How a $140 Billion Pharmaceutical Company Used Passion Marketing


How a $140 Billion Pharmaceutical Company Used Passion Marketing

In this episode, I’m speaking with Jeff Warnick. Jeff is a portfolio Executive Director and marketing lead at Bristol Myers Squibb, a $140 billion pharmaceutical company that manufactures prescription drugs for cancer, HIV/AIDS, heart disease, hepatitis, arthritis, and psychiatric disorders. 

Passion-driven marketing is where we focus on what our customers are passionate about and connect with our customers through those passions. In today’s episode, Jeff Warnick and I discuss how his company has successfully implemented passion marketing, credibility marketing, and other marketing strategies.

Connecting with Physicians through Passion

Healthcare is one of the most passionate markets, especially for someone like Jeff who is working with oncologists who are trying to help cancer patients. The customers are in life-or-death situations. It’s a tough area to market in because you are marketing a product that helps customers conquer something they hate (such as cancer) rather than marketing through a level-10 passion that customers love. People don’t exactly line up for chemotherapy as they do for the newest iPhone. The industry Jeff works in is also heavily regulated, and he doesn’t have the creativity and freedom most marketers do.

Previously, Jeff and his team had marketed to oncologists using primarily analytics with lots of charts and tables, focusing on the data. They wanted to better identify the passions of the doctors and test connecting with doctors through those passions. 

How Jeff Connected to the Passions of His Customers

Jeff helped set up a system of market research about the doctors’ passions. When physicians participated in this market research, they came into the interview with certain expectations. They thought Jeff was going to give them a patient case study.

Instead, Jeff had them lay back on a couch with the lights dimmed. He asked them why they decided to become a doctor. This takes the physicians out of their element, causing neurons and synapses in their brain to fire that they weren’t expecting.

To do this, Jeff asks questions such as, “Why did you become an oncologist? How can I work with you to help patients more? Where is a place where you are happy?” and more. He also thanks to them for their hard work. 

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This disruption from the normal gives the physicians something unexpected, appealing, and intriguing. Because Jeff has established an emotional connection by showing the physicians that he cares about them, their patients, and their passions he is able to establish deeper connection and communication.

When Jeff would ask these physicians why they became a doctor, it almost always came back to a family member or friend who had cancer or got sick. He realized that they had deep personal connections that drove them to choose their careers.

Understanding this core motive had a big impact on Jeff. He wanted to help these doctors help their patients. Patients always want more time, and if they can’t have that, then they want the best quality of time they can receive. 

Focus Groups with Multiple Doctors

Sometimes Jeff does the same exercise in a focus group with multiple doctors at the same time. These doctors are used to other doctors attempting to trip them up. They are continually testing each other because that is the culture of the medical world with lives on their hands. So Jeff has to be careful about which doctors he chooses for each group. If there is someone with an alpha personality, the other doctors might be more hesitant to open up. Or, the oncologists often don’t like to get emotional in front of each other, so they tend to be more analytical about it.

Using Story to Focus on Passions

“The highest level passions are the emotions attached to the decision, not the decision.”

-Jeff Warnick

As marketers, we often focus on the buying decision itself because that’s where we get paid. The key to successful passion marketing is to focus on the passion behind the customer’s decision to buy. 

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If we know that a customer likes chocolate ice cream, we can’t just say “here’s chocolate ice cream.” However, if we realize that they like chocolate ice cream because they used to have it with their grandpa every summer, we can connect with that. We can use the story to find a parallel path and serve it up as the emotional driver. The passion is not the ice cream; the passion is the experience associated with the ice cream.

Recurring Revenue

The healthcare industry looks at recurring revenue a little differently than most other industries. They don’t like to think of people’s illness as recurring revenue streams because unfortunately, that means they’re not being cured or they’re still ill. However, there are certain types of medical conditions, like diabetes, that end up being recurring. They are also trying to evolve cancer treatment to be something that is manageable like diabetes, making progress toward it being a chronic condition instead of a terminal condition.

Recurring revenue is still beneficial to companies like Jeff’s because they are a public company with shareholders they are responsible to. However, they don’t look at it in dollars; they look at it in terms of patients. How is staying on a medication going to improve a patient’s life? How is the medication going to combat their symptoms or keep their blood pressure where it needs to be?

This patient-oriented view can be beneficial in other industries as well. We can look at how our product or service will improve a customer’s life and market it that way, implementing a recurring revenue system to ensure our products and services continue to improve their life.

The key takeaway here is to build our products and services around something that improves our customers’ lives on a sustainable basis and not just one time. 

Credibility Marketing

Personal health is an intimate subject, so physicians are very careful with how they make decisions. Their patients, however, really need two major things when they are making decisions.

The first thing patients need is all the information. They want to know about the side effects, co-pay assistance, what they should talk to their doctor about, etc. The second thing they want to hear about is the experience of someone else who has been in their situation or who has their condition. 

We can use both of these elements when we are building credibility with our customers. We can give our customers all the necessary information they need to make an informed decision and share the experience of other customers through testimonial videos. 

Key Takeaways

Thank you so much Jeff for sharing your stories and knowledge with us today. Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:

1. Passion marketing is a great way to make sure we are focusing on our customers and their core wants and needs.

2. We can get great results if we mix passion marketing and analytics.

3. One way to connect with customers is to disassociate them by taking them outside of their everyday life. Then we can get to the truths behind what they’re passionate about.

4. Focus on the passion attached to a customer’s decision, not the decision itself.

5. Use a story to package that passion.

6. Focus on how a product or service can improve a customer’s life.

7. Build credibility by giving customers all the necessary information they need to make a decision and by helping them connect with other customers.

Connect with Jeff

If you enjoyed this interview and want to connect with Jeff, you can find him on LinkedIn at

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    About the author

    Nathan Gwilliam

    Nathan Gwilliam

    I help organizations navigate tectonic shifts that are transforming the business landscape, so they can optimize marketing, accelerate profits, and make a greater difference for good.

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