In the age of WebMD, Everyday Health, and Facebook, consumers are more informed and involved in their health than ever before. And with social media infiltrating every aspect of their lives, they are now more vocal than ever. Patients can – and in most cases are willing to – tell you what you want to know about your brand. Just ask…and listen. So why is it that some brands fail to take full advantage of tapping into their own customers for insight, ideas, and even inspiration?
We’ve all heard the phrase “typical pharma ad” and as an industry we are guilty of producing far too much of it. Sometimes it’s driven by regulatory conservatism. Often it’s a stubborn client who is afraid to push the envelope, while at other times there just isn’t enough budget to upset the status quo. So we’re forced to pick up some stock photography, reach into our bag of preapproved claims, slap the all-important “pharma swoosh” on the piece, and call it a day.
But is the work resonating with patients? Is it even being noticed by patients? In order to make a connection with patients, the marketing needs to tap into what drives them, what worries them, and what will help them take the desired action. Put simply, they need to see themselves in the marketing.
Market research and reports can obviously give you broad-stroke generalizations about your audience. But how can you dive deeper into the psyche of your patients? There are numerous ways you can do this and they don’t require significant investments:
· Develop and leverage a standing Patient Advisory Board – Recruit patients to participate in an advisory board…and use it! This is a great channel for bouncing ideas off patients and hearing first-hand about the challenges they face with their condition every day. These boards can be conducted virtually (although at least one face-to-face meeting a year helps build camaraderie). Also, be sure to refresh the participants so that you continually get the latest perspectives.
· Seek input from stakeholders outside of the Brand Team – The Brand Team can sometimes be the furthest removed from the patient base, as they can get bogged down with sales reports and budget meetings; so try to engage those on the front line. Sales reps often can provide direct feedback from HCPs and office staff on what they see in patients. Is there an 800 number for you brand? If so, speak with the customer service reps who field those calls. What issues do they hear about most often and what questions are they asked most frequently?
· Establish a patient eCRM program – A CRM program can be simple or complex – but in order to be useful, it must be trackable. From that you can see firsthand what content is looked at most often and therefore assumed to be of most relevance. You can also conduct quick surveys or online polls to get insight about your target.
· Attend events and conferences – Again, this is another opportunity to hear from those on the front line: sales reps, patients, and HCPs. You can also see, in one fell swoop, what the competition is doing to market themselves.
Nothing I’ve suggested is earth-shattering or groundbreaking, but I do find that these often get overlooked in favor of more complicated (and costly) research. I happen to work on a well-established drug that was first-to-market in a category that is now undergoing seismic changes. We needed to defend our turf from new therapies, new dosing formulations, and new administration devices, and we needed to do it with a limited budget. “Gaining new patients was going to be increasingly difficult,” we thought, “so let’s at least be sure to hold on to the ones we have.”
So we set out last year to develop a campaign unlike anything this brand has seen in its 20+ years of existence. We needed to reinvent ourselves while remaining true to our heritage and what kept us successful all these years. We employed all of the tactics I mentioned above to help us paint a clear and vibrant picture of who our patients – our very lifeline – were. What we learned was that our old marketing reflected misconceptions about what people with this condition were “supposed” to be like. In no way did we reflect their vibrancy, defiance, and zest for living. And because of that, our patients felt like the brand was letting them down. How could we expect them to be advocates for the brand if we weren’t living up to our end of the deal?
The new campaign has just recently launched, so I can’t tell you yet how successful we’ve been at defending our turf. But what I can say is that the feedback from patients, sales reps and HCPs alike has been overwhelmingly positive. It is bold and defiant, and goes beyond the standard “talk to your doctor about…” with a rallying cry that conveys our patients’ inner strength. In other words, it is a clear reflection of them.
So if your brand feels like it’s stagnating or worse yet, losing relevance, don’t panic. Put your ear to the ground and listen for the voice of the patient – and then make sure it comes through in the work.
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