Meet Your Customers Where They Are: Andy Semons, IPNY

IPNY, Inc.
Full Service
New York, United States
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Andy Semons
Founding and Strategic Planning Partner IPNY, Inc. (copy)

Tell us about yourself and what you do.

I’m a strategist to the core. Part psychologist, part architect, neuroscience geek and lover of great creative communication that not only gets the message across but motivates real behavioral change. I guess it’s the promise of being able to do all this that draws me to Pharma and Healthcare – I started working in direct to consumer (DTC) back in the mid-90’s when it was an emerging business and found it fascinating. Pharma and Healthcare have the potential to do such good in the world.  

But we all know that getting people to act in their own best interest isn’t always a rational decision, so a fundamental understanding of how people think and act, is critical to motivation. That’s what excites me – how to influence behavior that results in real change for brands. Fortunately, I have the chance to do this every day. 

I’m one of the three founding partners of IPNY, a nine-year old privately held agency. We have deep credentials in healthcare and pharma, along with other verticals such as nonprofit and financial services. Our expertise is both in brand positioning and messaging, and we measure the quality of our work by its ability to drive real results.


Pharma and Healthcare have been slower to embrace digital marketing compared with other industries. Has there been a shift since the pandemic started?

I don’t think it’s 100% correct to say that Pharma and Healthcare have been slower to embrace digital marketing – in fact, before the world of HIPAA in the mid ‘90’s digital marketing was on everyone’s minds. I think that things like data privacy, adverse event reporting and many important regulatory constraints make it harder to put digital marketing into practice for Pharma and Healthcare.  

That being said, I’ve seen quite a bit of use of digital and social channels during the pandemic – not for the marketing of brand name drugs but rather aimed at building awareness of key issues and changing behavior. To begin with, we learned early in the pandemic that people with preexisting conditions were foregoing important medical treatment and even procedures for fear of coming in contact with the virus that causes COVID-19. The impact on the healthcare system and patient quality of life was significant. Many hospitals implemented messages through digital and social channels urging people not to delay routine or necessary care and reassuring them that they provided safe environments.   

More recently, I’ve seen unbranded work on social media that talks about monoclonal antibody treatment for high-risk patients who have just been diagnosed with COVID-19. Monoclonal antibodies have been proven to keep people out of the hospital, but they work best if given within 10 days of diagnosis. These ads aim at a key behavioral change, as we’ve all been conditioned to hear that if we get COVID we should just quarantine and not call our doctors unless symptoms get worse. It’s important that these ads go through social channels because that’s where folks are getting their information. Even more so during the pandemic.

Additionally, I’ve seen a lot of campaigns on social media where hospitals have been honoring their own frontline workers. These tend to drive enormous goodwill and give employees who are so overworked and tired the reminder they need, that we all appreciate their selfless dedication. One such campaign was done by IPNY for Dana-Farber. The photos and shoutouts to local heroes kept on coming throughout the initiative.

How are Pharma/Healthcare brands adapting to the ever-changing digital space?

I’d say that “virtual health,” particularly telemedicine, is one of the biggest drivers of change in the digital space in the past year. And I doubt it will stop after the pandemic is over. We’ve learned that the general public and senior consumers, in particular, have become very comfortable with not just telehealth but with technology in general. The 2021 PWC Health Research Institute (HRI) study claimed that 95% of large US employers are now covering telehealth visits. Doctor’s offices, clinics and hospital centers are upgrading their own digital capabilities to accommodate more virtual appointments. And this is cascading down to the way that both Pharma brands and hospitals are marketing.   

I recently sat in on a customer journey mapping session for a major Pharma client where the TeleVisit became the focus of the experience. We were debating how we could best equip patients with the right materials to dialogue with their HCP during a telehealth session as part of the journey. 

By the way, even clinical trials are being conducted virtually by major pharma companies. They didn’t stop during the pandemic.


What are the trends to watch in the pharma and healthcare industry?

In addition to “virtual health,” I’d expect to see a lot more front and back office automation at the doctor’s office – particularly in ways that streamline the patient experience. Digital check-ins and pre-check-ins, touchless payment, digital follow-ups and patient information – all aimed at making the patient experience more efficient. Maybe the crowded waiting room will become a thing of the past.


The pandemic has caused an increased focus on hygiene. Are there any other areas of health that your average consumer is paying more attention to?  

Mental health will continue to grow in importance. 

We’ve all read and heard the new features on how this pandemic has hit the psyche of our nation. And the loss, grief and stress we’re suffering is very real, even for those of us who have been fortunate enough to not lose family or friends. The healthcare industry has already been gearing up to meet the increased demand for mental health care by increasing access to services and it’s only a matter of time before the industry starts looking at that quality of care. 

Additionally, wellness and fitness (which go hand in hand) have been exploding. It’s been a good year for Peloton. I remember reading that Peloton sales actually parallel COVID-19 spikes. And people are also reverting to sensible eating habits as they look for ways to shed the pounds they’ve packed on in isolation. 

If I were a nutritionist, I’d probably not have time to write this response.


If you could give brands navigating the current crisis only one piece of advice, what would it be?

I think now more than ever the phrase “meet your customers where they are” counts. It’s not just about the right technology or accommodating them virtually. It’s about understanding their head space. What are they thinking? What role does your brand play? What do they need to hear? And most importantly, how is that message going to be delivered?


Do you have a favorite Healthcare/Pharma campaign or one that made an impression on you?

I’m a huge fan of storytelling. Not just because it makes for pretty ads, but because it’s effective. When one is faced with a potentially bad diagnosis, whether it’s cancer or COVID-19, one doesn’t always respond rationally. Strong words from powerful authoritative voices or folks in lab coats can be very intimidating. But stories empower us. From a neuroscientist’s point of view stories break through the fear and closure of the brain and open us up to hope and possibility.  

Pre-pandemic, Mayo Clinic ran a series of “Road Trip” ads which showed people together on long journeys. During the course of each commercial you learned that one person was ill, and that person’s uncertainty was palpable. Finally, they arrived in front of Mayo Clinic and the tagline read “You know where to go.” I still get goose bumps thinking about how compelling and reassuring those ads were. 


Another ad that’s a prime example of storytelling is Pfizer Canada’s “Be Brave” ad. This commercial, which depicted the interaction of a family around a sick child was a reminder that there are more aspects to recovery than medicine itself – a rather unconventional view for a manufacturer of pharmaceuticals, but key to establishing Pfizer’s reputation as a caring life sciences company. It aired over a decade ago but is still worth a look. 


This is a brilliant way of getting into a consumer’s head.