Monday, February 15, 2010

The Transformation to Transformational Marketing

At the recent ePharma Summit in Philadelphia, Pfizer’s Joe Shields threw out a provocative question:

“Would the shift to specialty pharmaceutical products lead to less disciplined marketing?”

Joe wondered whether the higher margins of many specialty products would cause pharmaceutical marketers to slip back into the bad habits of yesteryear and spend without a lot of forethought to efficiency and ROI. 

Pharmaceutical marketing, by necessity, has gotten more disciplined as the margins have shrunk on many of the blockbuster brands. Expenditures that were once considered the price of entry – massive booths at medical conventions, national network advertising campaigns and fully outfitted field forces of 5,000 or more – are now routinely and rigorously questioned.

In the past, management wasn’t asking, so why bother measuring? (About 10 years ago, I remember being told by my boss when proudly describing a large cost savings I had helped engineer, “that’s nice but not important here.”) 

Things have certainly changed.

To answer Joe’s question, I don’t believe that the shift to specialty pharmaceutical products will lead to the unexamined spending of yesteryear but I do think it could result in increased spending as it has the potential to completely retool marketing in a way that advances patient care.

Specialty pharmaceutical products, by their nature, apply to smaller, more engaged patient populations often fighting for their lives against devastating disease. These are patients willing to be seen, to be heard, to be known. And knowing and interacting with these patients is taking on different forms than it does with marketing primary care medications. 

In marketing specialty products, more intimate, unvarnished ways of understanding patients including watching lives unfold on personal blogs often offer more relevant insights than the traditional tools of understanding such as large scale A&U’s. Tactically, marketers find themselves in deep conversations with patient ambassadors rather than crowded around a tiny TV monitor on a commercial shoot.

And with this more intimate view, has come greater empathy. It is devastating to be told stories of how pulmonary arterial hypertension saps people of their energy so much so that a short walk to the kitchen for a glass of water is an overwhelming obstacle. On the other hand, it is heart-warming however to hear that same person’s son drove 30 minutes to get his mother a glass of water.

This greater empathy combined with the marketers' natural problem-solving nature, is leading some to shift focus: 

From selling products to transforming patient lives. 

No matter how many well-researched mailings we send, some people simply don’t have the life skills, the mindset, self-esteem or financial wherewithal to successfully address their health challenges. The question for pharmaceutical marketers then becomes “What changes can the marketer help the patient make so that they have the skills that not only help them take their medication but make sustainable changes that impact their overall lives and health going forward? 

Marketer as social worker? Think again.

Customer transformation is marketing. According to “The Experience Economy” by Pine and Gilmore, customer “transformations are a distinct economic offering.” Transformation marketing views its business as changing customers in a sustained way. Published in 1999, the book outlines various levels of economic value from extracting commodities to delivering services to finally guiding transformations.

The idea is not exactly new to pharmaceutical marketing either. People at the ePharma Summit spoke about needing to focus on “value beyond the pill.” However this statement still makes the pill rather than the customer the central point of reference. A more customer centric version asks, “what sustainable changes can we help the patient make to improve their health?”

The answer will probably lead to spending increases on more comprehensive patient services. 24-hour nurse lines cost more than IVRs. Behavior modification programs are more complex than the usual set of patient mailings. True social media marketing and on-line community management is more labor intensive. And designing transformative patient experiences will have a higher CPM than your average television spot.

But the result could be far-reaching changes in patients lives that go beyond the pill and their disease to transform the whole way they approach their health and their life. And it is these fundamental changes that will also enable them to successfully adhere to their medication regimens.

Certainly, mine is an optimistic answer to Joe’s question. I’ll admit, I have a natural affinity towards half-full and rose-colored glasses.

How would you answer Joe’s question?


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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Study Pushes Envelope, Thinks Outside Box And Drills It Down To A More Granular Level

I just came across a Reuters story about a study published by Opinium, a research company in the U.K. It reveals what workers today consider the most annoying things they have to deal with on the job.

Along with such expected grievances as "people not cleaning up after themselves in the kitchen" and "talking too loudly on the phone" is my own personal neck hair-raiser: obnoxious business jargon, which the study kindly "drills down to a more granular level." Here are the results, ranked from the most grating, to the just plain annoying:

1. Thinking outside the box (21 percent)

2. Let's touch base (20)

3. Blue sky thinking (19)

4. Blamestorming (16) (sitting down and working out whose fault something is)

5. Drill down to a more granular level (15) (Look into something in more detail)

6. Let's not throw pies in the dark (15) (we need a plan rather than a haphazard approach)

7. I've got that on my radar (13)

8. Push the envelope (12)

9. Bring your A-game (11) (Be ready to do something to best of ability)

10. Get all your ducks in a row (11)

Having spent most of my career in the creative departments of advertising agencies, I had mostly been sheltered from hearing such hooey. But on occasion, I do get to hear such beauties as, "how do we make it an actionable item?" and other "game-changing" phrases which hopefully won't be "gaining traction" around the Extrovertic office.

I'd love to hear your least favorite office jargon. We'll "run it up the flagpole and see who salutes."


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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Has Twitter's Bird Flown?

It appears more and more companies are flipping Twitter the bird. 

In a story by Todd Wasserman in Brandweek, a new study from RJ Metrics shows that the Twitter craze has hit the ceiling. In the middle of last year, Twitter's growth slowed from 7.8 million new users per month to 6.2 million. What's more, only 17 percent of users updated their accounts in December. (An all-time low.) Earlier, a Nielson study found that 60 percent of Twitter users don't return from month to month.

This data, however, may be misleading because so many users access their accounts in ways other than through their Twitter home pages.

Regardless, sentiment about the platform is changing.

Says Converse CMO Geoff Cotrill, "Twitter has become the butt of a joke. You start seeing in popular culture people making fun of Twitter. There will be a new media toy that will replace it in a year or two." Joel Ewanick, group vp of marketing for Hyundai, feels Facebook, which has replicated many of of Twitter's best features, to be a much better product. And according to
Venture Blog, some P&G executives told venture capitalists that they didn't consider Twitter "particularly relevant to they're doing on the brand-building and advertising side."

Verizon, which spent more than $1 billion on advertising in 2009 has accumulated about 0.3 percent the amount that Perez Hilton has. Delta's account went without a single update last year from June 17 to December 22. 
And Apple doesn't even bother with having presence on Twitter. 

But there are also those who claim great success using Twitter. Dell, for example, boasted an ROI of $6.5 million in Twitter-based revenues in 2009. Best Buy is trying to follow suit, but so far, with more modest success.

Companies that do the best with it tend to be smaller and less known. 

Twitter does provide value as a platform for PR, CRM and promotions. 

But for this bird, it looks like the sky is no longer the limit.


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