Bias and all of its friends

I am sure that you will have a strong sense of familiarity with what I’m about to describe. Sorry about bringing it to mind as it’s uncomfortable for many. 

You are watching / reading / hearing a news report that relates to medicines in some way and the report gets it horribly, childishly, infuriatingly wrong. Your heart sinks and your heckles rise. Why, oh why, can’t they get the details right?! You’d think that for people who spend their time crafting words for others consumption, the meaning of those words would really matter. Well, we all know that this isn’t the case and as pharmacists we suffer when we are exposed to gross error published for the masses while we are trying to hold back the flood of misunderstanding and misuse.

Let’s look a little deeper however and learn something about our branding by holding a mirror up to ourselves. Pharmacists are the medicines’ experts – there, I’ve said it* – so we have an acute sense of the issue described above. We are hyper alert to it while the rest of the 68 million or so people in the UK, well, aren’t. If you are anything like my wife (a very excellent pharmacist) and I, we even have unrealistic expectations of our family and friends and are often surprised at some of the ideas they have about medicines and health.

This is a form of professional bias. We assume that because we spend a huge amount of our time thinking about our profession, our perception of what is specialist knowledge versus general knowledge gets skewed. People just don’t know the most basic things about medicines and health that we take for granted. Our definition of basic is different.


I have a suspicion that pharmacists are not the only profession suffering from professional bias. I think everyone who has specialist knowledge also suffers. My friends, two married architects, are the same but they get cross at Grand Designs instead. My sister and her husband, two married primary school heads (what is going on here?!) get pretty vocal about the state of education and how no one understands. It’s rife throughout society. Pretty natural and not wrong in any way, just there and a trap if we let it influence us in the wrong ways.

I also know from my own experience that this is the case. I get the sinking feeling I described above as a pharmacist but I also get it as a trained marketer and brand manager. Lucky me.


My wife says I’ve changed. Not always what you want to hear but in this case I’m referring to the times when I tut and scoff at various TV adverts. I can’t help it. Whereas I used to be able to watch or ignore TV adverts like the rest of us, I can’t help but review them now. I do the same with print adverts, social media content, radio content, TV shows that are really adverts… The list goes on. We are surrounded by communication, a huge amount of it that someone, somewhere has created under the heading of ‘marketing’ and I literally struggle to see it without the cogs whirring and my mind assessing.

I see what people are trying to achieve. The approach they’ve taken to try and achieve it. The techniques used to try and execute the approach. Sadly, I also see the massive errors that often occur, how people neglect the basics and get lost in their own little world and so on. Similar to the pharmacist professional bias but a different kind.

My main gripe, and this may just be me, is that I can’t stand the nonsensical, post-truth, flat out pointless drivel that some companies spend a fortune sharing with the UK population. Their claims don’t relate to reality at all but if they are said loud enough and often enough they hope people will believe them. A bit like politics in some cases. As a society we let this happen. We let companies with financial clout use dubious tactics to influence people to purchase products that are actually harmful for their health. This really gets to me and elicits the loudest tuts and scoffs that would send the cat scattering if she wasn’t stone cold deaf nowadays.

However, there are the odd times when the creative is just so good that I do still enjoy the odd communication or at least appreciate the craftsmanship involved so it’s not all bad. Think most of the recent KFC adverts for brilliant strategic direction and spot on creative or the IKEA advert late last year featuring the D Double E track ‘Fresh and Clean’.


Why does all of this matter? What can it teach us? Here it is…

It’s about appreciating that you are looking through a specific lens, your lens, and about appreciating that your customers are not looking through the same lens as you. We all see differently. You are not your customer. You are not like them in more ways than you can count but certainly in a number of crucial ways that you should keep in mind as a pharmacy professional.

  • You are the pinnacle in terms of pharmaceutical expertise
  • You are more emotionally invested in your business than anyone else
  • You are more frequently involved in your business and for longer periods of time than anyone else

It is easy to understand those who are like you. It is much harder to understand those who are different. The first step is accepting that most of your customers are not like you. When you do that you’ll realise that you need to fill that knowledge gap by getting closer to them. Understand the differences so that you can better communicate with and care for the people who make your business a viable success.

Forgetting that you are not your customer is another form of professional bias. It’s a human bias really but if you hold it when working on your business then it’s safe to say it is expressing itself in a professional context. Guard against bias and actively train yourself to seek out and look through other lenses that might help you make the best decisions. Then you will be working on your brand in ways that most, including the hapless wonders who create the tut-able adverts, can only dream of.

Get in touch and we can talk about your organisation and brand in more detail.

*Not an official definition.