Not so long ago, the world of pharmaceutical communications was neatly compartmentalized.

Companies relied on multiple service vendors to address a myriad of communications needs, from advertising to medical education, from sales-force training to public relations. Each service partner knew its task and specialized in its execution. The firms happily disseminated messages to the right audiences, at the right time, via the right channel—each piece to its own.

No more. Now, messaging strategies—as with our lives in general—are drawing closer together, overlapping, and perhaps exerting influence on unintended audiences. Social media and technology are driving the shift in how clients and their partners must collaborate.

THE REAL-TIME IMPERATIVE

Savvy pharma companies recognize that the “digital movement” is more than a medium. It’s a societal mindset and the way we have begun to engage and process information. Jean-Philippe Courtois, president of Microsoft International, notes: “The explosion of social networking with consumers has changed their expectations about how they can and should connect with businesses. Real-time is a new imperative, which is causing many businesses to rethink their customer relations strategies via digital marketing.”

Navigating this new environment requires a new professional expertise: pattern recognition. The ability to synthesize and assess multiple audience needs and multiple influences—spotting a pattern, seeing how it connects to the big-picture and visualizing its trajectory—is critical in the healthcare marketing and issue-management disciplines. Companies are at risk when communications structures become fragmented and message crafters become isolated. Often, the urgency fostered by the digital world takes the front seat over strategic direction. But individuals who can separate the urgent from the relevant—keeping everyone focused on the underlying mission—can ensure communications remain on course.

IMPROVING PATTERN RECOGNITION

This skill of pattern recognition must be honed, exercised and strengthened. Unfortunately, it has not been a traditional focus for the communications field and for some it’s a gift, much like an artistic ability. But in today’s echo-chamber-like setting, the medium becomes secondary. It is audience interest in the messages themselves—and the position, urgency and value they express—that influences outcomes.

Clients are beginning to realize that the skill needed in today’s environment is not always found in the tactic-centered organizations they hire in the framework of yesterday’s compartmentalized world. Communications professionals must focus on how audience threads and messages weave together to create opinions. My suggestion: start by enjoying puzzles and envisioning the big picture. Then use these pattern-recognition skills to spot policy, payer, patient and physician trends—and connect customer conversations. Here are four quick ways—drawing on your talent and technology—to stay professionally competitive:

  • Have fun.

    Reading philosophy and complex mysteries helps perfect the ability to connect the dots of emerging stories and improves unique brain function at the subconscious level where pattern recognition occurs.

  • Take chances.

    Experience seeing the world from different brand positioning functions enables people to fit data into patterns—see brand building from varied assignments.

  • Sharpen your team work.

    Brain training games in a group format designed to enhance flexibility, attention and creativity can be helpful.

  • Get techie.

    Software analyzing social media mentions of a company or a brand can aid in making sense of micro-blogs, news sites and Twitter posts and perform sentiment analysis (e.g., Scout Labs and WiseWindow Mass Opinion Business Intelligence and Pulsar Social Media Monitoring).

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