Lessons From a Bygone Era
This article was written by Max G, an account executive candidate as part of a first interview to help us see where his MA in International Relations from LSE and our world of healthcare collide. We are delighted to welcome Max to Hive in January.
This is, to quote Tim, a Darwinian moment. The cusp of a revolution and a moment for new thinking and creative minds. The patient is coming, the power structures are diversifying and it’s the job of folks like us to harness that power and use it to effective ends for our clients. Critically, this will mean truly respecting the conflicting and often contradictory wants of patients, instead of merely seeing digital and all things social as just another channel for vulgar old-ad indoctrination. More than anything else, this will mean actually listening to patients: learning from them and understanding their needs beyond the most basal of levels.
Just for the sake of thinking, it’s fun to draw parallels across disciplines. It can also be genuinely productive.
Take the body of literature surrounding U.S. Public Opinion and U.S. Presidents. At the LSE I took a course that addressed the interaction between Presidents and public opinion and I was particularly fascinated by the moment at which the existing consensus completely broke down. Critically, the power-players – i.e. the President – had absolutely no idea how to handle the new climate. It was akin to Reagan’s Secretary of State, George Shultz, visiting Gorbachev in the Kremlin in the late 1980s and telling him ‘The Information Age will destroy your economy if you don’t afford it the room to breathe’. The powers that be were the ones to lose out.
Think of the drugs companies as the President and the patients as the voters. To take the cast a step further, imagine Carter’s team of experts and his Presidential pollster Patrick Caddell – as the tired old ad man who simply clings to the methods of old.
Prior to the end of the Vietnam War and the election of Jimmy Carter in 1977, political scientists and commentators alike agreed that the ‘bully pulpit’ style of Presidential leadership dominated and that the masses had little to say or think, other than that which they’d already been told. In other words, if the President shouted loud enough, the public generally went along. The people were ignorant and malleable. This was termed the Almond-Lippmann consensus.
Similarly, for years the GP-patient relationship consisted of linear, one directional messaging where the GP told the patient what’s good for him and the patient minded his Ps and Qs. Why, as a patient in this climate, would you engage with a brand that meant nothing to you? You were simply told to take it. The brand name sounded scary and the active ingredient scarier. There was no reason to connect with a brand and more importantly, no one had ever muted it as an option. The President knew what was best for you.
Back in the world of politics, The Vietnam War changed the underlying conditions of public opinion dramatically and new scholarship by the likes of Katz and Witkopf asserted that the public was increasingly ‘activated’ on foreign policy issues. The consumer of policy had suddenly woken up. The trouble was, no one had bothered to tell Carter. Or rather, both him and his top-team wouldn’t listen. In critiquing the failures of Carter, one school of thought argues that Carter’s bold and brazen honesty and New World Agenda was simply too much for a typically Conservative American electorate to consume in one go. Honesty, it is argued, was the cause of his failure. For another school, Carter simply didn’t care about public opinion at all.
On the contrary, Carter failed not because he cared nothing for public opinion, but because he failed to appreciate the changes to the underlying landscape and continued to treat the electorate – or for the sake of this analogy his ‘customers’ – as ignorant drones ready to be led. The contradictions in their views meant nothing; little had really changed. From this rapidly expiring rationale, Carter tried to sell something like his human rights policies as ‘non-ideological’ and one-fit-for-all, as opposed to understanding the complex underlying reasons why different voters supported the very same policy, but for markedly different reasons. Far from pleasing everyone, this linear approach to strategy failed everyone.
Back in the world of health care in the 21st century, almost all major stakeholders now appreciate the degree to which the landscape is changing. They get that choice and patient empowerment is coming and that patients are broadly embracing of it. Worryingly however, many traditionalists see this new medium as broadly compatible with the tired old information dissemination of old. Bully pulpit ring a bell?
That’s where Hive and our team of smart cookies come in. We see the irony in giving a presentation on digital in a room full of stuffy insider types through the medium of an overhead projector. Instead, we actually seek to understand patients in their most complex – and thus natural of underlying forms. We tailor our clients’ products to this end and take power back through the empowerment of others. To some observers, this method might seem like pretension defined. Or to others as a serious challenge to the status quo. To us, it’s a holistic approach to the demands of an entirely new and still-emerging world. Digital isn’t just a corporate buzzword and choice means genuinely listening to and respecting the needs of patients.
The way we see it, you can either come with us for the ride or end up like another Jimmy Carter – as much as we love the old peanut farmer.