Patient Marketing Report: Essence of Engaging

Patient Marketing Report: Essence of Engaging
Patient Marketing Report: Essence of Engaging

Nearly two decades after Claritin's “Blue Skies” commercial struck a chord, marketers fixed on engaging with patients—online and off—say emotion remains the spark with which audiences most identify. Marc Iskowitz on five pharma and device campaigns that connect with consumers 

Of all the MS drugs on the market in 2013, Biogen Idec's Tysabri has overcome some of the toughest obstacles. Launched in 2004 with then co-marketer Elan, it proved more effective than other drugs at preventing MS relapses, then was withdrawn from the market due to elevating the risk for a rare but deadly brain infection. After an outcry from patients, it returned and hit blockbusterdom partly because of a blood test that can help screen out patients susceptible to the infection, and partly because early on, many patients understood yet were willing to accept the danger.

“It's that patient profile—those who are looking for the high-risk/high-reward treatment—that attracts a specific personality,” says Jason Fiorelli, associate director, Tysabri patient marketing, Biogen Idec.

That is, someone who's not afraid to look danger in the eye if it means getting a leg up.

When he and colleagues re-launched the online marketing for Tysabri this year, they sought to tap into that same spirit: “I was never going to allow any circumstance to take over and be in charge of the rest of my life. This is my journey. I'm in charge,” says one Tysabri patient on, Biogen's branded site sporting videos of patients talking about how they battle the disease.

Once they view the vignettes, visitors can click through to to sign up for more information, where a CRM system takes over. Both sites were designed by Washington, DC-based RTC. “The creative is designed to really speak to [this audience],” Fiorelli says. “They want to fight their MS with everything they've got.”

Despite headwinds in the market, like the launch of three oral drugs since 2012, including Biogen's own Tecfidera, and another infusion med coming down the pike, key online metrics improved in the first quarter of this year vs. the same period last year: click-throughs (up 20%), bounce rate (mid-60s vs. mid-70s), and time on the site (up by nearly a minute). Global Tysabri sales rose 8% last year to $2 billion.

Emotion in patient marketing has its roots in campaigns as far back as Medicus' 1986 ad for allergy drug Seldane, one of the first to exploit DTC before the rules were liberalized in 1997. And even as online communication encroaches further into what was once a print- and TV-dominated area, experts say emotion is still the best route to ensuring a good product resonates with consumers.

A 2013 study by PR agency Makovsky and Kelton shows that, of 1,000 patients communicating online, only 25% do so about products, and about 50% communicate with each other about their experience.

“That sense of wanting to engage around experience is about the emotional link,” says Gil Bashe, EVP of the health practice for Makovsky. “And so the highest level of pharma communications is when…what we do connects people together—product to patient, product to physician, product to payer.”

Hungry for connection

Most pharma companies maintain a presence on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. But how do they ensure a brand makes the right emotional choices in social media? “By appreciating the adversity that patients are going through and connecting with them where they want to engage,” says Matt Flesch, senior manager, communications, Lundbeck.

Lundbeck markets Xenazine, the only FDA-approved therapy for the chorea associated with Huntington's disease (HD), an ultra-orphan disorder. The company is known in the space. “We sponsor more than 100 events like walks and support groups every year,” says Flesch, “and wanted to spotlight our commitment to the community.”

So in 2011, the firm launched to give caregivers of those with HD, which is a socially isolating disease, a place to connect.

Industry's emotional challenge in social media is how to appear genuine. If a campaign called “Who Moves You” is any indication, Lundbeck is staying true to its desire to educate. Cards drawn by participants at live events are uploaded to the page, offering hope. Lundbeck and its agency, Siren Interactive, also designed a sharable infographic to explain HD, based on feedback collected there.

“What's important to this community is to elevate HD,” says Katie White, Lundbeck communications manager, and to ensure that “more people understand the disease outside of the HD community.”

If done right, these efforts are seen as “meeting a need, not promoting a brand,” adds Wendy White, founder and president of Siren. The page has almost 3,700 likes. That's over 10% of the estimated 30,000 people with HD in the US, she observes.

Because orphan communities are so small and spread out, she adds, patients and caregivers are “hungry for the connection and support they aren't getting from their [HCPs]. This is a great opportunity for a pharma brand to…set up spaces for the community.”

A communal bond

Another example of authentic engagement comes from UCB, Inc. Like Lundbeck, it's embraced social, even though regulators have yet to codify the rules for engagement. UCB's page, designed by Publicis-Omnicom's Digitas Health, has garnered nearly 45,000 likes. “The growth of the community has a lot to do with what we've been doing related to content,” says Chemelle Evans, associate product director for Vimpat (the drug maker's therapy for partial onset seizures).

UCB has also used Facebook advertising to draw more fans and spur engagement, although Evans stresses that a bigger influence on growth has come from its understanding of patient needs. A community manager, hired this year, helps forge a more personal bond.

This ability to connect “shows in the activity in the community,” adds James Pietz, SVP marketing, Digitas Health. On any given day, he says, a large number of people are liking, sharing or commenting. That engagement, he says, “remains consistently high.”

One draw has been its “My Four Words” campaign, which urges patients to briefly sum up their experience with epilepsy. Patients jot down their four words at live events, photos are taken, and pictures posted to the Facebook page are often shared virally.

Companies that are comfortable with social media say it facilitates their other marketing efforts: “You cannot have a successful relationship-marketing program without the integration of social media,” Pietz says. “We're starting to see a blending of those two worlds.”

Creating an experience

If friending online is a baby step toward a full relationship with a company, then personal, one-on-one coaching is more like a giant leap. That's what Bristol-Myers Squibb discovered after it set up a program called b∙care for the biggest group of patients taking its hepatitis B drug Baraclude—male Asian-Americans 31-45 years old.

BMS sought to offer them a “supporting circle of surround-sound education,” says David Zaritsky, president of Roska Healthcare, which developed the program. In addition to physician- and patient-facing educational materials, four nurses were assigned as “b∙care partners,”seeking to bridge doctor and patient silos.

The partners—all RNs—consulted first with physicians and office staff, then with patients. “Counseling was centered around hope and motivation and looking at how far we've come,” says Zaritsky. “It was the first experiential marketing [effort] for BMS,” says Zaritsky, describing an approach used by marketers whereby an emotional experience replaces the usual brand message of features and benefits.

The response to the personal b∙care program has been positive, says Zaritsky, so much so that BMS is launching a non-personal version.

Happiness is a round knee

Stryker's GetAroundKnee campaign, launched last year, involved a big multichannel effort encompassing TV, print, online and social media. It is also a fine example of emotion as a brand integrator.

Spurred by knee-replacement candidates who were “sitting on the sidelines,” the device maker sought a “concise and straightforward” way to convey the story behind its ceramic Triathlon Knee, says Patrick Treacy, VP and GM for knee reconstruction at the manufacturer.The knee is more circular than oval, but Stryker's “single-radius design philosophy” messaging had not resonated with patients or surgeons.

Enter inVentiv Health's GSW, which rebranded the device as the GetAroundKnee. After unveiling the new messaging to its sales force and then to surgeons, three TV spots were launched appealing to Baby Boomers, making the case for circular motion: a nostalgic bike-riding scene, an SUV and bowling. The :30 spots were used individually and in print, and a free pedometer app debuted in November.

KPIs have tracked along with expectations during the first year, says Tony Cambria, Stryker marketing communications manager: hits to the brand microsite (500,000 UVs), surgeon locator look-ups (100,000) and calls to surgeons (9,000). This year, it's launched a :60 spot and is expanding into such media as outdoor, theaters and PCP seminars, all leveraging the core design philosophy and message. Stryker has also started to roll out a professional campaign internationally.

Key to the campaign was GSW's ability to translate the knee's design into a simple message that got knee-replacement candidates  to ask their surgeon questions about the kind of device they'd be getting. On each media channel, consumers saw a consistent call to action, “Ask if it's right for you,” pointing them toward the necessary consult.

And all components honed in on the same emotional bandwidth. “When it comes to decision-making, probably 5% of it is rational, 95% is emotional,” says Johann Ferreira, SVP with GSW. “When you say ‘emotion,' one tends to go into a negative space…We discovered that happiness and positivity are emotions, as well.”

Next page: Which brands still put patients first?

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