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Is Passbook the Future of Pharma CRM?

No offense to Android or Windows 8, but when it comes to healthcare, it’s still an iOS world. As the FDA announced today that it has approved the AliveCor iPhone based EKG monitor (http://ht.ly/fM1n2), I’m left to wonder about another recently announced technology, Apple’s Passbook. Is this the future of Consumer CRM for pharma?

For those of you that are unfamiliar, Passbook is Apple’s built in coupon and payment card organizer. Passbook enabled apps, like Starbucks and Fandango, allow purchases to be added to Passbook for later use. No printing tickets or getting cards in the mail any more. Have a $25.00 Starbucks card? Scan it into the app and it appears in Passbook. Just bought tickets online to Skyfall? Open Passbook and there they are. In practical terms, this solves an enormous problem for users, namely organization and integration into your mobile life. And that integration isn’t just about keeping everything in one place. As a system level app, Passbook interoperates with most of the other functions on the device. Let’s stick with the Fandango app for a second. Let’s say you bought tickets to a Friday night show. Not only are the tickets waiting in Passbook for scanning at the theater, but you can automatically add a reminder to your calendar and text friends the show times. With location based services activated, users can receive proximity based notifications about traffic conditions on the way to the show or be notified of offers as you walk into the theater. Given it’s relative infancy, it’s safe expect the Passbook’s feature set to get more sophisticated and more valuable for users and brands alike.

 

The holy grail for any digital marketing program is the often-touted, rarely-validated ROI calculation. I’ve seen ROI for programs touted all over the industry, but the dirty little secret is this: if you can’t tie any program back to a validated sale, you can’t truly calculate ROI. Brands correlate ROI all the time, but correlation isn’t a true indicator of actual sales. This is why redemption and coupon cards are so important, as they give marketers direct numbers that validate the performance of a program. Brands can talk engagement until they are blue in the face, but if digital is ever to be taken seriously as a business driver, ROI calculations must be accurate and proven.

 

It’s estimated that almost 50% Rx brands will have some form of coupon or discount card program by 2021. And why not? Even by modest calculations coupon programs typically generate a 4:1 return. So, why don’t all brands have discount card programs? The answer to that is a simple one. Discount card programs are insanely expensive. 

ICANN Released New gTLDs – Now What?

On June 13th, ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) approved a slew of new gTLDs (generic top level domains) that potentially create new web suffixes ( or, more technically, strings ) to supplement the existing stable which includes .com. .net, .org, .gov, .mil, .edu, .biz, .info and .int ( country specific gTLDs also exist ). The full list, which can be found here requires a $185,000 application fee, plus a yearly service fee of $25,000 paid directly to ICANN. Needless to say, that’s some serious
coin.

The requested gTLD strings included applications from some major pharma companies, with some applying for brand trademarks and program names. I may have missed a few combing through the list, but at last tally they included:

  • Abbot ( .abbot .abbvie )
  • BMS ( .bms )
  • Boehringer ( .boehringer )
  • Eli LIlly ( .lilly .cialis )
  • Johnson & Johnson ( .jnj .baby )
  • Merck ( .merck .emerck .merckMSD )
  • Pfizer ( .pfizer )
  • Sanofi ( .sanofi )

Also interesting to note that several of the bigger pharma companies opted to pass on securing a new gTLD string, including Roche, GSK, Novartis, AZ and Bayer. Pepsi, along with a few other mega-brands, have been very vocal about their decision to stay on the sidelines of the gTLD land rush, while Google and others have applied for multiple strings. So who’s going to come out ahead? Those who acquired the domains now, or those who waited? Given the expense involved and the lack of a road map to implementation, the answer isn’t a clear one.

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“Seriously. We Don’t Like TV Ads” — FDA

I came across this rather innocuous looking story in MM&M today about the FDA considering a requirement that would add a toll-free number to all DTC TV ads to allow consumers to report adverse events. The full text of the news alert is here:

“The FDA is weighing requiring DTC TV ads to carry a toll-free number for adverse events reports and is surveying 1,600 consumers to find out what they think, the Associated Press reported. The requirement would dovetail with one already in place for print ads, but some at the agency are concerned that a toll-free number would distract viewers from risk information. The survey will test ads for a fictitious blood pressure drug, AP reported, with an eye to how the placement, wording and timing of the statement impacts comprehension and recall.”

The FDA doesn’t have the final say on whether or not DTC advertising is allowed (Congress does essentially), but they can sure make it clear that they don’t care much for it. You might have noticed when watching any drug ad the litany of side effects and risks that are included. It goes a little like this: “With Curital you may experience headache, dry mouth, toe fungus, liver cancer, vertigo, nausea, upset stomach, night sweats, death, hearing loss, and tooth decay.” That’s the FDA. They don’t want to police these ads so they make it much harder to them to be meaningful or have much of an impact. This toll-free number would go one step further.

I, for one, could care whether or not DTC TV ads disappear. I’ve never believed them to be effective, but I do believe they are easy. As a brand manager, you simply hand over a bunch of money to your media agency and tell them to show your drug to as many people as possible. Easy. You can then tell your managers that you spent a whole bunch of money and made a whole bunch of “impressions.”

Isn’t there a better place for all of this money? Spending the money to do targeted advertising like search marketing or developing digital applications specific to your target audience is hard. It takes a lot less money, but it’s hard. There are only a few agencies (and fewer pharma companies) out there that really understand it and know how to make something like this come to life. Instead, they stick with what’s “worked.” By “worked” I mean shows up as a planned tactic each year. Instead of spending money on DTC TV, why not instead try to find the people that will really benefit from your product and who are likely to derive a big benefit from it? Those are your customers for life.

A flash in the pan TV ad isn’t going to capture reliable patients. For many who respond to your ad, they want a quick fix and after your quick fix, it’ll be the next quick fix. But, what to do instead eludes a lot of companies. Ask around, read this blog, question your advisers (and certainly your agencies), find out what’s possible. Remember my personal adage about TV commercials: There wouldn’t be a single TV commercial if those who worked on the advertised brand were forbidden to talk about it at a party.

Think about that for a second.