As you may have noticed, I'm fascinated with where new Web-enabled communication tools are taking us in the world of medicine in healthcare. I'm also a huge admirer of the work of the outspoken and sage John Mack, publisher of Pharma Marketing News and author of the Pharma Marketing Blog. I was therefore delighted when John agreed to make a guest appearance here.
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A Guest Post by John Mack, Pharma Marketing Guru
First, despite all the chatter, the "new era of pharma marketing" is not yet upon us. That is, not if you're talking about pharma marketers using social media in an effective and meaningful way. I have written about this extensively elsewhere at the Pharma Marketing Blog (see, for example, "Can Pharma Use Social Media to Provide Patient Support?") and in Pharma Marketing News (see, for example, "Pharma Marketers Dive Deeper Into Social Media: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly Case Studies"; use discount code '86wtit' to get if free), so I won't bother you with the details here.
Suffice it to say that pharma marketers do not yet understand what diabetes patients have known for a long time: online support via social networks is one of the greatest resources that patients have. And patients welcome many points of view from all stakeholders as long as there is transparency and an honest attempt to convey useful information via genuine dialogue.
An example of what patients do NOT want from pharmaceutical marketers was Novo Nordisk's first Levemir-branded Tweet or, as I like to call it, the "Tweet heard round the pharma world." Here's the Tweet, which was made via Novo's "Race with Insulin" Twitter account (@racewithinsulin) featuring race car driver/diabetes patient Charlie Kimball:
"Headed for Iowa Speedway. Just took Levemir® (insulin detemir [rDNA origin] injection) prescribing info: http://is.gd/15ull"
Nevermind if I got the tiny URL above wrong; it only leads to the technical version of the Levemir package insert, which I'm sure you'd love to read end-to-end. How much better would it have been, however, if the Tweet linked to some interesting portion of the product Web site, where you could perhaps find some useful information?
Some called this first-ever branded pharma Tweet "historic"; I called it "Sleazy Twitter Spam," which got me a lot of flack. But I'm sticking to my story (see here for details).
Of course, we all know that no "real" person would ever write something like this, especially if they were trying to provide inspiration to people with diabetes. But some marketers claimed that diabetes patients often mention drugs they are taking and products they are using by brand name. Yeah, sure. I'm willing to bet you're not including ® and the generic name when you do and probably not linking to the official FDA-approved labeling information either.
Of course, what Charlie says on this branded site must be reviewed by Novo Nordisk. I bet, however, that Novo marketers actually write most of this kind of drivel and just for the sake of getting the brand name out there. I don't have diabetes, but I am sure that's not what people with diabetes want.
Social media use by patients is a major factor making pharma marketing communications very complex these days. That's because patients — especially diabetes patients — are now one of the major influencers of physician prescribing, which is the
holy grail of pharma marketers. Marketers must learn how to influence the influencers! But that's not going to happen using sleazy branded Tweets!
TNS Healthcare — a company that helps pharma marketers understand how to market to physicians and their influencers — studied several factors influencing physician prescribing and created an index to measure the influence, positive and negative. This was done via a brief survey of primary care physicians in the US and other countries. The chart below shows results pertaining to influencers of diabetes drug prescribing by US physicians. [Note: TNS is an advertising client of mine but they did not pay me to write this. Amy didn't pay me either :-) But I'm not complaining!]
What I find interesting is that "Social networks" are among the "negative" influencers, most of which are related to the cost of the product. I suspect that physicians who read patient stories on social networks see a lot of negative chatter about (prices of?) these products. But, let's be fair. There's also a lot of good that these products do and pharma marketers must get their stories on these networks also. But to do so will take a community. and marketers must learn how to be good citizens of that community. Be open and honest in your feedback on their attempts, and do what you can to help them!
You can find John on Twitter as @PharmaGuy.