Three Wise Dames

Marketing in the Life Science Industry

She Who Must Be Obeyed February 11, 2010

Illustration by J. Howard Miller for Westinghouse

Horace Rumpole, the lead character in the British television series Rumpole of the Bailey, secretly refers to his wife Hilda as ‘She Who Must Be Obeyed.’ Hilda is considered formidable, thus the tongue-in-check endearment. The definition of She Who Must Be Obeyed, abbreviated to the acronym SWMBO, is a woman in authority’. The character Hilda could be easily considered the poster person for this title.

Companies promoting new healthcare solutions – products and services, would be ahead of the curve if they recognized that women hold collective membership in the SWMBO sorority. Women are formidable in their pursuit of answers to problems or healthcare concerns, particularly so in the management of their families health and welfare.

In a recently survey conducted in 2009 and published by the CDC National Center for Health Statistics, the use health information technology (HIT) in U.S. households was assessed. Some of the findings include:

  • 61 percent of the sample used the internet to search for health or medical information
  • Women are more likely than men – 58% vs. 43.4%, to look for health information on the internet
  • Women are more likely than men – 4.1% vs. 2.5%, to access online chat groups to learn about health topics
  • Women are more likely than men – 6.6% vs. 5.2%, to request a prescription refill on the internet
  • Women are more likely than men – 3.5% vs. 1.8%, to make an appointment using the internet
  • Women are more likely than men – 5.6% vs. 4.2%, to communicate with a health care provider over email

The findings of this survey indicate women are actively seeking information, interaction and resolution to health care issues, using online means to do so, much more than men.  The survey summary can be found here[1].

There are a few companies that recognize women customers control the success of their products. These are companies that market and distribute women specific products such as contraception, breast care, and incontinence treatments. Some of these companies make the effort to connect with women customers by directing communications to them, providing information about products and identifying resources that may be useful in their search for solutions.

Women respond to these overtures by sharing their experiences, out loud – with other women.  This sharing includes discussions about anything and everything related to the product experience – credibility of the information about the product, the availability of the product, access to the product, interaction with the medical provider of the product, and so on. Nothing is off limits. Women take the lead in the discussions, just as energetically as they investigated the products before they purchased or were prescribed them.

In a 2008 survey conducted by Burst Media, women were identified as heavy users of health related forums, blogs and other websites when searching for information about a problem. The summary states “They [women] tend to be more proactive than their male counterparts seeking out family healthcare solutions as well as personal ones.” More of the findings can be found on the BizReport.com site, here[2].

Women search and research healthcare concerns. Women lead the charge for treatment and care of healthcare concerns. Women seek resolutions for their families as well as themselves. The road to reaching the consumer dealing with a health concern is typically traveled by a woman. She may be the wife, mother, daughter or friend of someone who needs help or answers for that which they suffer.

I know these descriptions of women and their pursuit of information and solutions to be true. I experienced these activities first hand marketing women’s healthcare products. I am also a daughter, aunt, godmother, sister, partner and friend of many, for whom I have done the same. I have gathered information from far and wide, and then armed with it I have navigated and negotiated the best available solutions for many a healthcare concern.  We women are resolute and formidable.

Companies that want potential patients to request their products, would benefit from remembering there is quite likely a woman in the mix, looking for answers for the patient. It is not just women specific products that women research. Any product or service that is intended for a patient, will be subject to review if relevant to someone they care about. Developing a well-planned strategy and communication plan, that takes into consideration how and where women go to get answers, makes good sense.

The declaration that ‘women rule the world’ may be ever-so-slightly premature at this point; however, if a direct path to the right patient is desired by a manufacturer, making it easy for her to gather information and access the product is strongly advised. Crafting a strategy that submits information and resources at her fingertips is the best way to enlist She Who Must Be Obeyed.


[1] http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/healthinfo2009/healthinfo2009.htm

[2] http://www.bizreport.com/2008/07/women_rely_on_internet_for_health_information.html

(c) 2010 pH Consulting

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2 Responses to “She Who Must Be Obeyed”

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