The radical shift currently taking place in pharma marketing is all about partnering with patients rather than talking at them. In other words, pharma and patients are becoming friends who can help their “partners” educate, design a diet plan, increase disease awareness, and take you to the doctor…well, not quite yet.
For years, tightly-regulated pharma companies have been tip-toeing across the social media landscape as if it was a minefield ready to blow them to smithereens. They were not being overly cautious. To activate the slew of rules and regulations governing when drug companies can directly mention their products and how they interact with possible patients has serious repercussions, indeed, like jail-time.
Part of the problem has been the foot-dragging and infuriating lack of guidance from the FDA in creating firm rules, and addressing new developments in direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising, such as online promotions and the rapidly changing world of social media marketing.
Another is the nature of the beast—drugs are drugs and they don’t lend themselves to the same casual chatter on Twitter or other social media sites as does Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian and celebrity marriages.
So, how does an industry like pharma, which suffers from an image problem (only 56% as of this year of consumers trust drug companies, according to Edelman), take advantage of a vital marketing tool such as social media and its extraordinary capabilities for connecting with customers and creating a brand presence?
The answer? Forget the drug. It’s about education, stupid. And, pharma marketers believe the timing couldn’t be better given the onset of Obamacare and the immediate need of consumers for information and guidance when it comes to their personal healthcare.
“The era of Big Pharma and the marketing of the magic pill is gone,” Kate Cronin of Ogilvy CommonHealth recently told Adweek. “Now, pharma brands are about everything that surrounds the pill”— Issues such as prevention, services, disease awareness, adherence.
Or in market-speak: “It’s not about the pill. It’s about partnership,” as stated on the MerckEngage YouTube . The other catch phrase is patient-centric and at a time when patients are more involved with treatment decisions it behooves drug companies to start relating directly with their “partners” on a corporate level.
This includes offering mobile apps and web-based tools to help patients and doctors manage and track chronic diseases, and help patients adhere to their medication. A game called Fantasy Diabetes (like fantasy baseball) and Spoonful.com developed by Disney and Eli Lilly help younger people manage their Type 1 Diabetes . Aside from diabetes, the other two big targets for educating consumers is obesity and heart disease, according to Joan Voight in her Brandweek report on November 11, 2013.
And in reaching those “partners,” next-gen pharma marketing shelled out more than $2.7 billion last year, and we’re not talking about DTC television ads either. Indeed, the $2.7 billion was after cuts in television and sale reps. According to Ogilvy CommonHealth survey, consumer and business-to-business spend was around $11 billion.
MerckEngage.com, a website in the same vein as Livestrong.com , and LillyDiabetes.com, offer diet planners, exercise tips, lifestyle choices, calorie trackers, blood sugar monitors and so forth. In doing so, the digital outreach of the sites has the potential to collect data and reach consumers in ways that were once impossible. Since the launch of MerckEngage in 2010, it has attracted 8.2 million visitors. Since April of this year, the mobile site has been visited 102,000 times.
“This is the biggest disruption in healthcare we’ve ever seen, and every company in the industry is looking to reinvent itself,” Stig Albinus, chair of global healthcare at branding consultancy Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International, told Adweek.