Crushing Pharma’s Digital Marketing Dreams–Part 1

Dose of Digital Mini White Paper

Part one of two…part two available tomorrow.

I came up with a challenge to all of you a couple weeks ago and now I’m going to report back what you all told me. I had a vision of  a world with no rules in pharma marketing (please read that post first or this one won’t make much sense). I also asked you what you’d do in this imaginary world. The reason for writing the post was simple. I was trying to show that it really doesn’t matter if there are formal rules regulating what we do in pharma digital marketing. Specifically, I’m trying to get everyone past the notion that we need some sort of formal blessing or 937 pages of rules from the FDA before we can undertake many of the new digital marketing tactics available including social media marketing. That’s the number one reason I hear from companies who aren’t trying anything in social media: “We’re waiting for the FDA to publish guidelines on social media before we do anything.” Well, if that’s you, then my one piece of advice is this: settle in. You’re going to be waiting for a while.

Rules or no rules, I’ve talked with many pharma marketers who know the programs they’d love to do if only they were allowed. Many dream of doing something innovative in digital marketing. So today, I’m going to crush some of the dreams you’ve had for digital marketing. I’m going to try to show you why that one program you’ve always dreamed about isn’t likely to be all that effective. Sorry to do it, but you leave me no choice.

My point from my post was that it doesn’t matter if there are official rules or not, the market will dictate what you can and can’t do. As a recap, here was the warning I issued in my original post (click to read it now if you haven’t yet, as today’s post won’t make sense without it):

While there may not be any rules about what you can say, claim about your products, or do in promotion, there’s an unofficial regulatory body that still does exist. People. Patients, doctors, caregivers, researchers, payors, random pharma critics, and commentators/writers (like me). So, you can say whatever you want, but you’re going to be kept in check by all these people. They are the ones who are going to review what you do and decide what’s right and wrong. For those companies that take advantage of this lawless society, the people are going to react negatively. They’ll reject those that make exaggerated claims, those that mislead, and they’ll also reject programs and promotions that just don’t make any sense.

After this warning, I gave you all a survey to find out what you would do if there were no rules. No rules at all regarding what you could do with your digital marketing. Not just social media, anything digital. Here were the choices: Community on brand website, addition of user generated content, ratings and reviews, unbranded community, “enhanced” product claims, branded Twitter page, expanded search optimization, expanded disease state information, branded Facebook page, or brand blog. I also gave you a blank field if you wanted to put in your own idea.

Because I couldn’t resist, I predicted in my post (after the survey) what you would answer. Here was my guess: “Something social media, probably the community on your brand website.” Tah-dah! I was right about that, but was surprised (pleasantly and yet confounded) by some of the other results as well. With about 50 responses or so, here are the results (percentages represent the number of mentions opposite total mentions, each respondent could select up to three items):

what pharma marketers would do if there were no rules

Tied for first place were community on brand website and addition of user generated content. So, these are the two things that the most number of pharma marketers would like to do, but feel they can’t because of the rules (or lack of clear ones). Let’s look at them one at a time. First, a community on a brand website.

I’m not really sure why this is most appealing. Essentially, you’d have a patient (or maybe doctor) community on, say, the Lipitor brand website. You can picture it: “Click here to talk with others who have tried Lipitor.” Presumably, there would be questions about the drug and side effects and people would be giving their honest opinions and probably saying a lot of things that would make Lipitor blush just a bit. People don’t like to censor what they have to say in discussion groups. There would also be quite a bit of negative too, which isn’t necessarily bad, but also a few rants (you know: “Pharma is responsible for poisoning the world, swine flu, global terrorism, etc.”). Here’s the thing with a really community; you can’t moderate it. You can’t, if you’re Lipitor, simply delete all the bad posts and all the rants. But do you want them on your site? I’m not afraid of a negative review here and there. Frankly, these add to the credibility of any site and is why products with one or two stars almost always outsell those with no stars (i.e., no reviews). Get the stats here. I’ve talked all about how this would work for pharma before. So, your community might not be something you’re really proud of especially when all the anti-pharma folks come out of the woodwork.

There’s another problem. People don’t like pharma companies. Sorry, but you probably knew that. They don’t really trust pharma companies all that much either. Sorry again. So, why on earth do you think they’d want to join your community instead of one maintained by a completely unbiased third party like WebMD? Why? What’s the value? When it comes to a branded community, you simply can’t offer anything they can’t get somewhere else. However, I think there’s a slightly different approach. I encourage everyone who thinks I’m wrong at this point to first read my post  Forget Communities, Create Channels Instead. What’s the difference?

“Communities, in their truest sense, are made up of a large number of equally important individuals meeting each other, sharing ideas, and communicating with and amongst each other.  While a community might have a community manager and / or a community leader, all people are – for all intents and purposes – treated equal.

Channels – on the other hand - still have many of the same aspects of community – the ability to communicate, comment, share ideas, and connect – but they are focused on a certain, designated group of content providers who formulate the thought leaders of the group.” Thanks again to Stephen Saber once again for these definitions.

Channels are lead by a handful of experts. The people that you really want to hear from. The people you know aren’t crazy or plain wrong and whose advice you know you can trust. In other words, a completely open community where everyone’s comments and opinion are equally promoted and prioritized isn’t valuable in most cases. A controlled environment where experts (unbiased ones) sift through the information and advice and release what’s valuable and create useful, credible content, is what people really need and tend to use whether they know it or not.

So forget about your branded community and figure out how to do a channel instead. Read my entire post to get more details.

Next, user generated content. You want to add it. Well, go ahead. What’s stopping you? The first example of this in pharma goes back to 2007. Way back then, before every pharma company was on YouTube, Novartis sponsored a contest called FluFlix. The contest was designed to help raise awareness of the flu and why it’s important to get vaccinated. (Funny that we’re doing the same thing two years later, no?)

This contest introduction video alone has had nearly 800,000 views. As best I can find, this is the most popular pharma YouTube video ever by about a factor of about 40. Of all the entries they received, they picked 60 as finalists. In case you’re interested, three winners each took home $500. Here’s one, so you can get a flavor:

This is all user generated content. A bunch of pharma sites have testimonials on them now. Also user generated content. At least two pharma companies are taking a similar approach to Novartis, including using YouTube, to solicit user generated content. There’s GoInsulin from Sanofi-Aventis and My Asthma Story from AstraZeneca. For now, all the videos on these two channels are obviously professionally produced. I don’t know when (if?) they plan to add more videos in the vein of what Novartis did with FluFlix (i.e., produced at home videos).

You can always do user generated content, you just have to moderate what’s actually posted on your brand site. Anything that’s inappropriate (like swearing or completely off topic) you don’t post. Anything that has off-label claims you can’t post.  Make this clear in the submission rules and you’ll get more of what you can use. Almost every single video submission contest or program like this, inside pharma and out, is moderated exactly like this. You can’t post everything and people get that. Just be clear about why you post some things and not others UP FRONT.

Now, if you want to add user generated content because you’d like them to say your drug works for an unapproved indication instead of saying it yourself, why bother? In our no rules world, you can say it yourself. So, you should have picked “enhanced product claims,” but you didn’t. You know that in the end, this is a losing proposition. Doctors and patients eventually see through this type of behavior and reject everything you have to say. Where are you then?

Coming in right behind community on brand website and user generated content was ratings and reviews. I love it. I can only assume that my two recent posts about the importance of ratings and reviews did the trick (see here and here). Since I’ve already talked about this before, I won’t go into it here (hint: read the posts), but suffice it to say, I think this is a big opportunity. So big, in fact, I think it’s worth figuring out how to do it even in the real world where the FDA does enforce the rules. There has to be a way to add ratings and reviews to a pharma brand site that the FDA will allow. One of you pharma companies out there just has to ask them how. Remember that part of the reason why you’re allowing these reviews is to answer questions that people who just started taking your product need answered. Questions that, if handled appropriately and quickly, could be the difference between them continuing on treatment or quitting too soon. No one wins with the latter, so we need to figure out how to prevent it. Ratings and reviews could be a big part.

Unbranded communities came in next in our survey. These are where you don’t have your brand all over the page and instead focus on providing a community and support for a specific disease state. Obviously, in the real world, not having the community on your brand page saves a lot of fair balance. In our world with no rules, you wouldn’t have to worry about this, so why not go for the branded version? My only thought is that you realized (rules or not) that patients might be more responsive to an unbranded effort. They’d somehow be more trusting, open, and willing to join because it doesn’t seem too commercialized. Really? Patients are pretty smart. It would take them about 10 seconds to figure out that the site was sponsored by a pharma company. So, you may as well be open about it. However, it does appear that eliminating any mention of a specific brand does make a difference, but maybe not for the reasons you think.

The single best source of information about PKU is on an unbranded community created by Biomarin. Biomarin makes Kuvan, a treatment for this disease. There’s a great community on this site and Biomarin made it happen. They don’t appear to be involved really in any way except for their company logo appearing on a few pages. Apparently, if you provide enough value, people will come. If you do it right and put patients first, they’ll come. And stay. Follow this model and you can do this right now. The rules don’t need to be suspended. Biomarin and many others have already proven it. Go to the pharma and healthcare social media wiki and see for yourself.

This leads me to my next point about communities. Look at the wiki. Are you going to create a community (unbranded or not) that already exists? If so, how about looking to partner with something already out there? Wasting money to create a community on your own might not be the best idea. If your competitor already sponsors the best community in your disease area, then you might have to look to a completely different tactic. There’s no reason to battle head to head. One more reason NOT to create the community you’ve always wanted is that people don’t want it. Josh Bernoff from Forrester looked at which disease areas would likely benefit the most from social media. If your area isn’t in the top right (or at least top left), you might want to look elsewhere. Here’s Josh’s original post and my take on it as well.

So, according to this, if you’re thinking about doing a community for people with thyroid conditions, you’re better off trying something else. On the other hand, if you’re thinking about something for obesity or certain “mood disorders,” then you might be onto something.

Next up in the survey results, and the final option finishing in double-digits, was brand blogs. There are only a handful of blogs out there from the pharma industry, but it’s much more common in other industries (and here). There isn’t  (as far as I know) a single product-branded, pharma blog in existence. I think this is a big missed opportunity. To be fair to the critics, many corporate blogs aren’t working well. Only 1 in 6 consumers trust corporate blogs. On the surface, this might tell you that blogs just can’t work. However, it should tell you that most companies don’t use them correctly. You can’t make them a 24/7 advertisement about your product and you’ve got to be committed to them. So, everything can’t be a brand message and you can’t let it die. Most blogs die after a short time or they have such irregular postings that they are not worth paying attention to. If you’re going to blog, then be committed. To quote the article linked above, “Launching a blog with nothing to say is like paying for a blank magazine ad … sure you own the space, but you’ve done nothing with it.” Trust has a lot to do with ensuring people that your blog isn’t self-serving and also that you’re going to be there for the long haul.

Why blogging? It’s the best way to create a one on one connection with people. They get to see who you really are and hear why you do the things you do. For those taking your product already, it gives them further confidence to continue their treatment and gives them a very simple thing to share with others who they think might benefit from your product as well. What would you include? How about patient stories, new developments about your product (i.e., research), disease state information, educational pieces written by a healthcare professional, etc. Just make sure it’s not all about your brand.

And, don’t take my word for it. McKinsey just released its report on How Companies are Benefiting from Web 2.0. Really good stuff and worth checking out. I’ll be referring to it quite a lot in the future. For now, check out this chart:

How companies are benefiting from web 2.0

In both the “customer-related purposes” and “working with external partners/suppliers” category, blogs demonstrated at least one measurable benefit more often than any other Web 2.0 channel. What else do you need to know?

That’s all for part one. We’ll tackle part two tomorrow and cover the remaining survey results and also the write-in candidates. I’ll also touch on one more really important piece of McKinsey’s report, their findings on the most important practices for successfully using Web 2.0 technologies.

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9 Responses to “Crushing Pharma’s Digital Marketing Dreams–Part 1”

  1. Tom O'brien September 3, 2009 at 2:17 pm #

    Jon:

    OK, this is a real tour de force through the possibilities of digital marketing. I especially like your understanding of how community works. Almost nobody inside the industry has this detailed and nuanced understanding.

    Thanks for publishing – I will be sharing this with many of our healthcare and pharma clients.

    Tom O’Brien
    MotiveQuest LLC

  2. Tom O'brien September 3, 2009 at 2:17 pm #

    Jon:

    OK, this is a real tour de force through the possibilities of digital marketing. I especially like your understanding of how community works. Almost nobody inside the industry has this detailed and nuanced understanding.

    Thanks for publishing – I will be sharing this with many of our healthcare and pharma clients.

    Tom O’Brien
    MotiveQuest LLC

  3. Tom O'brien September 3, 2009 at 10:17 am #

    Jon:

    OK, this is a real tour de force through the possibilities of digital marketing. I especially like your understanding of how community works. Almost nobody inside the industry has this detailed and nuanced understanding.

    Thanks for publishing – I will be sharing this with many of our healthcare and pharma clients.

    Tom O’Brien
    MotiveQuest LLC

  4. Pawel Jurczynski September 3, 2009 at 5:13 pm #

    Another great post! I am learning a lot from this. Alli / GSK had a branded blog – but as far as i remember it didnt work out too well (i think site is down). I like the input about channels vs branded communities. No matter how You call it – i also think expert knowledge and feeling there is somebody You can trust in a specific field and who actually cares is priceless but not that easy to build.

  5. Pawel Jurczynski September 3, 2009 at 1:13 pm #

    Another great post! I am learning a lot from this. Alli / GSK had a branded blog – but as far as i remember it didnt work out too well (i think site is down). I like the input about channels vs branded communities. No matter how You call it – i also think expert knowledge and feeling there is somebody You can trust in a specific field and who actually cares is priceless but not that easy to build.