Emotion-driven patient recruitment strategies: A missed opportunity?

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, our emotions play a huge role in day-to-day decision making. Psychological scientists have long explored emotional influences on decision making. Experts like Herbert Simon, a American Nobel Laureate scientist, speak extensively about how emotions can influence, skew and determine the outcome of so many decisions we’re confronted with every day.


It’s an important consideration for any marketeer, but particularly for those involved in advertising and patient recruitment strategies. And recent research has meant we’ve taken a fresh perspective at how we can use emotion psychology more effectively. But first, we need to understand how the emotions that effect decision-making are formed and how they’re transformed into actionable feelings. So, let’s have a quick look into the science behind the idea…


The science behind emotion

All feelings first start with an external stimulus. This could be a physical or verbal interaction. Whatever the event is, it generates an unfelt emotion in the brain, which causes the body to produce responsive chemicals. Following this, a cascade of events leads to changes to our mood and feelings. These emotions can impact any decisions we make and how quickly we make them. Further, emotional information automatically triggers adaptive behavioural modules that we’ve evolved, pushing us to lean towards appealing outcomes and avoid anything we find threatening.

Despite this knowledge and understanding, we shy away from using these insights to direct the clinical study advertising we create. According to CISCRP surveys, patients cite advancing science and improving the lives of others as main drivers for participating in research. And we so often talk about altruism being an important factor in people wanting to join a clinical study, which is a particularly emotional trigger. However, just as often, the creative we develop to inspire action lacks that very emotion. With recent research highlighting potential opportunity for patient recruitment strategies to take a more emotive approach, our interest is certainly piqued.


Keeping guidelines in mind

Of course, it goes without saying that any clinical study advertising and marketing must still adhere to ethics guidelines. And with the emotion being both abstract and subjective, it’s important that messaging or imagery aren’t seen to be coercive or suggestive of safe and effective treatments. But that doesn’t mean that a more emotive angle can’t be considered. And here’s the findings to back the theory…


Fear and hope prove to trigger action

A study by Wunderman Health found that emotional triggers, in particular fear and hope, inspire action. With decades of failed anti-smoking campaigns and an abundance of information and marketing, the study looked at why people continued to light up and also highlighted opportunity to try a new approach.  

The marketing campaigns that were put under the microscope centred around three different types of motivations:

  1. Having a good life

  2. Achieving family security

  3. Making social connections


And the emotions looked into were:

  • Fear

  • Joy

  • Hope


The findings of the study included:


A desire for a good life + fear = shocked into action

When people motivated by a desire to have a good life were exposed to content that triggered their fears, they felt nearly three times more surprise (+269%).


A desire for a good life + hope = deeper concentration and reflection

When people motivated by a desire to have a good life were exposed to content that triggered hope, their concentration increased by 46% and they ‘reflected more deeply’ about their reasons and plans for quitting.


A desire for family security = planning for action

When people motivated by a desire to achieve family security were exposed to content targeting that desire, they were 16% more likely to create a plan to quit smoking.

Becky Chidester, CEO of Wunderman Health, gave her thoughts on the study, saying:

“People act on motivation, not information, and on content that stirs both negative and positive emotions over a period of time. The healthcare industry has done a great job educating people about medical conditions and treatments, but it has missed the mark in creating content that truly stimulates action.”

More details on the study, including the marketing content that was put into testing, can be found here.


Uncovering motivators that matter

Looking at the study’s findings, it’s clear that understanding people’s specific motivators to participate in a clinical study is a priority for any clinical study. There are numerous ways in which you can glean these important insights, and digital interactions make doing so easier than ever before. For an example and further guidance, just take a look at another of our blogs where we explore how social listening can be an incredible untapped resource for clinical studies.

Through this understanding, you’re able to bring genuine empathy into your campaigns. Research professor Brené Brown describes empathy as “feeling with people”, which can help keep a human and patient-focussed approach within everything you create. It stops you talking about how great the clinical study is, and instead start talking about patients’ needs, showing that you understand them.

Yannis Kotziagkiaouridis, Global Chief Analytics Officer of Wunderman, said, “By drilling down into why people make the choices they do, and by crafting marketing content that speaks to their hearts as well as their minds, we now have the ability to spur both small and very large groups of people to action.” And we couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

We have plenty of our own expert insight and guidance on how the industry can improve how we connect with patients, and the strength of those connections here.

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