4 Ways to Become an Activist Pharmaceutical Brand

Picture of person shrugging. Brand Activisim: What's a Pharmaceutical Brand Manager to do? Yesterday I wrote about consumer’s increasing expectations for brand activism in a post entitled, “Tough Times for Timid Pharma Brands.” In a nutshell, many progressive consumer brands outside of the pharmaceutical industry are increasingly taking stands and acting on social issues.

So why should a pharmaceutical brand manager care about this trend?

Because according the Edelman’s 2014 BRANDSHARE report, consumers are more likely to purchase, recommend or defend a brand if they perceive the brand is meeting an important societal need. Consumers are also more likely to engage with the brand, sharing personal information and forwarding branded content. And Millennials aren’t the only ones with high expectations of brands.  Edelman found that consumers across all demographic groups are looking for companies to be a force for positive change in the world.

Brand Activism: What’s a Pharmaceutical Brand Manager to do?

So consumers want brand activism and there is a real business value in providing it. So how does a Pharmaceutical Brand Manager meet consumer needs for increased brand activism?

  1. Start talking about something other than your brand.  Engage in Content Marketing. Content Marketing is defined as “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action. I detailed a few ways to get started using Content Marketing in my blog post “Building Great Brands byTalking Less About Them.”
  2. Partner with a governmental or NGO on issues that are important to your customers, whether they be payors or patients. For example, both patients and payors are interested in using big data to understand more about individual health risks and to improve the patient experience. There are many organizations such as PatientsLikeMe or 23andMe that have teamed up with pharmaceutical companies for research purposes, from finding the genetic basis of diseases to better understanding the real world concerns of their patients.
  3. Clean up your therapeutic area’s digital environment. There is a lot of garbage out there, much of it dangerous to patient health. How about assembling experts in your therapeutic area to weigh in on the most egregious misinformation?  A a digital clean up day of sorts.Picture of Digital Highway with Clean Up Crew
  4. Sponsor a healthy debate. Consider obesity. There are those who feel pharmaceuticals have no place in the treatment of obesity. Obviously, pharmaceutical companies who sell medications for obesity feel otherwise. A debate between two reasonable experts in some sort of public forum would be newsworthy and garner much “earned media.” People’s deeply felt views won’t change, but you may convince people sitting on the fence that treating obesity with a pharmaceutical product is the way to go.  Plus your brand will gain added credibility for being open enough to debate the issue.

Picture of 2 people debating. Sponsor Healthy Debate

Certainly, undertaking brand activism is not a “set it and forget it” kind of tactic. But as consumers take an increasingly larger role in health care decisions, it will be increasingly important to incorporate their evolving views on brand activities into your marketing plan.

Tough Times for Timid Pharmaceutical Brands

Tough Times for Timid Pharmaceutical Brands, picture of pill and capsuleConsumers demand more outwardly focused brands

Consumers, driven by mindful Millennials, are demanding that brands take a stand on social issues. It is no longer acceptable for brands to look at the messy world and say, “Not my job!” Certainly Pharma brands are more constrained by consent decrees and regulations. However, that won’t stop consumers from saying, “Not my problem,” when it comes to demanding more from their health care brands.

According to one of my favorite trend spotters, Trend Watching winning brands will start contentious, painful and necessary conversations.”  That means going beyond product claims and bland unbranded campaigns to talk about polarizing topics. Take Starbucks, which recently jumped into the fray about race relations.  One example with particular relevance to Pharma is Pantene India’s campaign that asks consumers to point out ridiculous claims made by beauty products that don’t work. How about Pharma pointing out the ridicules claims made by nutraceuticals?

Picture of Pantene India campaign

Talk is necessary, but not sufficient

But talk is not enough. Today’s consumers demand action. Describing their “Branded Government” trend, Trend Watching boldly pronounces 2015 as “the year for progressive brands to initiate, undertake or support meaningful civic transformation.”

One example of this Private-Public Partnership is the WAZE traffic app’s Connected Citizen’s partnership that exchanges data with local governments around the world with the aim of improving traffic patterns. And it is not just new school companies taking civic action. Volvo is partnering with the Swedish Government to create roads that can charge electric vehicles.

Waze Connected Citizens Campaign

Brand Activism: What’s a Pharmaceutical Brand Manager to do?

Certainly there are enough unmet health needs for Pharma to partner with government to make people healthier. What about a weight loss brand teaming up with local government to promote better eating habits? This initiative may also seem less self-serving, because if successful, the campaign would slim down the market for the prescription weight loss products.

To health care purists, branding has no role to play in the choice of a pharmaceutical product. The product should be chosen based on efficacy, safety and increasingly, price. However in practice, physicians often have 2-3 brands they feel are interchangeable. In categories such as Multiple Sclerosis, HCPs often let the patient chose. Why? Because then the patient has skin in the game.

In addition, research conducted early in the DTC era, found that patients who ask for and are given a specific brand are more likely to be adherent compared to patients not making a request. So to me (admittedly not a health care purist), branding is more likely to be beneficial than harmful to patients.

No more navel gazing for Pharma

Picture of navel caption No more navel gazing for Pharma Marketers

So it pays to do it right. And paradoxically, in today’s socially conscious environment, good branding involves talking less about the product and doing more in the world. No more navel gazing! The key to building great brands, is to talk less about them. The old axiom, “actions speak louder than words” is today’s branding rallying cry!

For ideas on how to apply this trend to your pharmaceutical brand, check in tomorrow for my next post, “4 Ways to Become an Activist Pharmaceutical Brand.”

For Breakthrough Health Care Communication, Try a Visual

For breakthrough communication, add a visual

How one picture turned the tide against obesity

For most people who read the New York Times article, “Americans are Finally Eating Less”, there was exciting news about the fight against obesity. But for alert pharmaceutical marketers, the article contained the key to changing patient behavior: an effective visual!

While study after study had described the magnitude of the obesity problem, it wasn’t until a researcher put up a set of bright blue maps did people begin to grasp the magnitude of the problem. These maps graphically depicted the dramatic rise in obesity rates in all 50 states from 1991 to 1998.

Power of visual

The article points to the blue map visual as sparking the turning point in the fight against obesity. In the article, Hank Cardello, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, is quoted as saying “People became more aware of it in a very visual and impactful way… That created a lot of attention and concern.”

An underused tool in pharmaceutical communications

In Pharmaceutical marketing, each word directed at the patient is scrutinized endlessly. Visuals or videos are often an afterthought, if they exist at all. While Pharma has embraced the concept of health literacy, its execution has been incomplete, with a narrow focus on grade level.

But visuals are critical to driving health behavior change. For example, in one instance with a low-literacy population at particularly high risk for pneumococcal infection, the group that had viewed a simple visual communication aid was five times more likely to have received the pneumococcal vaccine than those who had not received the visual education tool.

Not just for low literacy populations

But it is not only the low literacy population that gets more out of visualization. Consider Cisco, a world leader in IT, which found that 96% of its customers watch videos for business.  So Cisco started creating videos, over 1,000 new videos a year.

And visualization doesn’t have to be expensive. 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.”

                                 Picture Source: Movie CLIP

So to paraphrase the famous phrase from the movie The Graduate, I want to say one word to Pharma marketers responsible for changing patient behavior. Just one word, Visuals!

To meet patient’s need for speed, Pharma needs more lawyers

What kind of crazy talk is that? Everyone knows that it is the legal and regulatory teams and the whole review committee process that keeps Pharma moving at a lugubrious pace. Certainly that’s the biggest excuses I hear for why patient complaints languish in the blogosphere or why websites aren’t updated on a regular basis.

It can’t be the shear size of the pharma organization that slows decision-making. Larger companies have shown they can be nimble when it counts. Take Apple, the largest company in the US and how their rapid fire response to the Taylor Swift incident. It took Apple less than one day over a weekend to reverse a policy about paying royalties during the Apple music trial period. And Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, Eddy Cue, communicated it simply with a tweet.

Moving faster requires real teamwork, the type of teamwork highlighted in Fortune magazine’s recent profiles of the small teams within big companies like Nike, Starbucks and J&J. And it is shared goals that fuel these integrated teams’ stellar performance.

In my opinion, Pharma’s sluggishness comes down to the antiquated brand team structure. Most teams are comprised of three marketing sub-teams (HCP/Patient/Payer) overseen by a legal/regulatory/medical review committee with an entirely different reporting structure. Operating in siloes, these different departments often have different, and often, conflicting goals. The legal and regulatory departments are charged with protecting the company and the brand marketers are charged with growing the business.

But what if the Pharma brand team was a fully integrated team—with marketing, legal and regulatory all aligned around improving patient outcomes?

More crazy talk! What if reviewing patient comments, whether online, over the phone and deciding how to respond, was a daily job shared by all? What if lawyers attended focus groups? How about the regulatory team member meeting with patients at an advocacy event? What if everyone was co-located? What if marketing/legal/regulatory acted as a unified SWAT team dedicated to listening, responding and creating new ways to improve patient health?

For the SWAT team concept to work legal and regulatory colleagues must function as full members of a brand team, not just as a panel of judges at weekly review committee meetings. That’s where the idea that Pharma needs more lawyers (and regulators) comes in to play. Moving faster means brand teams should include marketing, legal and regulatory expertise to make decisions on a daily, if not hourly basis.

With consumer expectations regarding company response time rising across all industries, speed needs to be the rule in Pharma rather than the exception. And contrary to expectations, moving faster requires ongoing, rather than foregoing legal and regulatory input. Simply put, Pharma needs more lawyers (and regulatory experts) to move at the speed of patients.

Three Prescriptions for Patient Centricity

Patient Focused. Patient Centric. Patient First. There are lots of buzzwords companies use to describe their aspirations for a new focus on patients. But as my 8th grade Latin teacher once told me,

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Whatever phrase your company uses, here are three prescriptions on how to “walk the talk” of patient centricity in 2015 (and avoid a dance with the devil):

1. Fully infuse the voice of the patient into drug development. Historically, patient marketers are among the last to join pre-commercial or even launch teams. To be more patient focused, teams need to be staffed with patient experts early in the game.
And once in the game, these patient marketers should make development of customer service and adherence programs the first order of business. As payers and patients have to increasingly make cost/quality trade-offs, it will be critical that marketers can prove that their patient services actually make a difference in adherence rates, patient experience and clinical outcomes.
In fact, patient services already a factor into 3rd party purchase decisions. For example, according to a Duke physician I heard speak at a conference, Eliquis was chosen over competitors because the brand had the strongest co-pay assistance program.
Or just listen. Patients in clinical trials are already shaping opinions of the drug through their online conversations. An extrovertic social media analysis found an average of 30,000 patient conversations taking a place every month by patients involved a clinical trial.

2. Partner with providers and payers to meaningfully improve the patient experience at the point of care. HCPs, Integrated Delivery Systems and Payers are going to be judged on outcomes and patient experience. Pharmaceutical companies have the know-how and resources to help their customers meet the triple aim of improving patient experience, lowering costs and driving better outcomes. Take a look at all the governmental metrics requirements and pick a few to partner on.
It will also be important to have an expansive definition of point-of-care, both in terms of place where care happens and the people who provide the care. Care is now being highly distributed, it’s happening at home, at the retail pharmacy, at work, at Costco and at urgent care centers. And with the looming primary care physician shortage, care will be increasingly be delivered by nurses, physician assistants and even lay health workers.
And let’s not forget the increasing role patients are playing in their own health with the explosion of wearable technology and the whole quantified-self movement. The point of care is now everywhere and the smart pharmaceutical marketers will be conducting pilots to figure out how they can add to the patient experience.

3. Adopt a cross-channel patient experience framework to conduct marketing activities. A good patient experience is one that is consistent throughout every interaction, whether it be through a website, a phone call or in person meeting. Many of these touchpoints are managed by different functions in a pharmaceutical company, yet to the consumer it all comes from the same company. So the company has got to start acting like one company.
And this one organization needs to be reoriented towards driving patient satisfaction rather than driving sales. Driving satisfaction doesn’t mean revenue generation takes a back seat. A whole body of literature supports that higher customer satisfaction scores result in higher sales and profits, in industry after industry.
But first the voice of the patient needs to be heard. This will require an integrated system of collecting patient feedback in a way it can be acted upon. For example, how well is the medical information call center doing in meeting patient needs? I would guess most marketers don’t know.
So take these 3 Rx’s and make 2015 the year that pharma companies turn patient centric talk into action. (And Mr. Riggs, I really did “disce diligentius.”)