DFC: The New DTC

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A recent blog post from marketing guru Seth Godin may have invented a totally new area of pharma marketing, DFC…Direct From Consumer. Not DTC. This is the exact opposite. Instead of you going “direct to consumer” imagine instead that they come direct to you. Sounds great, right? Before you get all excited let me tell you why they’re coming. Here’s how Seth set it up:

“If someone takes your medicine and gets sick, do you want to hear from them, or would you rather have them blog about it or make a video?”

I know the answer to this question. Seth actually gives pharma marketers more credit than what I might in answering his own question with: “Most drug company marketers instantly say, ‘we want to hear from them!’” For those of you out there that have talked to pharma marketers about any program involving feedback from consumers (e.g., any social media idea), you know that you are instantly greeted with the number one excuse for not soliciting feedback from consumers: adverse events. I’m, of course, not a big believer in this excuse and love to call this The Myth of Adverse Event Reporting. My post on the subject is actually the most read post on this blog, so there must be a few other people out there with a similar interest.

So, while I generally agree with Seth Godin on all things marketing, I take issue with the fact that any pharma marketer would say, “Yes, we want to hear from consumers when something bad happens.” However, I completely agree with him regarding the consequences should marketers choose to ignore consumers who have had bad experiences. More on that in a minute.

Of course, the ironic part about all of this discussion is that consumers are already telling the world what they think about your products. There are a bunch of websites designed specifically for this purpose. One that I’ve talked about before is called iGuard. iGuard has user ratings on thousands of drugs including aggregated stats and comments. I’m going to pick on Lipitor since it’s the largest selling drug in the world. You can view the profile for Lipitor on iGuard here (registration required).  Here are some of the overall ratings for Lipitor:

Lipitor on iGuard

I’m not sure if that overall rating is good or not, but it tells you that at least 21% of people think that Lipitor does more harm than good. That can’t be a good number. The verbatim comments are more interesting and are what pharma companies really need to pay attention to. Here are the two newest comments:

  • “I have been taking Lipator [sic] for about 3 months, 20mg a day, it has been great as far as lowering my blood,but my hands fall asleep every night and hurt, it wakes me up, I now have problems with my hands through out the day, I can hardly grasp items at times and they fall asleep. Is this a common side affect that is not published?”
  • “I am a 62 year old female who with out this I can not walk to shop or any thing in my home that took any being on a step stool or walking in my home [sic], now I can walk 8miles to do shopping, do the shopping & with a full 4 wheel personal cart walk back.”

Well, comment one doesn’t sound good and comment two makes it sound like it Lipitor is a miracle drug (while likely didn’t have this effect though). So, pharma marketers do you want either of these people calling you? If you answer “yes,” your actions say something different. In Seth’s words, “If you really want me to call you, then put your toll free number in giant type on the label. Answer the call on the first ring. No phone tree. And give me instant sympathy, maybe a little empathy too. Don’t blame me or evade. Give me a refund. And say sorry and thank you.”

Are you ready to do this? Zappos sells a lot of shoes and has intensely loyal customers by doing this. Why does your business have to be so different than shoes? At least, why does the customer service aspect have to be so different? If anything, shouldn’t the customer service for a health-related product be remarkably more in-depth, meaningful, and beneficial than that of a shoe distributor? 

Why don’t pharma marketers do this? Seth’s answer: ”Two reasons, apparently. First, they say, because it would encourage people to pretend they were angry in order to take advantage. And second, they say, because it would be too expensive. Compared to what?”

Consumers have unprecedented power to communicate their complaints to millions of people very quickly and very simply. Ten years ago this wasn’t a very simply task. Before social media took off and everyone was online, the best you could do was to write a letter to the editor and hope someone saw it. Now, you can write a blog post, start a “hate site,” tweet, write reviews, and a countless number of other things that will ensure your complaint is seen by thousands of people in a matter of minutes.

When consumers are looking for information about your drug, consider where they are going. Simply because you don’t include product reviews on your site (imagine that on a pharma brand site) or user comments, doesn’t mean people don’t want to read them. Here are the traffic patterns for iGuard and for the world’s biggest selling brand, supported by millions in DTC advertising and promotion:

Lipitor versus iGuard Traffic

Traffic to iGuard over the past 3 months more than doubled that of Lipitor.com. No promotion, no expensive DTC ads, just content that consumers find valuable. Granted, not everyone going to iGuard is looking for Lipitor, but it still makes the point. Your competiton isn’t just your direct competitor’s website, it’s everything else out there online.

If you really want to hear from consumers, it’s really easy to open the lines of communication. I can show you how in 15 minutes. If you really don’t want to hear from consumers, don’t pretend that you do and remember that they’re going to tell someone who’s going to listen. Then what are you going to do?

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5 Responses to “DFC: The New DTC”

  1. Artv March 9, 2009 at 4:45 pm #

    Thanks for this very interesting read Jon, and I couldn’t agree with you more. The amount of times I have banged my head against the wall trying to convice some of the pharma marketing dinosaurs we have to deal with to pull their head of out of the sand are numerous…

    But I’m also, slowly, beginning to see a slight change in their protective and conservative attitude towards patient communication/feedback.

    Patient feedback is the most successful and critical indicator of a drugs performance, and it baffles me how they can chose to ignore it these days.

    Lets hope for the best, keep up the good writing!

  2. Artv March 9, 2009 at 11:45 am #

    Thanks for this very interesting read Jon, and I couldn’t agree with you more. The amount of times I have banged my head against the wall trying to convice some of the pharma marketing dinosaurs we have to deal with to pull their head of out of the sand are numerous…

    But I’m also, slowly, beginning to see a slight change in their protective and conservative attitude towards patient communication/feedback.

    Patient feedback is the most successful and critical indicator of a drugs performance, and it baffles me how they can chose to ignore it these days.

    Lets hope for the best, keep up the good writing!

  3. Jon Moss March 14, 2009 at 4:40 pm #

    Very, very interesting and thanks for the heads up to iguard. I work with Art V above, and I heartily concur with what he has said. It is a very s l o w process at present to fight against the traditional values and opinions within big Pharma.

    Like Art says, there are glimmers of light and hope from some, so we will wait, watch, and I hope , help.

  4. Jon Moss March 14, 2009 at 12:40 pm #

    Very, very interesting and thanks for the heads up to iguard. I work with Art V above, and I heartily concur with what he has said. It is a very s l o w process at present to fight against the traditional values and opinions within big Pharma.

    Like Art says, there are glimmers of light and hope from some, so we will wait, watch, and I hope , help.