Forget Patient Advocacy

Become a Patron of Patients Instead

No doubt your marketing plan contains a mélange of patient KOL tactics. Maybe some brand ambassadors and even a blogger summit if you are really adventurous. The goal of these patient advocacy tactics is create patient endorsements for your brand.  That’s because study after study has shown the power of patient recommendations. With the decline in the effectiveness of the physician lever, patients are becoming a more central driver of brand sales.

But what if instead of trying to get patients to say something, you helped patients do something? Instead of brand advocacy tactics, what if your brand became a patron of patients? Consider what these patient KOLs have accomplished on their own:

  • Tara Blocker generated first tier media coverage on congenital insensitivity to pain that most PR professionals spend their careers hoping to generate

Consumer brands are engaging in co-creation with their superstar customers can serve as a model for becoming a patron of patients. Take the deal that Pepsi inked with Beyoncé. According the New York Times article, Pepsi sees this deal as a “… shift in the way we think about deals with artists, [moving] from a transactional deal to a mutually beneficial collaboration,” according to Brad Jakeman, president of PepsiCo’s global beverage group.

In terms of an ROI, Pepsi is seeking “to enhance its reputation with consumers by acting as something of an artistic patron instead of simply paying for celebrity endorsements.” According to a statement from Beyoncé, the new deal allows her to “work with a lifestyle brand with no compromise and without sacrificing my creativity.”  Imagine if a patient said something similar about your brand or company regarding your commitment to curing a disease?

Here are a few thought starters on how to start acting as a patron of patients:

  1. Share your expertise. Pharmaceutical companies have strong skill sets in drug development, media relations, government affairs that are critical for the success of patient advocates and their organizations.
  2. Identify a safe unbranded pilot project. Try a “ no-strings attached” unbranded project. Figure out an area of mutual interest, such as increasing the level of understanding of the basic science underpinning a disease state.

For bio-pharma, the rewards of this new “patronage” model seem even greater than in the consumer package good arena. Despite her enormous talent, Beyoncé can’t actually put a can of Pepsi on the grocery store shelf. But patient advocates increasingly can help get a product on the pharmacy shelf and gain the insurance coverage required to move a medication out into the marketplace.

Jay-Z your DTC

Increase impact and save money

Jay-Z is a modern day master of media.  In applying public relations thinking to his use of traditional paid media, he makes every GRP work harder. When launching a product, whether it be a book or his recent CD, Jay-Z appears to have a three part formula: 1) develop a “talk-worthy” concept; 2) make a big but short-lived splash using traditional paid media and 3) employ digital and social promotion for long-tail promotion.

Consider Jay-Z’s approach to the launch of his album, Magna Carta … Holy Grail. It entailed:

  1. Talk-worthy concept: Jay-Z created a talk-worthy concept of providing his album to Samsung Galaxy owners 5 days earlier than to the general public
  2. High profile media: Launched the promotion in a highly visible, three minute commercial during Game 5 of the NBA finals
  3. Drive to digital: Drove people to the album website where they could download the free app

But the concept is not limited to Jay-Z. Starbucks used this three-step process to build sales using the 2008 election as a media hook.  Their talk-worthy concept was to offer a free cup of coffee to voters. Starbucks advertised this offer on a high profile Saturday Night Live’s “Election Bash” episode. And finally, they sustained their effort with what Howard Schultz calls in his book, “Onward”a torrent of digital and social media activity” to “amplify the 60-second spot.”

What this three step process boils down to is using public relations thinking rather than traditional media planning to deploy brand media spend. The benefit of this PR thinking is that the brand message automatically becomes more relevant to consumers because it taps into current culture.

Health care brands can also tap into popular culture. A well-placed, high impact unbranded communication that really connects with patients about a serious health issue could be an important wake-up call. The high profile unbranded splash would also serve as high impact “screener” to get the attention of your target patients and spark their curiosity enough to follow through to a branded site.

While the high profile splash is expensive, the opportunity to create an on-going drumbeat with digital makes the effort very measurable and affordable. Using this three-step process, extrovertic recently recommended a new product launch plan that relied on one-fifth the advertising expenditures of the brand’s closest competitors.

So how could this be employed on a pharmaceutical brand? Consider the straightforward Astra Zeneca Crestor print ad running in major magazines. A picture of a doctor asking the question, “Is your cholesterol at goal?”

How much more attention would Crestor get if they associated the product with the broader concept with setting and reaching goals and introduced the effort in a high profile sporting event followed by a deep digital push?

So here are two thought-starters on how to Jay-Z your DTC and save money in the process:

  1. Scour your brand for relevant hooks and events. What relevant anticipated governmental or healthcare organization announcements coming up? Can you link your brand to the news in a meaningful way?
  2. Have your agency cost out a media splash/digital long-tail type of plan. Can you save money and increase impact?

Packing personal into non-personal promotion

The Pharmaceutical industry’s “Non-personal promotion” or NPP. What a weird concept. As my extrovertic partner, Bill Fleming says, “In any other industry—the direct mail, digital marketing and telephonic selling—would just be called marketing.”

In fact, most other industries involved in business-to- business (B-to-B) marketing are focused on making every contact, no matter what the channel, more personal. Consider IBM and Cisco.

1. IBM – Using social media to personalize telesales. According to an article in, when telemarketing and email were failing to produce results, IBM got personal. IBM’s studies showed that IT decision were likely to use social media as a part of their purchasing decision making.

So IBM created social media profiles for a small team of inside sales representatives on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. To make it seamless for the reps, IBM created a robust content calendar and provided hash tags so the reps could listen to relevant online conversations.

The results? IBM got 50,000 LinkedIn connections (up from 535 in the beginning of the test), over 20 major sales wins and has experienced a quicker uptake of their promotional offers. Check out Stuart Michie’s YouTube video for a good example of how to talk about a representative’s expertise.

2. Cisco – Video takes center stage. Again, customer understanding formed the basis of their strategy. According to an article on, Cisco’s research found that 96% of IT decision makers and tech buyers watch videos for business. And most importantly, 84% either forward, share or post tech-related videos. So Cisco started creating videos, over 1,000 new videos a year.

Too expensive? Think again. You don’t need the production values of a DTC commercial or a MOA video. According to Cisco’s Leslie Drate,“it doesn’t really matter how much we spend on producing the video. The results for what we spend $100,000 on could be similar to what we spend $1,000 on. It just has a lot to do with content and audience.”

B-to-B all-star companies keep up with their customer information seeking habits. They adopt the technology their customers use to market to them. It is even possible in health care. Check out GE Healthcare’s YouTube Channel. Or better yet….

  1. Try a social media pilot program. Provide either a telesales rep or payer national accounts manager with a Facebook page. Levels of access to information can easily be controlled. Content could include interesting stories related to your therapeutic area, patient support material or journal articles. According to a QuantiaMD study cited in Ragan’s Healthcare Communication News, over 65% of physicians use social sites for professional purposes.
  2. Get into the video business. Evaluate all your printed materials and determine what makes sense as a video. Distribute the video widely, especially on YouTube. The Google algorithm favors social media such as YouTube and Facebook over other online media properties.

Encyclopedia Britannica: the Playbook for Pharma Business Model Evolution

You can’t actually buy physical encyclopedia anymore. That’s what makes the Encyclopedia Britannica story so relevant for Pharma. The company blew up its 244 year-old business model to adapt to the changing marketplace. In the HBR blog post entitled, “Encyclopaedia Britannica’s President on Killing Off a 244-year-old product,” by Jorge Cauz, the company president tells the tale of how the company evolved from a reference product business into a “full-fledged learning business.”

Their evolution involved….

  1. Moving to a digital product. Encyclopedia Britannica offers now is a complete online suite of educational support products as well as an online store of DVDs, books, online reference books and software. 
  2. Shifting focus to an institutional customer group. Over time, Encyclopedia Britannica’s core customer group evolved from individual consumers to school systems.
  3. Switching to a new sales channel: Encyclopedia Britannica’s most painful transformation was to eliminate the 2,000 person sales force in favor of direct marketing. 
  4. Bringing in new skill sets.  As Encyclopedia Britannica went digital, they found they needed a different editorial staff that could convey information using multimedia and interactivity.
  5. Continuing evolution.  Encyclopedia Britannica did not stumble upon their magic business formula out of the gate. Encyclopedia Britannica tried CD-ROMs, an online version of Encyclopedia Britannica, selling subscriptions, free ad-supported consumer encyclopedias and a learning portal before developing their online education business.


So how can Encyclopedia Britannica’s transformation guide Pharma’s increasingly urgent need to transform it’s business model? Here are some thought starters:

  1. Recalibrate your customer investment portfolio. Calculate or estimate what percentage of your brand’s business is really driven by institutions such as payers and hospital groups versus individual physicians. Are you truly matching your investments to opportunities?
  2. Evaluate your sales channels. If your customer focus is shifting, shouldn’t your sales channels change too? There is no question that pharma has reduced the size of the field forces it employs. The real question is whether the industry has been aggressive enough in embracing multi-channel marketing.
  3. Double your digital. According to a study by Publicis/Razorfish Healthcare, 35% of HCPs feel sales reps should use iPads. Isn’t it time to break the print habit? Develop a strategy to help motivate your marketers and sales people to increase their digital adoption curve.
  4. Assess your workforce. Seems to me that the evolution of pharma into a more patient focused business would require an infusion of new abilities. For example, adding customer service and compliance experts to your staffing model.
  5. Allocate a sacrosanct budget for innovation. Here is where pharma marketing and sales have really missed the boat. In most marketing departments, there is little focus on keeping up to date with customer preferences and technological advances. A more structured approach needs to be taken to a) figuring out what are the most promising communication and service innovations and b) identifying appropriate pilots.

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Better-Faster-Cheaper: The New Normal

Four operating principles of the new sharing economy

Two out of three ain’t bad.” That’s what we have always been told. But if my experience with new economy companies is any indication, that’s old school thinking. Companies like Airbnb, Uber, WeWork and Task Rabbit are better, faster and cheaper. Here are four operating principles that drive this triple threat business model.

1.  Investing in Customers-WeWork: Extrovertic recently shed our 5,000 square foot space and moved into WeWork Soho West. WeWork continually invests in its customer success by publicizing member businesses, teaching critical entrepreneurial skills and negotiating reduced rates for fundamental services.

WeWork Labs

For extrovertic, this community opens up a wealth of talent pool from the emerging health technology and communication companies.  For example, there are 19 video producers in our location alone.  And I bet they do it better-faster-cheaper than traditional sources.

2.  Continual Improvement-Task Rabbit: I hired a Task Rabbit in February to replicate my grandmother’s recipe box for my two cousins. As someone who was asked by her mother not to show her younger sister how to cut and paste, I knew the job was beyond my skillset.

The Task Rabbit procurement process was a little involved, but worth it. Fast forward a couple of months, Task Rabbit has completely changed their business model based on the extensive data they have collected on their Task Rabbits and clients. Task Rabbit simplified both the pricing and hiring process. Lesson: for businesses wanting to offer better-cheaper-faster, there is no set-it-and-forget-it mode.

3.  Mutual accountability-Airbnb: A key factor in Airbnb’s success is because it is designed to provide excellent experiences for both the host and guest. And as countless business studies will tell you, happy employees result in happy customers.

At Airbnb, the hosts and guests rate each other so responsible behavior is reinforced on both sides. If a guest complains or mentions an issue, hosts are empowered to tell their side of the story, apologize or in some instances refute the claim. Moral of the story, if you want better employees, give them a voice.  

4.  Mobile from Day One-Uber: One of the best things about Uber is its mobile interface. It is so easy to order and pay for a car. Even my 88-year old mother ubers everywhere.  Design experts will tell you that you get a different result if the design process moves mobile to desktop. It is easier to improve and enlarge than edit and shrink (a progressive enhancement versus graceful degradation issue of sorts). And one-third of mobile web users indicate that they go online mostly using their phones. Lesson: mobile has to be the starting point.

Using companies like Uber, Airbnb, WeWorks and Task Rabbit saves money. Extrovertic is a big Uber fan. However, the larger lesson is to alter your business model to provide the triple threat benefits: better-faster-cheaper. The more customers experience to better-faster-cheaper from the Ubers of the world, the more they will expect it from all businesses. And healthcare will be no exception.

Thanks for letting us share!