In Patient Communication, Emotion Rules

Dear House Rules,

My company markets a well-regarded brand in the cardiovascular space, and we’re about to launch a new series of communications aimed primarily at patients. What do we need to do differently with this audience, while still getting across the nuances of our complex product?


It’s complicated

Dear Complicated:

According to Brand Key’s 19th Annual Customer Loyalty Engagement Index (CLEI®), the gap between what consumers expect and what they believe brands are delivering is driven almost entirely by emotional values. This is especially true in pharmaceutical marketing, where patients are managing a condition that may be frightening, disruptive, or even life-altering.

Whereas physicians may be interested in the p values of charts and Kaplan-Meier curves detailing efficacy, patients are more concerned with outcomes information. They want to know how well a particular treatment has worked for others, what percentage of people it’s helped. Here are a few ways to use your product’s data in a way that speaks to patients’ emotions as well as their thoughts.

  • Flip the Script: Of course, you need to include the data that supports your claims, but with this group, the first emphasis needs to be on the emotional benefit of taking the product: living longer, spending time with the grandkids, remaining active, etc. Just make sure to adhere to the FDA’s Fair Balance requirements for the tactic, whether it’s a waiting room brochure or a banner ad on a popular consumer website.
  • Change Your Tone: Even if you don’t require agencies to adhere to “healthcare literacy” standards, these common-sense guidelines can be vital. Healthcare literacy is simply the use of plain language.2 Key elements of plain language include:
    • Organizing information so that the most important points come first
    • Breaking complex information into understandable chunks
    • Using simple language and defining medical terms
    • Using the active voice

    Learn as much as you can about the patients you’re targeting. What do you know about their education level? Is English their first language where you plan to deploy the communication? It is critical to know your audience and have them test your materials before, during, and after those materials are developed.

  • Use Friendly Imagery: Whereas your clinical audience may respond best to a dynamic chart showing impressive efficacy or safety data, patients have a different mindset. When they see communications from pharma or medical device companies, chances are they are frustrated or scared. Use imagery that soothes and reassures. There’s a reason for the use of mainly “resolved state” patient photography in DTC ads. Patients who are sick know they are sick—they want to see how much better they could feel. With your product, of course.

All of the above elements combine to form a very distinct style, visually and verbally, known as the “patient voice.” A mastery of the patient voice isn’t offered by every healthcare marketing firm. Before initiating a patient-focused marketing plan, ask potential partners about their experience in speaking to this crucial segment of the market. At Xavier Creative House, we’ve developed lots of patient-facing communications, and we’d love to help you enhance this aspect of your marketing plan.

About Xavier Creative House

Founded in 2013, Xavier Creative House (XCH) is an award-winning healthcare creative agency specializing in pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device. XCH’s global team of brand builders and healthcare marketers, tech-savvy go-getters, and innovative dream-vetters are passionate about the big idea that changes behavior in the healthcare marketplace. They believe life is about connections and that healthcare is about life. That is why XCH delivers bold and evocative creative solutions, amplified by meaningful technology, to energize brands and authentically connect with patients and HCPs.

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For more information, contact

Sunny White
Founder & CEO of Xavier Creative House