FemTech panel discussion: Empowering women through impactful marketing campaigns

March 07, 2023

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With FemTech brands front and center in the fight to close the healthcare gender gap, we hear from three women’s health experts about barriers, opportunities, and the role brands play.

It’s no secret that women’s health issues often take a backseat, not just at home and in the workplace, but within the healthcare system, too. This gender bias is evidenced in multiple facets. For example, a gender pain gap has been uncovered in studies that show bias against women in treatment for chronic pain, and there is a relative lack of research funding in female-dominant diseases with a disproportionate share of resources allocated to diseases primarily affecting men. While women experience similar health issues as men, their symptoms can vary greatly. Women also suffer from some very distinct issues, including problems surrounding menstruation, fertility, and menopause, many of which are not taken seriously by others in their lives, personally and medically.

The gender health gap between men and women looking to understand their biology and access care creates multiple barriers for the latter when seeking healthcare, from seeing the right specialist to receiving the correct diagnosis and accessing the ideal treatment. These barriers are compounded for many women who fall into intersectional subgroups, for example, those in marginalized groups who may face cultural challenges or further access issues. But all of these barriers create opportunities for companies that are willing to step up and pay attention to women’s health.

We interviewed Hayley Zismer, Director, Brand Strategy; Allison Shulow, Group Creative Director; and Natasha Patel, Managing Consultant to learn about how the healthcare technology industry can better meet women’s unmet needs with empowering campaigns.

Can you tell us about your experience working in women’s health issues and what drives you to want to advocate for women’s healthcare?

Hayley Zismer, Director, Brand Strategy: I’ve spent my career working in the medical space. For about 12 years, I was on the medical device and technology client side, and more recently, I shifted to focusing on strategy for our clients. One thing I love is that we have a range of clients that directly work in women’s health. From campaigns focusing on restoring sensation after mastectomy; to tackling more intimate conditions like pelvic organ prolapse or urinary incontinence; and a client who provides solutions to mothers at one of the most important times of their lives.

All these clients are very different, but one of the threads that really connects all women’s health brands is this need to show women they’re worth it. As a strategist digging into consumer insights in the healthcare space, I notice a recurring theme among women: I often hear comments like “I don’t have time” or “it’s not that bad,” or “I can just live with it.” And personally, I get it. As a working mom with a career, a five-year-old, a two-year-old, a husband, a home, a life…. as hard as I may try to prioritize myself, I know that I often come last. I love the healthcare space and I love marketing, but I also see myself in so many of these women and the brands that create products for them. That’s a big driver for me. 

Allison Shulow, Group Creative Director: I’ve been in health advertising and marketing for 12 years. In my experience, empathy plays a crucial role in the field of health marketing. While the typical approach to launching technology is to focus on its cutting-edge features and benefits, in health marketing, it is crucial to adopt a more empathetic and inquisitive approach. By listening and learning through empathy and research, we can gain a deeper understanding of our audience, including patients, families, and caregivers. Only by connecting with our audience in a meaningful way, can we hope to change behavior and promote our products effectively. So it’s essential to carve out the time and space to do so. 

Effective health marketing for both patients and healthcare professionals is about creating and delivering content that educates, connects, and builds trust. Brands that develop content that addresses the daily challenges of living with a specific condition, share stories of others living with it, and help navigate the healthcare system will foster brand and product loyalty. To achieve this, it’s vital to listen to the needs of patients and healthcare professionals, leaving our own preconceptions behind. By understanding the daily lives, stressors, and information consumption habits of these audiences, we can tailor our marketing efforts and help them make informed decisions about our products. This insight-driven, empathetic approach is essential for successful health marketing. 

Natasha Patel, Managing Consultant, Head of Insight: I’ve spent my entire 16-year career working in healthcare market research. I’ve had the opportunity to observe from various perspectives, including carrying out a ton of patient research across therapy areas and then packaging that up for various companies in the fields of tech, devices, drug manufacturing, and drug branding. What I’ve seen is that when we look at patients, we tend to view them as a whole population instead of looking at them as individuals. One of the most obvious examples is people who identify as women. They have a very different experience from people who do not identify as women, and that’s not always considered within healthcare. We need to think about how we can bridge that gap and ensure a better balance of equity in health. That’s really where my passion lies, in hearing those stories firsthand. And what I’d like to do is use the platform that gives me to enact the kind of change we’d like to see.

Could you discuss some of the main barriers that exist in the healthcare journey for women right now?

NP: Some of the issues are around women recognizing when they’re experiencing something in the first place. For example, one of the primary symptoms of ovarian cancer is abdominal pain, but women live with it, often telling themselves that it’s just part and parcel of the joy of being a woman. The next barrier comes at seeking a diagnosis. Physicians aren’t always trained to be able to pick up on the fact that different conditions present differently for women than for men. There’s also an inherent bias for some women, for example, those from different ethnic backgrounds may face additional barriers such as cultural, language, or other barriers that physicians may not always consider. Other obstacles exist throughout the healthcare journey and as women live their daily lives with various conditions.

HZ: One of the biggest barriers I’ve seen is getting to the right kind of doctor. Women may be in the care of a physician or clinician, often an OBGYN, and they stick with that doctor for a long time, perhaps even their whole adult life. But these types of relationships can make it hard for women to challenge their physician or to leave and find specialized care elsewhere. So they get stuck with this one doctor who might not be the right specialist for what they’re experiencing.

How should brands approach marketing campaigns to overcome some of these barriers?

NP: There’s a degree of emphasis in healthcare placed on women of childbearing age, and women are often reduced to one identity and even one organ—their uterus. Often, the industry falls into a trap of thinking about them in a moment in time completely distinct from the rest of the experience she’s having. We need to look at that more holistically and recognize that women in society take on a number of different burdens and identities that are not always applicable universally across the population.

AS: Brands that serve underrepresented disease states or populations have an additional responsibility of educating both patients and healthcare professionals about their products. This requires a shift towards a more personalized, relationship-based approach to marketing, where the focus is on building connections first and selling second. Simply introducing new products and therapies is not enough; we must empower women and help them understand that they have a right to access these resources, and that it’s okay to communicate with their physician about their health. By normalizing these conversations, we can empower them to take charge of their own well-being.

HZ: We also have this duty to educate on the broader healthcare world, explaining why you need to see a specialist, which specialist that is, and how you can find them. And as Allison said, we need to ensure that we’re doing our work on the healthcare professional side, too. We can go to patients all day long and educate them and help them feel empowered and confident in approaching these clinicians. But if the doctors shut them down right away, then we’ve hit a dead end, and we haven’t done our work. It’s really tricky and we have to go at it from all angles, but we like problem solving and that’s why we love this space.

Can you discuss the importance of inclusivity and diversity in FemTech?

NP: You look at the burden that exists just being a human in the world. Then you look at the burden that exists being a woman, and then you add even more burdens if you’re a woman with children or a woman with elderly parents that you have to care for. If you’re from a minority background, there’s a whole set of other burdens specific to your situation. For example, you might have a particular condition that is perhaps stigmatized by society or stigmatized by the culture that you’re from, and being a woman on top of that adds another layer of complexity in seeking the right treatment, feeling empowered to be treated well, and seeking support to understand what’s happening. And so you have to look very individually at different disease areas and the experiences of the diverse set of people who are living with those diseases.

HZ: I think that there’s this important factor of making sure that we have good representation on our end here at Fishawack. We’re running a host of initiatives to drive diverse backgrounds in terms of career paths, socioeconomic background, race, gender, everything that really helps us understand the consumers that we’re trying to reach—we all bring something unique. While the men at Fishawack Health may not have those daily experiences that we have, they do offer a boatload of empathy. I see them learning with us as we work through these projects, and they can also bring a fresh perspective because they haven’t experienced it day in and day out.

AS: We also need to consider the influencers in the audience we’re targeting, for example, the caregivers. That sometimes becomes a secondary audience that we need to help advocate for, encourage, and build our messaging around. While we’re empowering people to speak up for their health, we can target other people in their households to advocate on the patient’s behalf. We also need to ensure that FemTech brands are inclusive of everyone under the women’s health umbrella, including people who may not identify as women.

NP: I agree it’s helpful to have that outside perspective to ask questions that we might not otherwise ask. In a group of people with shared experiences, everyone has an understanding of a certain set of realities and we can discuss that topic without having to explain all the intricacies of it. And if we want healthcare professionals, brands, and other external stakeholders to understand, we need to make sure that we have fully explained all facets of the topic to those who may not be living the same experiences.

What are your thoughts on Fishawack Health’s commitment to gender equality and some of its initiatives?

AS: There are some fantastic conversations brought through our diversity and inclusion team. For example, a couple of weeks ago, I attended an open panel on menopause and there’s another forum later today involving discussions around fertility. The company is setting the stage to have these conversations, bringing people and experiences together to form a more empowered culture. This type of thing isn’t typical of most companies, but we’re trying to normalize more of these conversations.

HZ: We’ve really worked to grow in the FemTech space because we think it’s the right thing to do. And when you look at where you focus your efforts, it says a lot about what you care about. Fishawack’s actions really represent where the company is looking to grow.

NP: Initiatives like the annual gender wage gap report show real action behind the intent. I’ve worked at a few other companies, but this is the first where the commitment to inclusivity is so tangible, and that energy is felt throughout the company.

Communication can change lives and at Fishawack Health, we are passionate about using our skills and expertise to improve health outcomes around the world.


Get in touch to find out how our teams can support you in building a brand, strategy, or service that enhances patient lives.

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