Contextual Intelligence: Getting to the “Issues Behind the Issues” on the Value of Medicines

For healthcare companies, talk of “being customer-centric” is all the rage – especially when it comes to placing a value on their products. In the pharmaceutical and device arenas specifically, the term “customer” refers to more than just the patient; it refers to all stakeholders – the diverse set of individuals, organizations, regulators, and policymakers who influence the perception of value and market access of a drug or device.  So, when we think about ”customer-centrizing” efforts around value communications, we need to consider every stakeholder who defines value relative to standards of care, as well as other factors.

As we counsel 3D clients on how to align their communication efforts around value and access, we point out that context matters!  But what does this mean and why is it important? The answers lie in contextual intelligence, a concept that has been in social science and business management circles for quite some time, but is only beginning to enter the pharmaceutical and device marketing vernacular and practice. What is contextual intelligence?

Contextual intelligence is a process that takes messages and communications to the next level. Specifically, it helps clients better understand stakeholders’ emotions, behaviors, and beliefs — including regional, global, and community differences – so that messages are targeted and resonant.

By the time marketing approval is received, most clients will have already collected or are in the process of collecting their data that will drive launch and post-launch efforts. Importantly, contextual intelligence allows clients to further delineate, refine, and assign meaning based on who they’ve identified to be their most important stakeholders, and in turn, how these stakeholders influence target audiences or public interest in market access of a drug or device.

For example, envision a wide-angle camera lens. The wide-angle lens allows the photographer to zoom out to capture a big scene or zoom in to provide a close-up and personal perspective. The big scene provides a “group view,” while the close-up makes the viewer feel like they are part of the scene –  interpreting and influencing what they are witnessing. Both approaches are important when it comes to applying contextual intelligence to value communications. Clients must “zoom in” to understand various stakeholders’ motivations to get at the “issue behind their issue.” They must “zoom out” to understand how stakeholders act as a group – as allies or adversaries – to communicate the value of a product and affect its access relative to outcomes and current care standards.

Why does contextual intelligence matter in value communications?

Marketers across a variety of business silos recognize that certain factors influence the value that potential customers place on a product, as well as how those factors lead to a purchasing decision.  They understand the journeys their customers take to reach their decisions, and how these journeys intersect and diverge. These marketers know that by teasing out the context-framing opinions or perceptions about value – including preexisting beliefs, emotions, and behaviors – they can define how, why, and to whom information about a product’s value is communicated.

The same rings true for pharmaceutical marketers who are increasingly challenged to hone messaging and communications to achieve desired outcomes. What differs is the how. How they bring essential stakeholders to the table allows clients to see how group discussion, disagreement, and consensus drive decision-making. Applying contextual intelligence allows clients to understand how stakeholders interact to exert influence within and outside their individual silos, the motivations for this influence, and how their perspectives can be broadened and shaped accordingly. Who influences whom? Is this influence top down or bottom up? Formal or informal? Rigid or flexible? Is there a link between and among the different hierarchies? Has support been garnered, accounting for individual attitudes and beliefs?  The biggest challenge is the choreography underlying this effort; that is, making sure all voices are heard, that strong players don’t hijack the discussion, that collaboration and consensus are achieved, and that the goal – understanding what data and messages resonate – is reached. Going back to our camera lens analogy, it is the ability to widen our marketer lenses so that working relationships with stakeholders are formed; stakeholder expectations are not simply met but enhanced; and in turn, the interests of targeted audiences or the public in market access are proactively addressed.

All of this leads to the critical question:  Can value communications bridge the gap between customer-centric intentions and reality? We believe it can, IF done right.

In my next post, I will discuss how to maximize contextual intelligence in an increasingly complex environment where there are greater number of stakeholders with competing interests – so you can identify and communicate the value of your product.


Liz Scherer is a seasoned communications executive, bringing to 3D more than 25 years of experience in strategic communications across multiple functions in pharma – from R&D and Regulatory to Marketing and Commercialization.  Liz will join 3D’s Value Communications for Market Access team, leveraging her cross-functional expertise and ability to lead projects with the goal in mind.  Liz works to identify, develop, and align messaging and communications across company functions and throughout a product’s lifecycle.  She has worked directly with scientists and clinicians on FDA advisory committee projects, developed stakeholder strategy programs, and created business development roadmaps. Prior to joining 3D, Liz headed two creative digital consultancies, and was a health reporter and medical writer. .  Connect with Liz on LinkedIn.