Guest Commentary: Pharma’s Demographic Challenge

For brands to be more successful with a growing and underserved minority population in America, they must deliver culturally relevant and authentic content to their customers and connect with them by talking and listening.


America’s changing demographic landscape is currently a big topic of discussion not just in the political community but also in business. The pharmaceutical industry has a keen interest in learning how to deal with the diverse needs of a diverse nation.

Obviously, minority groups face the same health concerns as mainstream society, but unlike other patient populations, they often face a unique set of challenges. Chief among these is a disproportionate rate in the diagnosis of serious medical conditions. And, compounding the problem are communication and cultural challenges. A Pew Research Center poll found that 68% of minority respondents reported problems communicating with their doctor about their diagnosis and treatment plan, and 69% reported wanting more healthcare information.

Meanwhile, there is a significant lack of patient education and resources tailored to ethnic and racial minorities in most disease states. In the absence of these resources, the information vacuum is filled by misinformation and, sometimes, a reliance on spirituality instead of medicine.

I remember talking to an epilepsy patient once who participated in one of our programs. She was of Latino descent and told me that before she had become exposed to scientific medical information, she sought the help of a witch doctor to drive out the “demon” in her. “I was so scared when he performed these rituals on me,” she said, “but I was even more concerned about the demon I thought was in me. I felt like I wasn’t in control.”

Pharma is one of the best-positioned players to disseminate reliable information and resources on a wide scale and give patients some level of control over their health. So, the obvious question is: How can we create a mutual understanding between our industry and a large part of the population who are underserved by current practices?

Successful brands must deliver culturally relevant and authentic content to their customers. It’s not enough to show diversity. For example, at Snow, the company I founded, our multicultural programming requires us to recognize language differences, understand how different communities approach healthcare, and even to acknowledge historical distrust. In other words, we must connect with multicultural communities by talking and listening.

This approach focuses on patient centricity, which includes addressing a diverse patient population in their language, on their terms. To be authentic, it is definitely a good start to replace the image of an actor with that of an actual patient. But to truly connect with an ethnically diverse audience, persons who belong to particular groups should be part of any multicultural programming. They are familiar with the nuances, backgrounds, cultural biases, and experiences that are inherent in the targeted audiences.

Patient centricity is a mindset, not a tactic. It’s about making patients the heart and soul of what you do, from the beginning of a product’s life cycle to its end. It requires planning, commitment, follow-through, and deep digging to uncover culturally relevant topics and insights that drive marketing. Patients represent the frontline of a changing population, and multicultural programming gives pharma the opportunity to get ahead of this change.


DISCLAIMER: The Guest Commentary section allows contributors to voice their opinions on important issues that affect the industry. The views of the authors are their own and are not necessarily those of PM360 and its staff.

  • Brenda Snow

    Brenda Snow is Founder & CEO of Snow Companies. Brenda is widely regarded as the leading pioneer in patient engagement. Her full-service agency, Snow Companies, is now part of Omnicom Health Group and provides patient-focused initiatives that include Patient Ambassador programs, creative services, call center support and a growing number of patient leadership councils.


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