Patient Marketing Report: Essence of Engaging

Share this content:
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in 2004 with then co-marketer Elan, it proved more effective than other drugs at preventing MS relapses, then was withdrawn from the market due to elevating the risk for a rare but deadly brain infection.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?


Alyson Connor shares the results of a study by MicroMass on how pharma is meeting the patient-support challenge

Positive Patient Outcomes” is the mantra of American medicine as it haltingly makes its way toward patient-centered care. Pharma has adopted the axiom, too, recognizing that patients are an important driver of brand success. But how well is pharma supporting patients? And are support programs structured to improve patient outcomes?

The news from our research is that pharma has upped its game—current patient-support programs averaged 71 on the 0-100 point scale, up from an average of 55 in 2011. However, the two most notable findings underscore the fact that most pharma companies continue to view support programs through a product-centric lens:

• Therapy management was the highest performing dimension of seven evaluation dimensions (average of 81 across all programs), illustrating that pharma is effective at communicating how and why a product should be used and at helping provide access

• Patient experience was the lowest performing dimension (average of 64 across all programs), demonstrating the industry's continuing reliance on a portfolio approach to developing patient support programs—pulling together tactics and services into an offering, but not in a way that is guided, easy to use, or truly meaningful to the patient.

How the programs were rated

In our follow-up evaluation of pharma patient-support programs, MicroMass behaviorists examined 39 programs across 19 therapeutic categories. We used a proprietary seven-dimension framework for rating the programs. The seven evaluation categories are:

1. Patient alignment
2. Illness perceptions
3. Patient-provider relationship
4. Therapy management
5. Marketing
6. Social/environmental factors
7. Patient experience

Each dimension is based on empirical drivers of health behavior change and positive patient outcomes. This framework differed slightly from the 2011 methodology, without significantly affecting the ability to compare the two studies. As with our earlier research, the follow-up evaluation produced a score of 0-100 for each dimension.

Delving into the results, it's clear that pharma is largely missing the boat on two imperatives: how to put patient needs first and how to change patient behavior. A lot of information is being disseminated, usually liberally laced with brand data. But information alone does not alter behavior. If it did, there would be no smokers among us and everyone would be an ideal weight.

So while pharma is investing more heavily in patient-support initiatives, our research showed that the industry is not building a capability in behavior change. This is a glaring blind spot considering that patient-support programs are especially valuable for chronic diseases, where 95% of care is self-management and positive outcomes rely largely on patient behavior.

Pharma continues to view patients through a product-centric lens that focuses solely on easing access issues and disseminating information to help patients understand how to take a medication.

Access and information are important, but on their own they will not lead to long-term behavior change and positive patient outcomes. For that, marketers must view patients through a broader lens and invest in strategies that motivate patients to make better health decisions.

Moreover, few brands are leveraging mobile technology into the design of their patient support programs. Only 7% offered mobile applications and only 25% of patient-support websites were designed for mobile use, the latest research shows.

Who's leading the way?

Several brands are raising patient support to new levels. Diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis programs clearly led the way, landing seven of the top 10 spots in the study. Here are three programs that stand out for using behavioral strategies to improve patient outcomes:

Jentadueto/Tradjenta “My Well Planner”
Boehringer Ingelheim and Eli Lilly
Scoring 100 in “patient alignment” and doing well in two other categories, this program for adults with type 2 diabetes delivers customized tools and content based on an assessment of each patient's engagement in his/her healthcare. Goal setting, disease and treatment information, planning, progress tracking, and guidance in interacting with the healthcare team are integrated to enhance patient outcomes.

Bydureon “Steady Support Program”
Bristol-Myers Squibb & AstraZeneca
Rating 100 in the “marketing integration” category and scoring high in two others, this program, also for adults with type 2 diabetes, is integrated into the brand story, appearing on the product and healthcare provider websites with consistent messaging. A “bchange platform” uses evidence-based behavior-change strategies to encourage optimal outcomes.

Lantus “Connection”
Earning 88 in “therapy management” and excelling in a second category, this program, for adults with type 2 diabetes and adults and children over the age of six with type 1 diabetes, guides patients through a smart and practical action plan. It addresses what to expect when starting Lantus and helps patients fit the medication into their daily routines, track their progress, and work with their doctors if adjustments are needed.

Where do we go from here?

Traditional patient marketing approaches drive awareness and evoke emotion, but are not effective at addressing the complex behavioral challenges that stand in the way of positive outcomes. Evidence-based strategies that actively engage patients and modify their underlying beliefs and behaviors are the key to product and patient success.

With its experience across therapeutic categories and access to healthcare stakeholders, pharma is well-positioned to close the gap on patient-centricity and capitalize on healthcare's need for better patient outcomes. To do this, however, the industry must view patients through a different lens and build a new capability in behavior change.
In this model all stakeholders benefit and pharma delivers value that transcends patent cliffs and pipelines.


Alyson Connor is president/partner, MicroMass Communications.
Share this content:
Scroll down to see the next article