Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Traditional Pharma Bashing? Or Thinly Disguised Paternalism?

Last Thursday’s article in the New York Times, “Online Age Quiz is a Window for Drug Makers,” is a prime example of why pharmaceutical companies are cautious in their embrace of new marketing technologies.

Industry critics are quick to assume that any new patient initiative somehow involves trying to trick the consumer. New marketing ventures invariably end up being front-page news.

The article throws dispersion on practice by the RealAge organization of letting pharmaceutical companies send relevant emails to patients based on the information in the RealAge database. RealAge helps patients calculate their true biological age based on an extensive health and wellness questionnaire. All the emails are sent with strict adherence to privacy guidelines.

In some cases, pharmaceutical companies let consumers know that they may have a medical condition that should be checked out by a physician. According to Andy Mikulak, vice president for marketing at RealAge, “Our primary product is an e-mail newsletter series focused on the undiagnosed at-risk patient, so we know the risk factors if someone is pre-hypertensive, or for osteoarthritis.”

But beyond the usual pharma-bashing, there is something even more pernicious in the article. Namely, a dangerously paternalistic attitude towards patients and their ability to make healthcare decisions. In the article, Peter Lurie, the Deputy Director of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen, objects to this practice because, “The company can … create anxiety even though the person does not have a diagnosis. He misses the point that people have signed up for RealAge precisely because they want to take a proactive stance towards their health, even if it involves some worry.

Mr. Lurie’s statement patronizingly assumes that people shouldn’t play a role in the diagnosis of their illnesses because it might cause them stress. His comments imply that consumers should passively wait for the doctor to tell them when to worry.

What he is ignoring is that consumers are surprisingly good at determining what ails them. According to an FDA study of Physician attitudes towards DTC advertising released in 2003, when a patient asked about a drug, 88% of the time they had the condition the drug treated.

Going beyond facts and figures, another New York Times article earlier in the week, shows the folly of this passive approach for patients. In the article, “Botox Frees Muscles for Stroke Patients in the Know,” we meet Francine Corso, a stroke victim whose life was changed because she learned of a Botox procedure that could significantly increase her ability to perform everyday tasks. So where did Francine hear about this treatment? “I heard about it from Dr. Max Gomez on NBC,” she said.

According to Dr. David M. Simpson, a professor at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, she could have had to wait a long time to be told about the treatment by a medical professional. He estimates that, “only about 5% of the stroke patients who could benefit from its use ever get it.”

DTC critics fall back on unsubstantiated theories that patient involvement costs the health care system money by resulting in unneeded prescriptions and office visits. In fact, patient activism may be the very thing the system needs. Health guru Dr. Roizen suggests the only way spiraling healthcare costs will be brought under control is to emotionally engage consumers in making needed lifestyle changes, including taking prescription medicines.

Most of the A&U studies I have seen in my career across multiple disease states suggest we have a long way to go in activating patients. In category after category, the proactive patient group only ranges from 15-30% of total sufferers. Denying people information that might save their lives, just because it comes from a politically unpopular industry, seems foolhardy to me.


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Monday, March 23, 2009

The Perfect Blend: Story and Strategy

“Hey, what are all those wood chips doing on the floor?”

With those words, a great campaign was born.

The March issue of OMMA features a story about a high-end blender manufacturer, Blendtec, that revitalized its sales with engaging videos of its CEO Tom Dickson “attempting to blend the seemingly unblendable.” Seems this hands-on CEO had a habit of personally testing the products and Blendtec’s Director of Marketing and Sales had the foresight to recognize a genuine, engaging story that highlighted their product’s effectiveness. Started with a shoestring budget, the idea morphed into a national tour with major media coverage and millions of hits on YouTube.

The campaign knocks you over the head with the effectiveness of the product and the passion of those who make it without any of the usual boring statements about “Product A’s superiority versus Product B” or the “commitment of our people.”

Healthcare is ripe with heart grabbing stories. What is in your company’s lore? Is there an exceptional sales representative overcoming the odds to get a hospital a lifesaving product or service? How about the extra effort put in by one of the service representatives processing an application for one of your assistance programs that resulted in a consumer receiving a life-changing joint replacement? Or the persistence of someone in R&D who brought a drug to market against the odds?

So along with “what’s the strategy,” how about asking, “what’s the story"?

Read the article here.


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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Social Man, Remembered On a Social Network

Dorothy and I landed in Raleigh this morning for a meeting, and when I turned on my Blackberry, I found a voicemail message waiting for me. The caller said he had some bad news and that I should call him right away. I did and learned that one of our former Glow Worm employees, Jorge Castrillon, passed away last night. Jorge, for those who didn't know him, was very young--still in his twenties-- and one of the most exuberant, boisterous, and good-natured people I've ever met. The kind of person who was so full of life, it's impossible to imagine him in death. Even now. Because we were so focused on the business at hand today, we haven't had the chance yet to let it fully sink in. But as tragic as this news was, it was also interesting to see how it reached many of the people who knew and cared about him: via Facebook. They saw the eulogies left by others on his page, then left their own. To be seen by others. And others. The social network as disseminator of news, healer of the wounded. We'll miss you, Jorge.



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Monday, March 16, 2009

Yahoo Reverses Web Strategy

Yahoo’s recent about-face on their web video strategy as reported in today’s New York Times offers a valuable parallel for healthcare marketers crafting an internet video strategy of their own. The article quotes Trip Chowdhry, a senior analyst for Global Equities Research as saying that Yahoo ‘s “expensive attempts to transport TV entertainment the Internet ‘were all disasters.’” This is because Yahoo developed shows without targeting any specific consumer need and applied a “one-way model…more of a TV mindset.”

Now Yahoo is starting with the consumer first, “finding their biggest audiences and then building short Web shows for those groups of people.” Examples of this new strategy include “Primetime in No Time,” a 2-5 minute recap of top prime time shows and their latest venture, “Spotlight to Nightlight,” which features short segments about celebrity mothers.

Following in Yahoo’s footsteps, many healthcare companies have started with similarly “company-focused” strategies regarding Internet videos. Often times, their YouTube channels are little more than a collection of videos they have lying around the office. Don’t get me wrong – these initial forays represent important first steps. The healthcare industry always faces special regulatory hurdles in adopting new media. However, like Yahoo, healthcare marketers are being rewarded with similarly low viewership. It is hard to find a healthcare company produced video that is seen by more than a few thousand people.

Like Yahoo, healthcare marketers would do well to start first with the community-figure out who your important online consumers are and see how you can add value through video. Do they want personal stories, how-to videos or even videos with a condition insider’s “gallows humor” twist to release tension through laughter? One of the key tenets of the whole social media movement is that listening is the first step finding a mutually beneficial agenda.

Just as our websites started out as brochure-ware in the ‘90s before evolving into the more interactive, engaging sites seen today, our healthcare Internet videos will need to make a similar leap to relevancy.

To see the full NYT article, click here.


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Monday, March 2, 2009

Putting a Face on Pharma

“Social media is the last best hope to redo the image of the pharmaceutical industry.” --Jack Barrette, Wego Health at 2009 ePharma conference

Sitting in the audience at ePharma, this statement really resonated with me. On-going, positive interactions offer the possibility of rebuilding the social capital that Pharma, and much of American business has lost over the past ten years. Social media provides the channel for Pharma to engage in meaningful one-to-one or one-to-many interactions with the people their products help.

Pharma has begun dipping it’s toes into the social media water, largely from a corporate media perspective. As social media moves from a corporate communications to a brand building tool, the question becomes “who should serve as the face of the brand?” I believe that physicians and scientists are an underutilized resource in the creation of a public persona for Pharma brands. If your medicine’s personality is warm, sincere or progressive, wouldn’t a warm, sincere or progressive physicians or scientists be a good representative of the brand?

I remember sitting in a POA meeting and being blown away by the sincerity, warmth and caring conveyed by a Zoloft team physician talking about his patients. I thought, if only the public could meet Dr. John, see how pharmaceutical employees really care, then maybe we had a chance at redemption (and that was in the pre-Vioxx days, before Pharma sunk to it’s all time lows of today).

So what form could this interaction take?

Go to the community: Some brand’s relationship marketing materials already contain columns of advice from their team physicians. Why not make it live by offering your physician to spend an hour in a chat room or forum of a patient community. Physicians obviously know how to report an Adverse Event or how to shut down an off-label discussion. The key is to be upfront about any constraints. Providing a medical expert for an hour or two could be of real value to a community.

Get in the debate: Astra Zeneca used YouTube to respond to the article “ 8 Drugs Doctors Would Never Take.” The company placed a video on YouTube of their team physician, Dr. Doug Levine, discussing why the company believed that the article was misleading in regards to Nexium and Prilosec. Astra Zeneca further girded the credibility of their response by providing relevant websites for people to gain more information. This represents a real step up from the usual corporate spokesperson response in print.

Use a digital megaphone: Putting a video on YouTube is an excellent way to convey a company’s point-of-view. However, most pharmaceutical videos are seen by very few people. After 7 months of availability, the Astra Zeneca video referenced above was only viewed by 4,000 people. A quick Google search did not turn up the video in the first 3 pages which is far more trouble than what most consumers are willing to take to find information. Applying a little SEO/SEM would go a long way to getting your message heard.

Be proactive: There is no need to wait for an issue to start using social media. Create a platform. In fact, many pharmaceutical companies are starting to do just that. Novartis regularly issues press updates over Twitter. Various companies such as J&J and Abbott have YouTube channels.

There is an opportunity to build on this presence by presenting more of a point of view and soliciting one back. Congress has recently launched their House and Senate hubs to provide increased “access and transparency” to the workings of government. There’s even a little personality thrown in-Nancy Pelosi’s channel offers “Capitol Cat Cam.” Consumers are increasingly lodging their opinions about companies and brands using social media and it is important that Pharmaceutical companies have a “like” platform from which to respond.

But no matter what form your interaction takes, it is important to be authentic and genuine. One of the learnings from Dell Hell according to Mei Lin Fung from the Institute of Service Organization Excellence Inc is that you need to “Think before you talk—but always be yourself.” Showing your authentically caring and transparent self, putting a real face on Pharma presents the first opportunity in a long time to regaining the trust of the American public.



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