How Can Healthcare Companies Become Protagonists for Customers?

Being diagnosed with a chronic disease can be a frightening, confusing, and, ultimately, isolating experience. In addition to medications and great medical care, patients are looking for knowledge, support, and community to help them manage their diseases successfully. But the pharmaceutical business model is still geared toward selling products to doctors, not considering total solutions for patients. This traditional, linear thinking is one of the fundamental barriers pharmaceutical firms must break through to reach a Level 3 or Total Customer solution, said Larry Huston, founder of 4iNNO, a consulting firm that specializes in developing new business models for pharma clients based on deep understanding of total consumer experiences and how to address the holistic needs of those facing chronic diseases. The successful innovator in pharma must understand both the needs and the cognitive biases of patients (and doctors), then overcome these biases through behavioral economic approaches.

One way to go “beyond the pill” is to become the protagonist for the consumer. Here, Huston defines protagonist as a company that becomes the chief proponent of a movement or cause in support of the consumer. For example, Unilever’s Dove brand chose to become the protaganist for the concept of “Real Beauty.” Instead of emphasizing traditional standards for beauty, as defined by runway shows and beauty magazines, Dove celebrated the cause of “inner beauty and self-confidence.”

The approach to building a market was instantly successful, garnering more than 4.5 million unique hits on its website in the first year. It started a dialogue with the target customer segment that grew to include seminars and workshops on inner beauty and self-confidence and created a related “real beauty” industry. The strength of Dove’s strategy is that it did not adopt a cause, but created a cause and became its leading champion. It looked out for the total needs of its target consumers and, in the process, successfully changed its business model.

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Larry Huston