Why Healthcare Advertisers Should Really Consider Women’s Perspectives in Campaigns

Rx: Provide useful info, promote conversation

These days, women make more health and wellness decisions for themselves and their families than ever before. "They really are the chief health officers," said Lynn O'Connor Vos, CEO at GreyHealth Group. In fact, a 2015 study GHG helped prepare found that women serve as decision makers 94 percent of the time. Given that dynamic, Vos and other experts believe that companies seeking a bigger slice of the estimated $6.5 trillion global healthcare pie would be well served to take women's perspectives and experience into consideration as they plan and launch campaigns in the marketplace.

"Women lean into healthcare and are typically a more captive audience" than men, said Sharon Callahan, CEO, TBWAWorldHealth. "Our goal should be to further fuel and meaningfully tap into this curiosity. Marketers need to respect their knowledge and not operate at the 101 level—but still keep it simple."

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In recent years, the ascendance of women as decision makers—along with other societal factors, such as the massive amount of readily available health information online—has led to a shift in marketing direction. The pitch has become less focused on short-term gains (such as, get immediate relief from thus and such aliment). Instead, campaigns have grown more holistic and detailed, stressing the role products and services can play in improving lives over the long haul.

Ultimately, it comes down to bedside manner—and being able to conduct an intelligent dialogue with consumers, said Vos. And she should know, having worked for two years as a nurse at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia before taking research and marketing positions with pharmaceutical firms and, eventually, joining the agency world. "It is important in today's environment to create a conversation, and ideally one that is fully transparent," she said. "Women appreciate marketers that share all of the facts and provide information and resources to help them make educated decisions."

Case in point: In a recent campaign for Pfizer's Trumenba—a vaccine that protects against meningitis B for adolescents and young adults—GHG kept mindful of the complex role moms can play as influencers while teenagers are starting to make their own health decisions. The campaign adopted a convivial tone to educate both moms and kids about the spread of meningitis B (through kissing, sharing utensils), evolving the message from risk to solution.

Respecting women's time and providing practical value are hugely important, Vos said. Toward that end, GHG fashioned a streamlined mobile website for Colgate, with highly intuitive navigation leading to actionable information for both consumers and professionals. "Instead of being passive, we strive to help the brand have an active role in communicating the solutions to women, and helping women identify the solutions for themselves and others with confidence," said Vos.

That approach has proven effective, with frequency of use and time spent increasing 77 and 85 percent, respectively, over the client's previous mobile offering, according to Moira Loten, vp of professional oral care, global marketing, at Colgate-Palmolive.

Bottom line: know thy audience. According to experts, marketers cannot paint happy pictures in commercials—or offer quick fixes in targeted tweets—and expect women to respond in a positive way. Rather, they must truly understand women's wellness needs and explain how products and services can help them meet specific goals.

"Empowering messages and realistic portrayals based on deep insights win versus the idealistic version of who you think she should want to be," said Amy Hansen, svp and creative director at HCB Health. "More investment, more time, more specificity needs to be placed on learning exactly who it is that you are trying to engage, what she cares about, and how you can help her and her family stay happy and healthy—particularly if she's buying."

This story first appeared in the April 25, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.
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