Gray has been helping clients speak the language of culture for decades. Cultural knowledge layered with behavior has generated famous ideas for our customers, solved business challenges, and changed the perception of brands and categories. A rapid shift in consumer and physician behavior, particularly over the past year, has dramatically increased the need to consider cultural impacts, especially in healthcare. By rethinking the impact of externalities on cultural relevance, we have a new perspective on our fundamental approach to marketing.
In the vast space of health and wellness, marketers historically base their strategic decisions at the individual level, ignoring the macro-environmental and cultural implications. Our current thinking and approach is centered around getting that special idea or nugget that focuses on the individual.
This approach has a fundamental flaw: it tends to ignore the impact of the world in which the decision maker lives, the culture that directly and substantially influences his behavior.
In its essence, culture exists at the micro-individual level, at the meso-community level or ultimately at the macro level. Although culture may be predominant to varying degrees at each of these levels, its impact will have a ripple effect on all three. It can be as specific as the culture around a disease, or simply the results of community dynamics that impact general human health needs and habits. The global COVID-19 pandemic has made the need to understand these imperatives at the strategic and operational level a matter of vital importance.
Merely “knowing” is not enough. To truly understand the influencing factors of culture, we need to identify the forces that shape, drive, and evolve culture. At Grey, we call the most powerful forces, whether direct or indirect, Culture Keepers. And we consider Culture Keepers as those who influence cultural influencers.
Culture keepers, unlike traditional influencers, are not always people; it can be a trend, a philosophy, a belief, a religion or even a global pandemic. It is the impact on the overall category that changes the focus on brands, treatments, care, category and therefore overall decision-making processes and ultimately their experience. The influence they exert can be positive or negative, but in the end, they are critical and omnipresent.
In healthcare, culture gatekeepers have been largely ignored, but have quietly impacted decisions and trends for decades. The current pandemic has dramatically increased their impact, and culture keepers have begun to transcend digital and social channels to shift perceptions and alter “reality” despite data, insights and experiences. There are a number of cases in healthcare where the influence of culture gatekeepers is rampant.
BREAST CANCER: Misperceptions fuel category beliefs.
When it comes to cancers, breast cancer has been associated with a culture of positivity and hope and almost a feeling that it’s ‘good cancer’. While therapeutic progress is a key part of this, ask patients and it’s obvious what the Culture Keeper is: The Susan G. Komen Foundation and the narrative it spread. There is no denying the foundation’s impact, not only in terms of patient support, but also clinical development.
However, when you talk to patients with metastatic breast cancer or even triple negative breast cancer, they tend to express a disconnect and relative annoyance with the foundation and its narrative. This is largely because this story is tied to the dynamics associated with early breast cancer, where the results are fantastic and a cure is within reach. For any breast cancer product or brand launch, it is imperative to report on this Culture Keeper, otherwise it risks appearing superficial, out of touch with real needs and inauthentic.
PHARMA EQUITY: Standing tall and making the company’s image count.
Pharmaceutical companies have long been reviled, with most accused of undermining widespread access to healthcare. Yet despite the best attempts of many pharmaceutical companies to tout all the good they do, even the best-known corporate reputation campaigns have not been enough to combat the Culture Keeper: A pervasive belief that pharmaceutical companies put profits before patients, exacerbated by years of misattributed global media coverage. The COVID-19 pandemic changed the reputational fate of the pharmaceutical industry on March 12, 2020, when the world woke up to the news that Pfizer would not only be researching a vaccine for COVID-19, but openly announced that he was bringing down his walls and inviting competitors to become collaborators – united as one to save humanity. The resulting Science Will Win campaign took a brand name that often found itself in the crosshairs of negativity and heroized it to everyone from the toughest critics in the industry (key doctors and leaders of opinion) to its biggest skeptics (patients and their caregivers).
We are now seeing a global sea change, where pharmaceutical brands are ubiquitous in the dialogue – they are considered more when healthcare professionals make treatment or prophylaxis decisions and when consumers now demand treatment by the brand. of the manufacturer, and not by the brand of the product, the name. In turn, Pfizer actually became the new guardian of culture: the company that gave the first truly human face to the pharmaceutical industry.
As we emerge cautiously but optimistically from the pandemic, marketers will face a real toll as they encourage brands to make an impact. We believe there are five key factors every marketer should consider when identifying and reaching out to their culture keepers:
· Unravel environment versus culture: Look at the world your customers live in, then identify why that world exists.
· The cultural polarity that exists: is the culture focused on positivity or negativity? The answer forms the very foundation of how we will identify the impact the Culture Guardian will have on the brand.
Determine the Guardian: The Guardian of Culture can be an ideology (e.g. anti-vaccines and vaccination), a person and an organization (Susan G. Komen and breast cancer) or just any force you think be the main factor shaping and influencing culture.
Absolute impact vs. Relative Culture Guardian: Here we ask how representative the Culture Guardian is of our customers and what their exact level of influence and control is.
· Dynamics of customer engagement: At a very concrete level, we will need to understand how the culture gatekeeper influences the brand and customer interactions. Knowing and addressing the culture gatekeeper won’t help if brands don’t implement their strategic approach to customer experience.
As marketers now enter this post-pandemic era, considering these five factors and identifying the guardian of culture will be more vital than ever to brand success. It is clear that we are entering an era where cultural influences and influencers will play a greater role in shaping healthcare, the customer habits that drive it, and the reaction of end consumers. Identifying and directly supporting these culture keepers could be the key to successfully developing sustainable brand strategies that lay the foundation for short- and long-term success.