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Pharma Strategist’s Blog: Making a Human Connection – the Lost Art of the Brand Narrative

Storytelling is one of the main things that makes us human.

Authored by Maxine Smith, Managing Director, and Senior Strategy Consultant, Caroline Horwood, Uptake Strategies for the PME Pharma Strategists’ Blog

The ability to create and share stories generates empathy, connections, and a sense of purpose. It also helps us retain information and make sense of it. And, quite frankly, we have all been telling stories for a very long time. In fact, there is evidence from cave drawings that shows we were sharing stories with one another at least 30,000 years ago.

We would like to argue that, sadly, storytelling, or ‘creating the brand narrative’, is fast becoming a forgotten art in healthcare marketing, and it is a skill that we need to give more houseroom to in our toolkit of brand strategy tools. As with any good marketing tool, there are several models that we can use to guide our thinking and decision-making. The one that we have created covers the four Cs: is the story or narrative Compelling, Connected, Consistent and Comprehended?


When we consider how compelling our brand narrative is, we can use the simple list of ‘think, feel, do’.

  • Think – Does this narrative confirm or challenge our thinking? Neither is wrong; the important part is that it stimulates our thinking by the messages conveyed
  • Feel – Does the narrative require some type of emotional response from us? Is it working? Do we join in with the sense of fun, drama, sorrow, or excitement that the narrative is asking us to consider?
  • Do – Is the moral of the story clear to us, the reader? All human stories have a point to them: to warn of danger, to share histories, to change behaviour. We should make sure that the message from the narrative is clear


When we consider the connection that we are trying to make from the narrative, we can take the learning from ‘Feel’ and dig a bit deeper. When we have an emotional connection to people, institutions, businesses, places, etc., this is strengthened by shared values and a sense that this product or service ‘makes sense FOR me’ (we address whether it ‘makes sense TO me’ a few lines down). We want our reader or participant to subconsciously be considering their own feelings towards the narrative and product or brand. Only by carrying out this internal dialogue with ourselves do we decide if this is the right solution for us.


Thinking about consistency is fairly straightforward. We should always ensure that our brand narrative is pulling routinely from our scientific narrative, the brand benefits, our company or brand vision and aspiration, as well as the supporting data. Essentially, the brand narrative is not a new set of messages, but a connected version of everything we are trying to convey and achieve, shared in a way that is our last ‘C’ – in a way that it is comprehended by our reader.


The last ‘C’ in our list challenges us to ensure that the narrative makes sense TO the reader. To be comprehended, we need to stop using jargon or cold and remote language that distances our audience. Just to give an example, hands up if you have ever written or read this phrase in your pharma career to date: ‘Patients will live longer and have improved quality of life’. Yep, we bet everyone has their hand raised, we are all guilty of this type of wording. So, how could we make it human? What about ‘Patients will live longer and enjoy precious time with their loved ones’? This second phrase sounds a lot clearer and more human to us without changing the meaning. This is what will help us truly be understood at an intellectual and emotional level with our audience.

If we get better at storytelling, what should we expect? What is the benefit for our brands and, more importantly, our customers and patients? There are advantages for both internal and external engagement as we convey our purpose, our direction, and our intent. The bottom line is that we will see more connected and engaged colleagues and customers who want to connect more and are more likely to advocate on behalf of our company or brand. Think about the last time you felt really connected to a brand. Who did you tell and what did you say? Did you just reel off the message statement to share with a friend or colleague? No. You will have told a short, engaging story to share your experience. It is this positivity and energy towards our brand and company that we are trying to harness, because then we know we have made a human connection.

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