Why Storytelling is an Essential Tool in Pharma Marketing

No matter how you execute a marketing strategy, if your audience is disinterested or forgets your message, it is wasted. So, how can you make your pharma marketing stick in the minds of healthcare professionals (HCPs)? And how can you deliver a message that evokes action?

This is where storytelling in pharma marketing can help.

A strategy that utilises storytelling creates a stronger emotional bond with the HCP. As a result, it is memorable and inspires action. So, let’s examine how to implement storytelling and explore the benefits in more detail.

Key Takeaways

Storytelling is a powerful tool that can help you overcome some of the main universal challenges in pharma marketing
There are 5 key elements to take into consideration to build an effective storytelling campaign (from clear messaging to resolution)
There are already many successful examples of storytelling in the pharma industry to learn from
Storytelling is a key element of an effective customer journey. There is an important distinction between these two concepts
To get started with storytelling, you can identify key narratives, work with patient advocates and use both print and digital channels

The Benefits of Storytelling in Pharma Marketing

There are universal challenges in pharma marketing that you may already know:

1. The attention spans of HCPs and patients are shrinking

2. You have the burden of explaining complex scientific concepts in a digestible format

3. You are also up against very restrictive compliance regulations

Storytelling can help you overcome all three!

First, by telling a story, you are building key features into your campaign that connect with your audience on an emotional level. You can build suspense, create a sense of wonder, or evoke sympathy, for example.

Now you have their attention.

Then, Storytelling can become a tool to naturally facilitate the exchange of information. When we want to convey something important in day-to-day conversation, we often use an example or phrase.

Instead of saying “I am clumsy,” you might say “I am like a bull in a china shop.”

The first phrase is factual, simple… and forgettable. The second phrase conveys the essential information, paints a vivid picture, and is memorable. This is a rudimentary form of storytelling that allows you to deliver the key information in a memorable format.

Finally, regulations. Storytelling can help you circumnavigate these by focusing on the human experience. In essence, you can create an awareness campaign via storytelling, rather than a promotion.

With the right storytelling, your awareness campaign will lead to your audience prescribing the drug, booking an appointment, changing their opinion, or whatever your goal may be.

5 Key Elements of Effective Pharma Marketing Stories

Here are the 5 key elements to remember when building a storytelling marketing campaign

Clear messaging

Your story must be easy to follow from start to finish. Make sure the plot is simple above all else. Stick with one conflict and one resolution. Another key thing to remember is show, don’t tell. So, rather than saying “our arthritis drug reduces joint stiffness,” create a story about grandma and say “she’ll be back to knitting in no time.”

Relatable characters

Your character should be relatable. Often, the character is the same as your target audience, but not always. So long as your character displays and evokes those basic human emotions, they will be relatable. You can even use inanimate objects as your characters. So long as your audience feels sad when Mr Strawberry is too sick to play with Strawberry Junior, you have stoked the fires of empathy.


Your story should have authenticity. To achieve this, base your story around a real issue or conflict (see next point). Research what your audience is up against, and focus on a genuine issue that your product/brand solves.


Conflict is what your character must overcome. This can be character vs symptoms, character vs risks, character vs misinformation, or any other relevant conflict. This conflict helps you build that emotional connection and stay memorable, but it’s resolution that seals the deal.


Resolution is how you neatly tie up your story and present the solution your character needs to resolve the conflict. This is also the solution your audience is seeking, whether it’s a drug they should purchase or the information a HCP needs. This resolution drives action. Your character took action and found a solution, and now your audience can do the same.

Examples of Highly Effective Pharma Storytelling

There are numerous examples in pharma marketing of highly effective storytelling. Here are two of our favorites at phamax Digital, one focused on the general public and the other on HCPs.

Pfizer – Using Storytelling for Public Support

Pfizer’s ‘Science Will Win’ campaign utilises storytelling to improve brand image and highlight their role in the COVID-19 pandemic. Even the name of this campaign indicates a conflict that Pfizer can help you resolve.

This short Pfizer video ad evokes emotion throughout – it is charged with emotional buzzwords. It targets that feeling of unity that many felt as communities worked through the hardest moments of the pandemic. You will see an ensemble of characters to represent this.

The actual story is incredibly simple – it’s a rally call. The human race is their ‘character’ with disease as their ‘conflict’ and science (particularly Pfizer’s science) as their ‘resolution’.

Johnson & Johnson – Telling Nurses’ Stories

An excellent example of a story-based marketing campaign aimed at HCPs is Johnson & Johnson’s ‘Nurses Rise to the Challenge Every Day’ digital and print campaign. 

The story verbalises what nurses face – their excessive workload, stress and burnout – and the consequences if nurses were no longer part of the healthcare system. Very quickly, we have established relatable characters and authenticity through a real conflict.

Then comes the resolution, beginning with acknowledgement and saying “thank you” to nurses. The message? Johnson & Johnson supports HCPs, and as a result, you should be working with this pharma company and their products if you are a nurse!

Storytelling vs Customer Journeys

There’s a key distinction between storytelling and customer journeys that you should be aware of.


Using narrative techniques to create a compelling story around your product or pharma company. It engages your audience on an emotional level.

Customer journeys

The interactions a customer has with your product or brand, from awareness to purchase. You are likely already examining this to pinpoint areas for improvement.

While using a customer journey in your campaign is a good idea – it stars a relatable character, a conflict, and a resolution – it won’t be effective without the storytelling element. A customer journey without storytelling is just a list of activities.

3 Tips to Get Started

If you aren’t sure where to start, consider these three tips.

Identify key narratives

What is the typical story of your target audience? What problem do HCPs or patients regularly express? Identify and write them down on a single page as a narrative, highlighting the conflict, resolution and message.

Work with patient advocates

These are the HCPs and individuals that know the real stories. They will have invaluable narratives that you can use. Furthermore, they can play a key role in delivering and promoting your campaign.

Use multimedia storytelling

Both print and digital channels should be utilised. HCPs in particular are looking for digital interactions, so you can incorporate emails, social media, your pharma portal, and digital opinion leaders.

How to Measure Storytelling Success

Measuring the success of any campaign is essential for evaluating if it worked and whether you should follow the same strategy again. For storytelling, the metrics may include:

Overall engagementLikes, comments, and shares indicate that you hit that emotional nail on the head
Brand reputationUse polls and surveys to analyse reputation before and after storytelling
Patient outcomesYour storytelling campaign should translate to products being requested by patients and/or HCPs recommending them. This is very measurable!

Ultimately, storytelling is a highly effective way to create meaningful connections that translate to brand loyalty and increased revenue. The key is to keep your message authentic, simple and emotive, so it will remain memorable and evoke action among HCPs and patients.

About the author

Photo of author

David Douek

David is phamax Digital's Chief Digital Officer. He makes digital easy for pharma companies. With 20+ years of experience in digital marketing and product development, he's tried and tested everything to recommend the best strategies

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