Leveraging Psycho-Sensory Brand-Building To Ensure Diversity In Clinical Trials and Meet Enrollment Goals

It is widely agreed that clinical trials, on average, fail to represent the demographic diversity of populations intended to receive the drug in development. Black and Hispanic patients, in particular, are consistently underrepresented in trials relative to their incidence of specific diseases. The FDA recognizes this and is committed to leveling the playing field when it comes to minority representation in clinical trials, as stated here. Many clinical teams in pharma, biotech and medical device companies have become aware of this problem and seek to increase trial participation across under-represented racial and socioeconomic populations.

Diversity in clinical trials is important because it can influence how specific individuals within a broader disease profile react to a drug. Homogenous patient groups lead to skewed findings and resulting clinical outcomes that are not necessarily projectable to the broader population.

While the FDA and NIH have created a set of guidelines to assist sponsor companies in both the design of appropriately diverse and inclusive trials and the enrollment of representative participants, there still often remains a disconnect between these objectives and the sponsor company’s ability to attract specific patients of color.

Traditional barriers to participation can include lack of awareness, lack of trust, language and cultural differences and religious beliefs. They can also include more functional challenges such as accessibility, geography, transportation and hotel costs, and simple availability (from missing work, school, etc.).

Too often, though, sponsor companies overlook the importance of how they communicate to patients of color through traditional and social media in their efforts to educate them about the trial and drug opportunity and providing helpful information about trial participation. A “one-size-fits-all” approach to patient communication can mean ineffective studies and suboptimal product development.

Clinical trial branding and patient engagement campaigns customized to patients of color are critical components in achieving trial enrollment goals. Clinical trial branding, similar to product branding, is the strategic process of imbuing the trial identity and communications with perceptions that transcend its physical or functional characteristics, leading to increased perceived attractiveness and value to specific patients of color. This includes verbal messaging as much as it does visuals and other sensory elements. Never has a generalized branding and communication strategy been so limiting and potentially damaging to trial enrollment and completion than it is today.

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And if we agree that brands live in the mind of our customers (or patients) – a collection of perceptions, emotions, beliefs and attitudes – then we need to get into the minds of our target patients of color to better understand and act on what best motivates them with respect to enrolling in a clinical trial.

At Six Degrees, we use a psycho-sensory approach to brand-building. This approach uncovers the relevant perceptions, emotions, beliefs and attitudes (PEBAs) to identify the unique visual cues and verbal messages that appeal to and motivate each distinct target audience to take the desired action.

As detailed in an earlier article by our CEO Frank Schab, psycho-sensory brand-building is used during the three primary phases of the clinical trial brand-building and engagement process: Discovery, Strategy and Execution.



Six Degrees conducts psycho-sensory research with targeted patients of color to overcome the limitations of traditional market research. For example, the use of visual projective exercises, verbal associations and alternate frames of reference help targeted respondents overcome challenges in accessing and expressing their true attitudes and feelings about clinical trials and what might motivate them to participate in a trial.

With more than 80% of human information processing occurring across sensory channels, sensory analysis of diverse patient audiences adds an essential element to understanding what motivates targeted patients of color.



Following the incorporation of patient research from our Discovery phase, psycho-sensory brand-building workshops using visual galleries inspired by our target patients are used to help explore ideas and concepts and to define words. Words are imprecise constructs, and it is easy to agree on words in the abstract. Only when we align rich, sensory information identified by our patient targets against abstract verbal expression can we be certain of their appropriate interpretation.

This is an important component of the strategy phase. The resulting brand positioning, promise and pillars we create and refine with the help of client teams during our workshop are carefully constructed based on patient insights and motivation (versus from the client perspective alone) with a careful combination of sensory information and verbal descriptions.



Continuing with the understanding that words are imprecise, relying solely on verbal strategy to drive design and communication that is expected to elicit the desired brand perceptions of the targeted patient type isn’t strategically optimal. In the traditional brand-building scenario, creatives and designers would be given a verbal brand strategy and asked to subjectively develop creative communications that may or may not trigger these desired brand perceptions.

Instead, Six Degrees utilizes its proprietary SensoryQ™ research tool with those same target patients to assess sensory stimuli based on the brand pillars to seek to understand which stimuli are associated with their desired brand perceptions (and which are not). Based on target patient responses, the creatives are provided a verbal and visual guide that accurately defines the design direction, thus avoiding a disconnect between the written strategy and the creative execution.

Finally, utilizing SensoryQ, clients can objectively assess the creative team’s solutions before finalizing design tools and campaigns for their targeted patients. It can also be used to articulate more detailed messaging blueprints for primary and secondary messages to different audiences.

These are top-line examples of how psycho-sensory branding can drive diversity in clinical trials more effectively than the traditional approach to branding and communication.

To learn more about psycho-sensory brand-building and what it can do to more effectively drive targeted patients of color towards participation in your clinical trials, contact us at Six Degrees.

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Kris Larsen
Kris has nearly three decades of experience leading global organizations across a variety of industries in the planning, development and implementation of their brand assets. Kris’ career began with branding pioneer Interbrand New York in 1986, and in 1989 he opened their Chicago office to serve the company’s growing Midwest client base. In 2010 Kris joined pharmaceutical naming firm Brand Institute as President in Geneva, Switzerland, where he expanded its visual identity and clinical trial identity expertise while growing key life science, ag chem and animal health clients. In 2016 Kris joined Six Degrees and opened its second location in Chicago. Kris has an MBA in international marketing management from the Thunderbird School of Global Management and a B.A. in economics from the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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