The healthcare sector lacks creativity. While this may seem like a blanket statement, in my 20 years' experience within the industry I’ve seen that what is viewed as the norm in commercial business to consumer marketing is considered completely revolutionary, risky and disruptive in the healthcare marketing sphere. Though the industries run in parallel, the role of creativity within them is dramatically different.

Creativity is under-appreciated within the healthcare world. It isn’t considered of high importance or high value and, while I understand the complex set of circumstances around this, this is a huge mistake. I have seen time and time again that creativity is the key to a successful marketing campaign, and now more than ever the healthcare sector needs creativity at the forefront of its strategy.

COVID-19 and creativity

COVID-19 has changed the game. Comsumers have been forced to take their health into their own hands as restrictions and overwhelm meant doctors and nurses were busy elsewhere during the pandemic. More than ever we are investing in our own health, purchasing blood pressure machines and glucose monitors and turning to Google for answers to our medical questions. The patients themselves are at the forefront of the experience. We all want the best for ourselves and our loved ones – especially when it comes to health. We want marketing that tells us why something is the best, but crucially, in a way that makes sense to us.

In order to help, educate consumers, HCPS’s need campaigns which are emotionally engaging, ensuring they connect with the product or service and effectivity communicate the benefits to their patients. Emotionally engaging content influences how we engage with content and make decisions.

Bridging the gap

The healthcare sector is dominated by logical, data focused and left-brain minds. These are the doctors, nurses and lawyers who think and act through data and fact. This is an admirable skill, and one that is crucial in their day-to-day role, but it doesn’t naturally translate into the world of marketing. People don’t resonate with rational detail but with overall ideas, and this is why it's time for the healthcare industry to change its approach.

Healthcare device marketing often leads with a hero image alongside a list of features and minutiae. In many cases, 10 attributes are given – this ensures that if you’re not interested in the first three, number eight or nine might grab you. But people simply don’t make purchasing decisions like this. Data is a support and not a main message, and no one can connect with a campaign this way. What’s needed is a fusion between product and audience, and the dominance of facts and lack of ideas mean that healthcare marketing work often doesn’t produce that.

Creative marketing matters. A prime example of this in consumer land is Nurofen vs pharmacy own brand ibuprofen. Why are we so willing to spend the extra money on Nurofen when the ingredients are essentially the same as the 19p version? Because branding matters. It provides the vital cut through.

Creative marketers understand that marketing needs to have emotional engagement in order to get results. Consumers respond to this far more than hearing about how the product is 2% more efficient than the previous model. As humans, we are emotional creatures and we’re governed by our inherent need to feel connected to and understood by the world. Even if we’re talking to scientific professions, the marketing we present them with needs to engage their right-brain; imagination, intuition and holistic thinking.

A vicious cycle

The sometimes-negative perception of marketing within the healthcare industry has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The marketing doesn’t work and so isn’t valued; and so this continues. However, the majority of healthcare marketing doesn’t work as it isn’t being done correctly. Conversely, sales is an area that is more easily understood, and it’s very easy for the industry to turn its focus (and budgets) to sales. However, throwing more sales reps at the problem isn’t going to fix it – particularly if they’re armed with materials that don’t resonate. This is especially true now when face to face contact is limited due to COVID-19.

And while healthcare marketing campaigns aren’t quite hitting the mark, medical healthcare will continue to be seen as the unsexy side of the marketing industry. The experienced pros in agencies chase big global launches, while juniors are put in charge of executing materials for sales reps. This simply perpetuates the problem. Those less-experienced agency folk then work with client-side marketers who aren’t creatively trained. They’re usually ex scientists, doctors – an essential, but completely different skillset.

Creative marketing needs to be done by good creative marketers. It’s a simple as that. We’re often asked why it's worth hiring an agency when a business is already working with an in-house marketing manager. The answer is that a marketing manager doesn’t have the wide skillset and scope that an agency has. And frankly, a lot of marketing managers within the industry aren’t classically trained and don’t understand the creative ideas needed.

The creativity fear

‘Too creative’ is a term that’s often used when a marketing pitch is being rejected, and is a clear example of the healthcare industry’s fear of creative marketing. Creativity is not the norm – good, creative healthcare agencies are few and far between – and I truly believe that changing that is the first crucial step to take.

We know that the healthcare industry is one of strict rules and regulation – and we know why – and tight legal guidelines and technicalities can make healthcare professionals anxious. The reluctance to take risks is completely understandable, but it’s also leading to so many missed opportunities.

Healthcare companies need convincing that creativity works - the more data we can use to prove this, the better. And we know it takes time. For example, we’ve worked with one of our healthcare clients for five years, slowly but surely demonstrating how creativity can completely change the game. Finally, after taking them along on this journey, we’re starting to be able to bring the truly creative ideas forward and see these innovative campaigns make a difference. It all comes down to ideation. That’s what we all do as creative healthcare marketers.

I care deeply about the industry and I want to see it thrive. Creativity in healthcare marketing is the future. It means reaching new audiences, growing and morphing with the political and sociological climate, responding appropriately to the experiences and emotional journeys of the consumer. Creativity means making a human connection and that’s how we can ensure sales.

COVID-19 means we have a new norm, and now more than ever, it's time to be brave and bold. Don’t lose sight of the fact that we should be focusing on changing people’s behaviour, and the best way to do that is through putting the patient first and the tactics second. It’s time we learn from and adapt the successes of the consumer world and give true creativity a chance to make its impact within healthcare.

Ed Hudson is managing director at Create Health