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Direct Response Marketing

A Social Solution

1 Jun, 2012 By: Jackie Jones Response

Pharma marketers looking to engage with consumers to better their advertising campaigns can turn to crowdsourcing via social media.

It’s easy for many pharmaceutical marketers to turn a blind eye to social media — with the rules and regulations advertisers face from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the risks far often seem to outweigh the benefits for even the biggest-name brands in the industry.

However, with a bit of creativity — and direct response tactics and mentality — it’s a sure-fire way for pharma marketers to stay engaged with their consumers. While pharma marketers should proceed with caution, there’s no reason to ignore the benefits social media can have for companies looking to do one of the things direct response does best: listen to their customers.

“You cannot put your head in the ground like an ostrich and pretend dialog is not happening, because it is,” Pat Choumitsky, senior manager of consumer marketing at UCB Pharma, told attendees at the Pharmaceutical Marketing Research Group 2012 Annual National Conference in Orlando, Fla. “It’s important that we’re listening and not afraid of adverse events.”

Similar to how the core of direct response is measurable return on investment, social media can provide a method of crowdsourcing for pharma marketers looking to better connect with consumers before, during and throughout advertising campaigns, Kurt Mueller, chief digital and science officer of Roska Healthcare Advertising, advises on his blog.

“Engaging patients and caregivers through social media to help solve your marketing problems and shape campaigns designed to target them may sound adventurous, odd or even downright scary to your medical and legal team,” Mueller writes. “Today, marketing to consumers is about meeting the needs of individuals, reaching out to them in their online spaces, and integrating into their daily lives. Doctors diagnose patients and prescribe treatment regimens unique to the need of each individual patient. To get the best results, your marketing campaign should do the same. Crowdsourcing is a way to quickly obtain feedback and direction from relevant online audiences about your campaign and communications challenges.”

Playing With the Big Boys

While many direct response marketers in the pharma industry hesitate to jump aboard the social media wagon, some of the biggest names in the space have already successfully used the emerging and constantly evolving digital platform to connect with more consumers. From YouTube to Facebook and Twitter, and even unique social networking sites created by pharma companies to suit their own individual needs, companies including Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Bayer and Glaxo-Smith-Kline have all joined the game, some going back as far as 2009.

Social media has provided some pharma marketers, such as Novartis, with the ability to connect and engage with a very specific target market through a variety of methods, including its own online community platform dedicated to chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) patients. CML Earth, a microsite dedicated to “educating, supporting and connecting the CML community,” includes more than 2,193 members worldwide and showcases personal stories of real patients, provides consumers information on CML and connects them with others in the community. The site also provides users with a CML Navigator, a tool available for desktop computers, iPhones and iPads that helps Novartis consumers and CML patients stay actively engaged and involved throughout their treatment.

Bayer received notoriety for its moves in the social space when it launched an online community and blood glucose monitoring tool for those living with diabetes in the United Kingdom called Didget, which connects with Nintendo DS and rewards users for meeting health targets and maintain healthy habits. The tool has been lauded as a pharma marketer’s unique use of social media platforms to help patients monitor a continuing health condition. Another pharma marketer, Glaxo-Smith-Kline (GSK), maintains its own blog, More Than Medicine, which the company has said is more about creating dialog between the industry and consumers rather than promoting specific brands.

“Our goal is to provide that opportunity to interact with us in a different way and also, at the same time, create that dialog around health care and the pharmaceutical industry’s role in it,” Michael Fleming, senior director of social media at GSK, says in an official company statement. “We would like people to hear from our company and interact with our company in perhaps a less formal, rigid way than they are used to hearing from us.”

Boehringer-Ingelheim has utilized Twitter since 2008 to take an aggressive stance on actually conversing with its consumers, rather than using the social media platform as another publicity tool. John Pugh, Boehringer’s director of global corporate communications, manages the Twitter feed and has been quoted in the past saying about 70 percent of his job involves social media.

“Boehringer has incorporated Twitter into its wider communications strategy and is using the site regularly to engage with its stakeholders,” according to Pharmafocus. “Along with posting press releases, Pugh uses Twitter to recommend other Web-based information about disease areas, as well as articles he thinks followers might find interesting.”

Under the leadership of Pugh, whom PM Society Advertising Awards named the Digital Pioneer of 2011, Boehringer also launched Syrum, the pharma industry’s first Facebook-based game designed to add a bit of fun to health care communications. The moves are in line with much of the direct response marketing industry, where social media has long been shown to drive patient participation. An Epsilon study from 2010 showed that 40 percent of online consumers use social media for health information (Response, April 2010). Pharma consumers using social media for health care purposes do so for much of the same strategy behind social DR overall: for reassurance, support and a sense of intimacy from others in their community, the study showed. As social media platforms have grown and evolved during the past few years, the numbers are sure to have, as well.

Pharma Takes DR Online

Pharma and nutraceutical companies keen to the ways of direct response are also starting to hone in on the benefits of social media when paired with DR marketing. SmartMune, a natural supplement aimed at strengthening the body’s key immune responses, has recently expanded beyond traditional DR platforms to include more social media to astounding success.

SmartMune Box Bottle_C2101_R35807.tif

SmartMune uses social media in preparation for the rollout of its TV and radio spots, specifically Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

“Probably the most exciting thing that’s happening is how well-received the product has been when we put it in the hands of celebrity talk show hosts and the blogosphere,” says Glenn Sherburne, president of MunaCare LLC, marketer of SmartMune. “When they hear about SmartMune, they immediately understand that this product has been needed for some time. This is the Holy Grail of nutraceutical categories.”

SmartMune plans to gradually use all of the different advertising mediums — DRTV, digital, social and more — as it works its way toward retail placement of the product. The company used social media in preparation for the rollout of its TV and radio spots, specifically Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. During the past month, SmartMune has increased Facebook “likes” by 120 percent and Twitter followers by 306 percent, according to Sherburne.

“This increases consumers’ awareness and online interaction. Even with very little marketing, we have been able to attract real fans on each medium and we add more every day,” Sherburne says. “We have also been working with influential bloggers on product reviews and giveaways. With a product like SmartMune, consumers want to know how it has worked for others and feel confident in their choice to purchase the product. Blogger reviews add credibility as outside sources who have tried and approved the product.”

Social marketing is also a must for another DR brand in the space — Elimay Supplements Inc., part of SRS Pharmaceuticals, which helps dogs that are fighting abnormal cell growth to detox, better their immunity and enhance their quality of life, according to Laura Riehl, business development executive for Elimay Supplements.

“Social media marketing is essential to expand the consumer base, while
keeping customers engaged and involved,” says Riehl. “With a brand that is as involved with customers and their pets as Elimay, these forms of social connection are crucial. Social media is also the perfect platform to promote the study with the Canine Cancer Foundation, and consequently promote the brand.”

DR is the driving force behind much of Elimay’s success for many reasons, Riehl says.

“At the moment, DR is Elimay’s sole channel of sales distribution,” she adds. “Elimay is currently available online, but is in the process of moving to retail distribution. DR is the perfect opportunity to test the message before going to retail.”

The Road Ahead

The very nature of the pharma market will always lend itself to some challenges, but the marketers touting genuine products and innovative advertising will come out on top. While the tightening of rules and regulations for airing approval by the FDA will continue to be a challenge for all those in the pharma industry, compliant brands supported by science are positioned to benefit and reap the rewards. As online gains significance, social media is poised for growth in the pharma industry, according to many marketers.

“The amount of traffic going to the Web rather than using the phone is a dramatic change,” Sherburne says. “We have adapted by creating a dynamic Web presence and using digital media, bloggers and the social networks so that we have a significant online presence.”

Whether pharma companies are keen to dive headfirst into social media, or are still simply dipping their toes in the water, one thing is clear: direct response provides measurable levels of success that other forms of advertising simply can’t compete with.

“I don’t think there is a better way to brand a group of products than with direct response,” Sherburne says. “The opportunity to test a variety of messages affordably with a broad reaching audience really can’t be done with traditional advertising. With DR, you know quickly what elicits a response and what doesn’t.”

Novartis connects and engages with a specific target market through CML Earth, which links the brand with chronic myelogenous leukemia patients, and CML patients with one another.


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