Helping GSK build empathy towards persistent pain sufferers

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The Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK) Pain Relief team had very little knowledge of one of its key target consumers: persistent pain sufferers. They had data on them, but nothing that gave them a really clear sense of what it was like to live with this debilitating condition. 

GSK approached Flamingo to help drive internal empathy with persistent pain sufferers, in order to inform communication, innovation, strategy and ways of working. GSK wanted to help its team feel as much as possible what it was like to live with persistent pain; not just to know about it. 

The approach

Flamingo designed an approach that would not only achieve this aim, but would also engage the final audience in multiple ways: physically, emotionally and intellectually. The challenge called for a methodology that would capture real-time insight, as well as overcome inhibitions and taboos, and to be mindful of every individual story and accommodate individual needs. 

We engaged with caregivers (i.e. witnesses of pain), with sufferers of different age groups and severity levels, and used an approach that allowed participants to build trust with us so that they would open up and reflect on their own ways of thinking and attitudes.

This included deep ethnographic research with not only pain sufferers but also their relatives, using a number of complementary approaches and capturing many hours of filmed footage. Using this, Flamingo produced three 45-minute documentaries, which brought to life the day-to-day lives of persistent pain sufferers. These films were shown at a three-day immersive event (‘On the Other side of Pain’), for which Flamingo also recruited an academic expert, Sharon Cook of the University of Loughborough. Sharon advises industry on the implications of an ageing population and has pioneered the development of an ‘empathic-modelling tool’: a whole-body, wearable simulation of osteo-arthritis, which she brought to the event. 

Attendees at the event were able to experience first-hand something close to the debilitating experience of those suffering from persistent pain. Beyond the physical limitations, they also experienced the cognitive aspect of it, gaining an understanding of the energy it takes to think differently and anticipate issues each time persistent pain sufferers are in a new environment.

“It’s not only three documentaries and 40 hours of video footage, but how good they are and how much mileage we can get from those. It was an entire programme: contributions from experts, healthcare professionals, as well as the immersive experience. People wearing the suit for a period of time could really put themselves in the shoes of our audience.

“More and more we live in a digital world. We’re bombarded, overwhelmed with data left, right and centre. I don’t want to criticise this it’s helpful, it’s important but nothing will replace quality human understanding, spending quality time with real human beings.” Franck Bacuet, Insights & analytics Senior Director, Global Pain Relief category

“A great way to experience what our consumers experience.”  Brian McNamara (CEO GSK Consumer Healthcare)

“Best practice. This is how we deeply understand the consumer by experiencing their lives.” Carlton Lawson (Head of Global Categories)

“Fantastic example of being consumer obsessed.” Marc Speichert (Chief Digital Officer)

“This is brilliant! It is a great example of our value of ‘patient first’ in action.”  Laura Boros (Global Category Lead, Pain Relief)

“Truly fantastic work. I will remember this as an example of bringing insights to life for the rest of my career!” James Masterson (Global Business Lead, Voltaren)

“The best insight into the life of our consumer that I have experienced in 18 years at GSK.”  David Urquhart (Senior Director, Topicals R&D)