all of which come with prescriptions and recommendations to change diet, exercise, and other health behaviors.
Many of these women need to make multiple, interrelated health behavior changes that can be difficult to maintain. So even if the prescription for a medication seems simple to follow, in reality dosing, appointments, tests, and refills often compete for mental focus, time, and resources.
While marketers are humane enough to understand that this juggling act is difficult, we have traditionally expected American women to change to fit marketers objectives—and then sustain that change on their own. It's no wonder that approach doesn't often work.
To better understand women's successes and failures around medications and related diets and exercises, Draftfcb Chicago/Consumer Health conducted in-depth interviews and an online survey of 200 women, ages 21–74, all of whom were dealing with at least one ongoing health condition.
In the interviews the women began a lot of their questions with "I should" and "I know." Clearly women are not deaf to all the efforts to educate them. But while education is important, it isn't enough. On average, women in the US have two-and-a-half ongoing health conditions and two prescriptions, and the success of their treatment often depends on changing interrelated behaviors. Not surprisingly, the more conditions and prescriptions, the less successful women are at making necessary changes. The research showed the key is that women need to commit—be it to a medication schedule, a special diet, or a testing routine—in order to sustain behavior change. The research indicated that the most prevalent reasons women are not successful in making health changes are mental fatigue, previous failures, and, critically, a lack of belief in their ability to follow through.
Information and education are important, but knowing the facts only gets women to "I should." They need the strength of commitment to get to "I can" and "I will." To help reach that point, every healthcare marketer needs to understand the three main factors that drive women's commitment to a health regime:
» Her ongoing belief in the diagnosis
» Her ongoing belief in the product
» Her belief in her own ability to succeed
Self-efficacy is at the heart of successful treatment. Women who believe they can successfully treat their condition are more likely to begin treatment, stay on it, and restart it if they get off track.
The survey found that 40 percent of women with one or more conditions do not believe they can successfully treat their condition. These women have a harder time making changes, and express more need for support. Especially when marketing in a chronic condition arena, where numerous medications have already failed to provide relief, marketers need to firmly focus on creating commitment and bolstering confidence and resilience.
The solution lies in a much more hands-on approach when it comes to compliance. Marketers must become catalysts for commitment. Today's healthcare marketers need to think in much broader terms than traditional brand marketing. Rather than simply selling brands or programs in isolation from the rest of women's health behaviors, we have to take a more holistic approach to helping them achieve better outcomes from their many interrelated healthcare decisions.
For instance, women often fail to start—or fail to stick with—the changes in their health behavior changes. And that's a loss not only for them, but for all those marketing pharmaceuticals and other health-related products. By becoming commitment catalysts, marketers can create a win-win situation, helping women achieve healthier outcomes while adding to healthier bottom lines.
Women indicated that the leading reasons they are successful in changing health behaviors relate to seeing and feeling results, readiness to commit, and believing firmly in the benefits of change.
These are areas where marketers can be catalysts for change. For example:
Seeing and feeling results Help her track her progress, remind her how far she has come toward her goal, set clear expectations, and get her to share her results with others.
Readiness to commit Make sure she understands her condition and why she is going on a treatment, and then ask her to commit before buying your product or service. Studies show that merely stating intention to do something can increase her likelihood of acting on it.
Belief in benefits of change Convince her of the benefits, not only of product change, but of changing her habits to holistically affect her health. This becomes the goal she will need to believe in to commit to and sustain change.
Getting women to "I can" and "I will" requires marketers to anticipate what matters to them at every touch point—and then create and help sustain their commitment throughout the course of treatment. Women often find that sustaining change is the hardest part, especially with chronic, lifelong conditions. It requires focus, mindful choices, and the discipline to stick to an action plan. Think of the patient journey as a commitment path: Help get her ready at the point of initial consideration. Ask her to commit. Provide structure and support to keep her on track. Encourage her to share results and recommit when she needs to.
Each condition and treatment type produces different roadblocks and detours along the commitment path (depression is different from diabetes is different from hypertension). Women need support so that they won't give in to detours like wanting to be "normal," rebelling against restrictions and deprivation, or getting tired of fighting a lifelong condition.
The key for marketers is to be part of women's success instead of their failure. A commitment catalyst approach in marketing healthcare to women requires creating and sustaining her commitment at every touch point:
» Understand the goals that will get her ready and motivate her change.
» Employ all three commitment drivers and go beyond condition and treatment education.
» Do still provide education, support and inspiration to move her down the path—and invite her back when she gets sidetracked.
» Anticipate possible roadblocks and detours and provide structure to help her create and stick to an action plan that will get her past these barriers to success.
» This plan should prioritize tools, timing, messages, and channels. Programs with multiple elements attract and support the most patients because needs and barriers vary from one patient to the next, and from one condition to the next. Some women thrive on information, others want personal support, and others gravitate toward DIY tools. They all value personalization.
» Develop commitment metrics to help her track her success, especially when marketing in asymptomatic conditions where "results" are hard to see or feel.
By being more patient-centric, focusing on what really matters to her, and helping her reach the healthier outcomes she desires, marketers can help create the commitment she needs to succeed. And in her success lies the acquisition and retention, the adherence and advocacy we marketers seek.
Kate Caldwell is senior vice president, group strategic planning director, Draftfcb. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org