Why You Should Promote Clinical Research Studies Like Brands?

The branding of health research and clinical studies is gradually becoming an important element for successful recruitment outcomes.

Branding is a critical marketing concept when promoting a company, products or services.  This preparation often includes a name, logo, collateral design, understanding of identity and consistency throughout marketing communications across multiple channels.  Your brand strategy will heavily influence stakeholder trust.  As clinical research studies began to adopt digital advertising as a method of volunteer recruitment, the branding of health research and clinical studies is gradually becoming an important element for successful recruitment outcomes and, when done well, will mitigate risk of poor enrolment.  

Branding a study is fraught with pitfalls, accessible language being just one.  As an easy example, the term ‘clinical trial’ itself can be problematic (‘clinical’ is often associated with medical procedures, which can be daunting or unpleasant while the word ‘trial’ can also imply a sense of experimentation or uncertainty and may cause anxiety or distrust). 

Psychological connections to negative emotions can create barriers to potential participants.  This matters more when you consider the lack of interaction with medical professionals in the digital space when trying to articulate the benefits or attractions of study participation.  There are lessons to be learned from FMCG/Consumer approaches to corporate branding when communicating your study to participants.  

The flow or funnel of participants recruited to clinical trials is similar to that of consumers purchasing products and services.  Advertising strategies are typically based on key themes: awareness/attention, interest, consideration/decision and action.  Thinking in these terms or stages will be a useful step in mirroring FMCG advertising strategies to health research enrolment. 

The influence of effective branding can be seen early in the ‘awareness’ focus of your advertising effort.  In the process of brand creation, words, phrases, images, resulting feelings and emotions are suggested and reviewed to ensure coherent messaging and reinforce strong message delivery.  For clinical research where confusion and negative stigma often act as deterrents, the importance of coherent and comprehensible messaging cannot be exaggerated.  Attention-grabbing visual representation and attractiveness lead to high-performing advertising campaigns.  Algorithm-based social media and display advertising campaigns heavily rely on a positive-reinforcing circle, where advertisements with good user engagements usually require less budget for every click, leading to better cost-effectiveness.  

As ‘interest’ builds in the audience, the impact of branding extends to encouraging trust. Despite the best efforts of study teams and human research ethics committees, and contending with digital and medical literacy standards, trust in the process can be notoriously hard to earn.  Effective branding can help build this trust and encourage participation.  Repeated exposure to similarly looking and phrased advertisements builds familiarity.  Improved trust may also help recruit more diverse participant pools. 

Studies (including Lidz et al. 2004) repeatedly have shown that clinical research subjects have trouble appreciating the implications for their clinical care of participating in a clinical trial. When this failure is based on a lack of appreciation of the impact on individualized clinical care of elements of the research design, it has been called the ‘therapeutic misconception’. Failure to distinguish the consequences of research participation from receiving ordinary treatment may seriously undermine the informed consent of research subjects. 

A clear Call To Action (CTA) is essential in clinical trial advertising as it prompts potential volunteers to make a specific move, such as contacting the trial coordinator or visiting a website to learn more. Without a clear CTA, advertising efforts may fail to convert interested individuals into actual study participants, thereby hindering the progress of important medical research. 

In conclusion, treating a clinical trial project as a branded company can help mitigate the risk of poor enrolment by increasing awareness, improving trust, facilitating targeted recruitment, and enhancing the sponsor’s reputation and credibility. By doing so, sponsors can increase the chances of bringing new and innovative treatments to market and contribute to the success of their trials.