The Power of Storytelling in Pharma Marketing

If you want to see an increase in prescribers and patients on therapy, take your brand messages and plant them into a meaningful story. Storytelling in pharma is natural because all patients and all brands have a story. Marry the two and you’ve got a compelling case on your hands for why people should invest in your brand.

Patient storytelling

To make an emotional impact on audiences, you need conflict and details, all leading up to a satisfying resolution brought to life by your pharma brand.


Say you’re marketing for a brand of acne medication and your story follows a boy missing the school dance because of a bad breakout. Let’s call him Larry. That’s a bummer, but it’s bland. Maybe Larry doesn’t even care that he’s missing the dance. If Larry doesn’t care, why should your audience?


Let’s try again. To add depth to Larry’s story, offer context by peeking further into Larry’s life:


His mom lets him pick out a brand new shirt for his middle school dance. He is so excited to go, hoping to talk to his crush. The night before, Larry can hardly sleep from excitement.


When Larry wakes up and looks in the mirror, he’s devastated. An acne breakout ruins his day. He’s ashamed of his acne, telling his mom he doesn’t want to go to the dance anymore and hiding from her. 


You could show the new shirt sitting out on his bed, reminding the audience of Larry’s excitement to draw out their sympathy. 


In walks your fast-acting acne brand to save Larry’s day!


For pharma marketing purposes, your patient stories like Larry’s are for two audiences: other patients or HCPs. The wording will shift depending on your primary target, but its core message can remain constant. 


For acne patients, Larry’s story will feel familiar, even if they’re in college now or older. They’ll remember what those tough, defeated moments were like when they were younger and how they still affect them now.  


For HCPs, Larry’s story will pull at their heartstrings. The messaging can be tailored to them, essentially asking them to help patients like Larry. And how could they remain cold-hearted to his adolescent woes? 

Authentic storytelling in pharma

Whether you’re creating a fake patient for your story or using a real patient’s journey with their condition, it’s important to make it feel authentic.


Authenticity is the lifeblood of powerful brand stories. 


Stories fail if they feel too contrived and emotionally distant. The content can be fictional, of course, but it must contain grounding elements that radiate authenticity.


For example, fantasy writers can make us cry when ogres or dragons or any number of creatures are in peril because they ground those creatures in our emotional reality. They burden them with fear, love, grief, etc. The emotional aspect of such stories is authentic, and that’s what matters most. 


An authentic pharma brand story prompts recognition in HCPs and patients, sometimes even creating a mirror experience. 

Authentic storytelling can also help convince HCPs and patients that your brand genuinely cares about patient outcomes.


So while it may sound like an overused buzzword, authenticity is not to be underestimated. It could be the difference between a powerful story and an apathetic flop.

Amgen's storytelling push

Amgen is one notable leader pushing for storytelling in pharma. Its collaboration with StoryCorps, “Every Patient Counts, Every Story Matters,” invites anyone affected by cancer to tell their story to connect with others and raise awareness. 


Additionally, in a recent social media campaign, “Patient Points of View,” Amgen again puts the spotlight on cancer patients. Through a series of videos, patients discuss their experiences, Amgen taking the backseat in an effort to "inspire the cancer community" and "honor those affected by [the] disease.”


Stories humanize patients, helping make greater strides toward patient centricity, whether in commercials or social media campaigns like “Patient Points of View.”


Humanization primes empathy. Once we see a patient as someone with hopes, dreams, fears, likes, dislikes, etc., our hearts open up to them. We become receptive to the messages in their stories.

Next time you’re gearing up for a campaign or writing the manuscript for your next big commercial, remember to place the patient at its center, and most of all, remember to tell an authentic story.

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