How Companion Devices are Arming the Boon in Personalized Medicine

The concept of personalized medicine has been around for a long time. We know that similar symptoms present across a variety of different illnesses, and that treatments that work well in some patients do not work well in others. What’s new are the advances across technology and science that allow researchers and doctors to monitor and treat patients more precisely and more effectively. From the Human Genome Project of 2008 to the identification of the HER2/neu gene as a predictor for breast cancer, personalized medicine is making big gains and we have entered a new and exciting era of product development and drug delivery.

So what does all this mean for pharma and how does it change patient communications, reach, and engagement? Delivering targeted, precise marketing to the right audiences has long been the goal. Today’s marketer knows that we must understand today’s communication constructs to keep pace and create new individualized, patient-centric communication. But how? Of course these shifts are not without a unique set of hurdles. Which ones can we address today? Which should be reserved for tomorrow? And how do we bring value to a patient while respecting their privacy?

As marketers, we have always needed to be obsessed with the data. But today, mastering the discipline of data analysis has never been more connected to a business’ customer connections or its bottom line. New data sets are multiplying at an exponential rate, and we have unprecedented access to new and valuable insights. Compound that growth with the rapid rise in companion device startups fueled by more than $2.7 billion dollars in venture funding. Naturally, personalized data sets will play an increasingly vital role in revolutionizing personalized medicine and precision marketing.

Patient Data is Currency

In a 2015 global Microsoft survey1, nearly all consumers—99% of those polled—were willing to share their personal information in exchange for a direct benefit or reward. What wasn’t surprising? They want brands to ask for permission. Consumers expect that brands view them as, you guessed it…people; unique individuals with very specific needs who want to receive benefits in exchange for their info. Patient data has obvious value to the scientific community, but to the patient, the value lies in the exchange of better service, whether that’s in the form of refined or better medical treatments, health education, improved communications, and/or offers.

The value of big data to advertising and marketing is clear, and the challenges are numerous. These challenges are not just reserved for marketing teams and how we leverage this information to deliver communications. It extends most importantly to the consumer. With the rapid growth of new consumer technologies such as wearable fitness devices, the control over our personal health data has become unclear to consumers. And many consumers do not understand where their information is going or how it is being used. This caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission as evidenced in their ruling for “opt-in” consent to track location through mobile devices.

Transparency Breeds Engagement

We need to take the responsibility for using collected data for marketing purposes—from any source—seriously and treat patients and healthcare consumers fairly. Consumers are beginning to realize that a free flowing, but controlled exchange of their information—across both personal and medical—brings value to their daily lives. As stated previously, the barrier for receiving “informed consent” is very low as long as we ask and clearly articulate the brands value proposition for sharing said data. Sharing your personal information, be it medical, location, buying habits, etc., is the ultimate form of transparency.

And brands must return the favor. Patient data is a looking glass into their lives, providing a more complete picture both from a medical, demographic, and psychographic perspective. This access strengthens our ability to understand people more, and to better deliver high-quality content that not only engages patients, but also potentially coaches them towards improved outcomes.

Changing the Face of Personalized Communication

Personalization can be interpreted in a variety of ways. In life sciences, it is a game-changing promise; the promise of tailored therapies with diagnostic gene analysis to target and address diseases, such as cancers and diabetes. The approach also allows efforts to treat the individual with the disease, not the individual disease.

For marketers, it represents a tremendous opportunity; an opportunity to engage on a level never seen before in communication. Personalized medicine and precision marketing share the same goal: Identify what audience would most benefit, which one would not, and deliver a solution. For marketers, personalization translates into relevancy of content, and the opportunity to deliver the right message at the right time to the right person. Relevancy equals frequency and reach. With data shared in real time from both medical-grade and consumer wearables, the more accurate and valuable our brand message is, the more consumers want to hear from us—and brand affinity will skyrocket!

The delivery of a personalized brand experience for a patient is very possible. Each companion device serves a unique purpose, but can serve as the main platform for patient communication. To achieve success, this approach needs to move away from a single outlet towards an omnichannel strategy creating an experiential connection between patients and pharma—a complement of nimble advertising, marketing, and engagement tools that spans on- and offline channels. Big data allows us to shape our brand story throughout the day specific to an outlet, a state of mind, place, mood, or current interest. And these new data sets allow us to do just that!

The Four C’s of Precise Communication

To apply this omnichannel construct, we must now leverage each outlet to deliver meaningful and relevant content—and relevancy is king. Today’s consumer—knowingly or unknowingly—is becoming more accustomed to messages that are directed to them and often ignores more generalized content. This is the power of precision marketing. Your selected channels become the delivery mechanism for the content, and the patient’s shared information dictates what should be delivered to aid the patient in managing their condition. Content types can be categorized the following ways:

  • Connect: Creating a connection with a patient is critical to care. Each appropriate moment you take to communicate is a moment you should capitalize on. Even though we are leveraging technology to deliver our message, basic communication skills need to be applied. In the spirit of personalization, this method adds a human level to your program. A personal touch. A reflection on your brand. Keep it consistent and always relevant.
  • Coach: The identification of genetic markers of people who may be predisposed to a particular condition is a key component to personalized medicine. While more is being learned about what impact both environmental and behavioral conditions have on a disease, wellness and lifestyle coaching catered to your audience becomes a valuable tool used for early detection and prevention.
  • Comply: Non-compliance is a major obstacle for any medical professionals working to provide optimal care for their patients. Studies have shown that better and more timely communication significantly increases adherence across the board. Content can bridge this gap creating a better experience for patients and ultimately better outcomes.
  • Care: The care gap for people with certain chronic diseases is vast and continues to widen. With companion devices gradually closing that gap by providing physicians access to reliable datasets that help inform faster interventions and provide more personalized treatment regimens, they allow marketers opportunities to supplement the care experience through encouraging and useful content.

Patient Centricity Personalized

There is a responsibility in having this holistic view of our patient population. Pharma and marketers alike have deeper insights into both the behavioral and environmental influences on a patient’s care in addition to medical intervention, presenting opportunities for brands to be more patient-centric. Addressing needs that extend beyond a prescription offers patients the kind of value they expect for sharing their personal information. Treating the whole person, not just the patient, speaks volumes to patients and reaffirms that you value them and their health.

Marketing teams must of course respect the privacy of patients and scrutinize every communication to be sure it consistently delivers on your brand’s promise to patients. Content relevancy is key and can only be achieved if we truly understand exactly who we are talking to and what they need from us. In our highly regulated and controlled industry, marketing professionals must be diligent about understanding and exploring how to incorporate these new data sets responsibly and effectively—and to the benefit of the patient. Removing the divide between health and consumer data will help bridge the gap and support true patient centricity.



  • Matthew Stumm

    Matthew Stumm is Principal, Creative and Media Strategy at BBK Worldwide. Matthew heads BBK Worldwide’s multi-disciplinary creative and media team. With more than 15 years of experience creating integrated campaigns for a diverse set of pharmaceutical companies, Matthew remains driven by the ways in which inspired branding and advertising can help bring the right treatments to the right patients.


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