What Pharma Can Learn from the Pizza Guy

What Pharma Can Learn from the Pizza Guy

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I just couldn’t resist this post title after the response I had to my post (both positive and negative) called: What Pharma Can Learn from Pringles. Without going into too much detail, the takeaway message was supposed to be simple. Pharma and healthcare can learn a lot about the approaches other industries take in their marketing. Yes, pharma in particular is heavily regulated and limited in what they can do or say, but too often the best practices of other industries are ignored instead of us figuring out how to apply what worked well elsewhere to what we’re doing in pharma. It’s a big missed opportunity that I’ve been working on fixing for a long time.

So, in keeping with this theme, I wanted to share a concept that we call “The Selfish Consumer.” It was created by our Chief Technology Officer, Michael Wilson, here at Bridge Worldwide. Here’s the basic idea:

“TiVo, iPod, and blogging have something more in common than the right technology at the right time. They provide the same old media in new and interesting ways. This not only changes consumer behavior, but forever shifts consumer attitude. Greedy for content and equipped with almost magical abilities to control media delivery, we have armed a very intelligent consumer.”

View Michael’s presentation on “The Selfish Consumer” here:

We’re not saying that your consumers are “selfish” in a bad way, but that digital technologies simply make it easy for them to be when it comes to digital content. As marketers, we need to accept this as the new reality. But what does it mean for us? There are actually three implications, which are all closely related:

  • Quality: We need to ensure that we’re creating great content and giving access to it in ways “The Selfish Consumer” demands
  • Competition: Everything online is potentially a competitor when we understand that we’re all competing for the same consumers’ time and attention
  • Expectation: What “The Selfish Consumer” gets from one industry when it comes to digital, he expects from every other

I’ve done a couple of presentations and blog posts about the first two: quality and competition. The most recent was my presentation “If You Build It, They Will Come…Or Will They?“, which addresses “Competition,” you can find on SlideShare. So, today, I’m going to address “Expectation.”

“Expectation” is a pretty simple concept. If a customer is used to getting a certain service from one company, he expects it from all that company’s competitors. This is why new innovations and special offers get duplicated so quickly and so readily. This happens within industries and it’s very common. However, it’s rare that a special offer from one industry gets carried over to another. Just because Subway is offering buy one, get one free sandwiches doesn’t mean the Hilton down the street is offering buy one, get one free rooms. When it comes to digital technologies, it’s a whole different story.

If one industry offers a certain digital technology, then “The Selfish Consumer” expects every industry to offer it. This concept (and example) was first explained to me by my colleague Bob Gilbreath, Chief Marketing Strategist here at Bridge Worldwide. What Bob pointed out is that if people now can track their package online thanks to FedEx and UPS, they expect this same thing in other industries including those industries that have nothing to do with packages. So, here’s what “The Selfish Consumer” says: “If I can track my package online, then I should be able to track my pizza online too.” And, thanks to Domino’s, now you can.

Dominos Pizza Tracker

Yikes. If you’re bringing something to “The Selfish Consumer,” there had better be a way for them to track it. That’s now the standard…the expectation. What does this all mean for pharma? It means that pharma needs to look at what digital technologies and tools its consumers are getting from other industries. Once you know what they are, take a look and see which might translate well to pharma. Need a hand?


If I can track my exercise progress thanks to my shoe company, I should be able to do the same with my healthcare company. Of course, you can. There are quite a few trackers out there, so this is a perfect example of one industry’s lead moving over to pharma. No, Nike+ didn’t create the first health tracker, but neither did a pharma company (bonus points for anyone who knows who did). Nike+ is a health tracker in the end, so that’s not a big leap. But what’s next? Here are a few common digital tools and technologies that consumers get from other industries and might start demanding from pharma:

  • Product reviews — I’ve already talked about product reviews a lot (with more to come later this week). Consumers get them everywhere online now and use them to make purchase decisions on everything from very low to very high involvement items.
  • Online customer service –I wrote about this a while back in a post called “Providing Meaningful Customer Service in Healthcare.” According to a recent Manhattan Research study, “More than three-quarters of ePharma Consumers report that they “expect” online customer service from a pharmaceutical company.” EPharma Consumers are “those who use the Internet to research prescription drug information. In past five years alone this group has tripled to about 95 million U.S. adults.” Why? Because they get online customer service from every company they interact with online from shoes to books to vacations. Everything you can buy or think about buying has some form of online customer service. Why not pharma?
  • Privacy — Nothing is more private than someone’s health. Yet, we pharma marketers ask people to tell us an awful lot about themselves before we give them something of value. More and more other marketers are moving away from this and allowing people to register with limited or no information. They use technologies like OpenID, so that visitors don’t have to register (and give out more personal information) for yet another site in order to get access to a website. That means you don’t even have to share an email address to get access. Most marketers are also very careful with the information they capture online. For instance, if you’re not going to use someone’s home mailing address for a certain promotion, then you really shouldn’t be asking for it for two reasons. Number one, asking for less increases the chance that someone will complete the enrollment process. And number two, it’s none of your business. Yes, you might say that you’re going to use it later for something different. Well, that person didn’t register for “something different,” they registered for one particular thing. They gave you their information only for that purpose (PS: using fancy opt in choices with pre-checked boxes or double-negative language doesn’t really entitle you to use information later).
  • Aggregation and deferment – Two related ideas here. First, there are many sites out there that simply pull together all the content related to a specific topic and put it one place for you to review at your leisure. They are called aggregators (see: Netvibes or Pageflakes for an example). Pharma companies might just find that using aggregators is the simplest way to create a disease awareness portal that works the way “The Selfish Consumer” expects. The folks at S&R Communications Group just had a great post on this very topic. Today’s consumers can set up an iGoogle page with everything they want, why not every new piece of information about their disease on one page? Aggregators would pull content from the best sources, the leading experts, bringing together the best of the best information instead of relying on a single source (i.e., you).  Deferment is related to aggregation because it too involves turning to outside experts in the areas where you are not the expert. In the case of a pharma company, you might be the expert in high cholesterol since you make one (or more) products to treat this condition. A key part of the treatment for high cholesterol is diet and exercise management. However, a pharma company is not an expert in diet or exercise. There are plenty of people who are though and whose names and experience are far more credible than yours in this area. For example, perhaps you turn to the people from Weight Watchers for the diet portion of your content. They are recognized as experts in this area. This works for two reasons. First, it frees you up to focus on what you know best: high cholesterol. Second, it also tells your consumers that you have their best interest in mind. You’re not trying to do everything yourself, you know when someone might know more than you. You are essentially providing your consumers with referrals to other experts. This is the “Enlist” part of my four tenets for best in class digital strategy in healthcare.

While it may seem really challenging and a ton of extra work to connect with today’s “Selfish Consumer,” it’s worth the effort. First, and most basic, this is what your customers are demanding. If you remotely subscribe to the notion that “the customer is always right,” then you should get on board with this as well. Second, the most “selfish” of consumers aren’t selfish at all. In fact, they share…a lot. They share things they like and things they don’t. So, if you do your job with them, they’ll help spread the word for you about your product and company. If you don’t do your job, then they’ll still spread the word, but you won’t like what they have to say.

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