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The best sales messages are relevant and address customers' needs. But how does a brand team create such messages if they don't understand who their customers (patients) are?

Firms in other industries are light years ahead of most pharmas in knowing their customers, creating customer segments, and then coordinating marketing programs. Those industries, though, don't have to abide by strict privacy laws such as HIPAA and can collect plenty of information on consumers.

However, technology exists to overcome the hurdles associated with healthcare privacy restrictions. In fact, over 10 years ago the first methods for taking a patient's information and converting it into a de-identified patient key, or algorithm, were developed.

Over time, use of that technology has grown more sophisticated. Today, patient activity is tracked over time and across sites: pharmacies, physician offices, hospitals and labs. Patient key technology is applied to expand what is known about patients that can't be found on standard healthcare claims. Altogether we know more than ever about patients' healthcare behavior and what factors influence their choices.

With all of this information, more complete segmentation models can be created in which each customer group looks and acts differently. Brand teams can then develop more influential and relevant sales messages based on the characteristics of patients in each segment and what drives their behavior.

In today's challenging economic environment, as pressure to produce positive ROI is intense and budgets are tight, brand teams should be taking advantage of all available patient information to reap the biggest bang from their marketing bucks.

Melissa Leonhauser is director, strategic marketing, at SDI
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