There are so many great events around empowered patients and consumer-driven healthcare in the Fall. It also being soccer season, the kickoff of the school year, and time for nearly every existing Jewish holiday, I can't possibly attend as many as I'd like to. This makes me especially thankful to have some good D-blogger friends, such as Allison Blass, who recently attended one of these key conferences, and reports back to DiabetesMine today:
A Guest Post by Allison Blass, LemonadeLife blogger and intermittent correspondent
Last Tuesday, I attended Digital Pharma 2009, a three-day conference-meets-unconference event that focused on pharmaceutical social media marketing. The first and third day involved a more unconference structure, but I was there on the second day which was structured with regular, invited speakers. Including me! I was there to speak about patient blogging, but I was also there to learn about how pharmaceutical marketers are dealing with the surge of social media marketing and how they can communicate with their customers (us) online. Roche Diabetes Social Media Summit, anyone?
I was honored to be invited to speak to this group of marketers who clearly are very curious about how to do the best job they can, which is very much appreciated, but are still stumped by how to interact with patients on the Internet (you can thank the FDA for that) but also, I think, with patients in the real world. I was one of the last speakers, so I had the opportunity to listen to the struggles and challenges to make social media successful within the pharmaceutical company, because of the FDA regulations required on pharmaceutical companies to report EVERY adverse reaction and off-label usage of their drug. This gets time consuming, so most pharmaceutical companies would like to avoid the Internet. The problem? This is where the people are, and the people are moving on without Big Pharma (and many other consumer companies who are late to the game).
Craig DeLarge, Associate Director of eMarketing for Novo Nordisk, was one of the first speakers of the day and he was one of my favorites (not just because he was from a diabetes pharma - though that didn't hurt). Craig focused on "relationship marketing," or how pharmaceutical marketers could build relationships with their customers (US!).
He posited this question: "What brands love you?" Most of the audience mentioned consumer lifestyle companies, like Apple or Starbucks, or companies that had excellent customer service. And that was Craig's whole point: that companies with the best and innovative customer service are the ones that we in turn love, or at least have great favor towards. I thought about what diabetes brands loved me. Novo Nordisk, actually, was one that occurred to me and I mentioned this to Craig later. They've done a tremendous job of sponsoring diabetes education programs throughout the world.
Listening to this conversation between pharmaceutical marketers made me think about what we, as patients, would say are the Big Pharma brands who "love" us. And why? Novo Nordisk makes a product that I don't actually use (I've been on Humalog since Day 1, for no other reason that I've just never asked for a different prescription), but I still find the company to be very respectable because of all the community outreach they've done and support they've done in the diabetes community not just here in the United States, but also throughout the world. But what other companies have shown much concern or love towards us? Craig urges the marketers to show more concern towards customer service, rather than simply "selling" a product. This I agreed with completely, considering one of the most common pros in product recommendations is the customer service.
Craig stated a motto that he encouraged the marketers to reflect on: "I am in it for us, and mostly for you." As patients, as lifelong customers of these companies, I am pleased that this concept of caring about the customer — not just the bottom line — is starting to be spread throughout the pharmaceutical company and hopefully this will not be lost after this one conference.
Many of us don't trust pharmaceutical companies. That was especially evident after the Roche Diabetes Social Media Summit in July, when those in attendance had trouble getting passed the question, "What exactly do they want from us?" Pharmaceutical marketers are trying to figure out the exact same thing. How to talk to us, how to interact in a way that will be valuable and not spammy, and how to educate and sell without losing our attention. Since social media interaction is so limited right now because of FDA regulations, it will be interesting to see how these things progress. One thing is for sure, we will continue to need pharmaceutical companies.
And we will continue to talk about them on blogs, Twitter, and social networks — whether they'll respond or not.
Too right, Allison!
Also, Editor's Note: The FDA is set to hold a public hearing on "issues related to the promotion of FDA-regulated medical products ... using the Internet and social media tools" on Nov. 12 and 13, 2009. Cross your fingers that they create some clear and reasonable guidelines — at long last.