Pills, Marketing and Web 2.0

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It’s that time of year again: flu season. These days many people stay in bed with high fevers and snotty airways, feeling miserable. Waiting rooms of doctors are crowded with people, begging for recipes to get their comforting pills from the pharmacy.

Most of us don’t realize it, but behind those pills stands a huge marketing machine from the producer of these pills. A lot of money goes around in the pharmaceutical industry and competition is murderous. Development of a product takes many years and requires an investment from the pharma company that goes in the multi-millions. And once they’ve marketed their product, they lose the patent on it after a dozen or so years where generic companies take over, manufacturing and selling the same product for a fraction of the price. That’s one of the reasons why pharma companies spend a lot of time and money in building a brand. Simply because a strong and reliable brand is harder to kill.

Marketing communication is a challenge for pharma companies. Due to heavy regulations, it is not allowed in Europe for the industry to directly communicate to the end-users of the products, the patients. All communications around prescription drugs, i.e. drugs you only can obtain through a physician or specialist, are done by these doctors. They are seen as independent experts. In addition, governmental institutions, at least in many European countries, also have a say in the communication simply because a lot of the money used in health care is tax money.

The current developments in communication also have their impact in the pharmaceutical world and the way they do marketing. Pharma marketeers are more or less aware of Web 2.0 and their challenge for is how to deal with the well informed and assertive patient of the 21st century. The current new technologies bring great opportunities to start a dialogue both with patients and doctors.

Transparency
Web 2.0 indeed brings great opportunities for health care. Let’s be honest, what’s more valuable to you than your health and that of your loved ones? The moment something is wrong with it, you surf and search, expecting to find correct, transparent and complete information. Or you get connected to a community of like-minded people to share experiences and emotions. Honesty, transparency, communities? Sound familiar?

Due to the strict rules and regulations, pharma marketeers frequently cannot respond rapidly and adequately to changes like those we currently see in communication. Although it brings opportunities, Web 2.0 very often still is an unknown and uncertain phenomenon. There are agencies that offer their assistance to pharma companies in how to deal with these developments. Recently, we were present at a seminar for the pharma industry on how to use these technologies in this regulated world. The seminar was organized by Across Health, an agency originally specialized in eCRM.

Seminar
‘A Brave New World’ was the title of this seminar that took place in Breda, The Netherlands. Around 30 participants from the pharma industry were present. The seminar was started by Peter Hinssen, one of the partners of Across. Peter gave a fantastic presentation on the acceptance of Web 2.0. Peter is a well-known expert on the impact of technology in our society and a great believer of the fusion of commerce and IT.

Online medical education and web conferencing are tools which with pharma companies are currently experimenting, as demonstrated by a research that Across did amongst their clients. The results, presented by Marcel Scheringa (Senior Management Consultant, Across), demonstrated that the regulations are not the only pitfalls around communication. The lack of a clear eBusiness strategy and the knowledge how to measure ROI are other reasons for failure.

The effect of SEA (Search Engine Advertising) also entered in pharma-marketing, as presented by Filip Standaert of Janssen-Cilag. This company demonstrated that SEA had a significant positive influence on the campaign around a product that improves the quality of life of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Click for an interview with Hans Mampaey here.

Pharma-marketing
The sales force plays an important role in pharma-marketing in bringing the product information to the doctor. Maybe you’ve seen him/her, in the waiting room of your physician: the sales representative, well-dressed, preparing him/herself for a short and effective meeting with the doctor. And short it is. On average, the time spent by a sales rep in the office of a physician is less than 3 minutes. This as a result of the increasing competition between the pharma companies, but also due to the increasing time pressure of the doctor.

In order to still being able to efficiently inform the doctor on the products many companies (if not all) use eDetailing as an alternative. eDetailing can be seen as an online, interactive and educational product brochure. Doctors can consume the information at a time that is suitable to them. Beverly Smet (Senior CRM and Busines Consultant, Across health) explains that engagement with the brand is one of the main achievements of this medium.

Arnoud Kok (Republic M!) and Danny Donkers (Bristol Myers Squibb) presented the advatages of ‘MedConference’, a web conference for the medical world where the main advantage is to save time and money. Simply because you can visit the lecture from behind your computer. This is something, especially in these economic situation, is appreciated by many managers.

Click for an interview with Ruud Kooi here.

Positive but reserved
The feedback from the participants after the meeting was overall positive. People realize that something must be done with Web 2.0, but many still have their reservations. And that is still with reference to the regulations, which limits the possible activities. Still, the pharma industry (and the regulatory institutions!) have to realize that they can’t lag behind. Certainly not when realizing the participation and desire of involvement of patients issues related to their health. Pharma should get involved in these discussion, in one way or another. The will talk about you anyway! And that also gives the opportunity to do something about the bad reputation the industry has amongst both doctors and patients.

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A Week (or 2) of Industry Launches: YouTube,Web 2.0, MedPedia, and Twitter…

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Over the last 2 weeks or so — including the time I was away at ePharma Summit — there were quite a few interesting launches and developments that I haven’t gotten around to blogging about yet, so in the spirit of catching up, I thought I’d summarize them here…

AZ and Sanofi Aventis launch YouTube channels

 

As mentioned in a previous post, YouTube seems to be the “channel of choice” (pardon the pun) when it comes to pharma adoption of new media. So I guess it should come as no surprise that two more big pharma’s launched YouTube Channels last week…

Firstly, AstraZeneca launched the My Asthma Story YouTube Channel, which complements it’s Symibcort-focused My Asthma Story Website and encourages people who have been “diagnosed with asthma, and prescribed SYMBICORT” to submit a video clip of their asthma story (see submission guidelines) — “Everyone with asthma has a story to tell. We’d like to hear yours“.

Also, Sanofi Aventis launched the Go Insulin YouTube Channel, to complement their GoInsulin.com Website, which features “insulin success stories” (video clips). Unlike AZ however, Sanofi doesn’t mention/promote any products on the page (just the company logo) and doesn’t asking for patient submissions at this time. Compared to the AZ site, Sanofi has also done a really nice job in designing the YouTube and GoInsulin.com websites – great visual appeal, IMHO.

The interesting thing about these two launches is that they both took a similar approach of using a traditional website to complement a YouTube channel and drive their audiences bi-directionally between the two; almost like the YouTube channel was just an extension of their video-filled website, but obviously with much greater mass appeal and reach. But what’s even more interesting to me is that (to my knowledge) MyAstmaStory is the first pharma YouTube channel to carry a product brand (Symbicort), which in my mind, indicates that pharma is getting more comfortable with this medium as a promotional channel, including their legal and regulatory teams.

With online video being the fastest growing medium for consumer consumption for several years in a row, and Google’s smart moves to enable YouTube channel administrators to control some of the “social features” (e.g. comments, embedding, etc.) , I’m not at all surprised to see more and more pharma companies jump on the YouTube bandwagon… In fact, I only expect to see more.

For more details on the two launches, read the EyeOnFDA Blog by Mark Senak, who stays abreast of health and pharma YouTube activities and even aggregates these health/pharma related YouTube videos on his own EyeOnFDA YouTube Channel.

Feds Also Adopting Social Media



Not to be outdone by all the pharma activity on YouTube, it looks like federal agencies — like HHS, CDC, FDA — are also starting to get on the new/social media train. Firstly, according to Nextgov.com

The federal government is on the verge of reaching an agreement with YouTube that would allow agencies to make official use of the popular video-sharing service. A coalition of federal agencies led by the General Service Administration’s Office of Citizen Services has been negotiating… on new terms that would allow agencies to establish their own channels on the site.

For some interesting commentary on this, read this EyeOnFDA blog post — here’s a quote:

Adding YouTube to the communications menu of the federal government has a number of ramifications. First, one hopes that they do it right. CDC and FDA are examples of two agencies who are there, but their channels are irregular and the editorial framework is unclear. FDA, in particular, has a bunch of channels and it is difficult to know what will be posted where.

And if you think that’s as progressive as the Feds get, then think again… As it turns out, they’ve been involved with Web 2.0 and Social Media for a while now. For example, the HHS/CDC had a booth at the Podcast and New Media Expo in 2007, the CDC had an open discussion focusing on Social Networks, Blogs and other Web 2.0 Apps in 2008, and Miguel Goemz and Fred Smith from HHS even spoke at the 2008 New Media Expo about their use of Web 2.0 for AIDS.gov (see interview at bottom of post here).

More recently however, it seems like the Feds have become even more active in the social media space, with the launch of a Twitter account for FDA recalls (@FDArecalls) and even an active Twitter representative in the form of Andrew P. Wilson (@AndrewPWilson), who is a “Member of HHS social media team” (according to his profile). Who knew the HHS had a social media team??? Anyway, despite all that, nothing could have prepared me for this… the Social Media Tools for Consumers and Partners – a webpage that describes all their scoial media activities, including blogs, email subscriptions, Health e-cards, mobile info, and online video. Wow!

For a great take on the whole Feds and social media thing, read Jonathan Richman‘s Dose of Digital blog post (and follow the links to previous stuff he’s written). He’s got great insight and commentary on the entire situation.

Medpedia Launches

Earlier this week, Medpedia — a new medical wiki — was launched with the support of its founding partners: Havard Medical School, Stanford Medical School, University of California Berkely School of Public Health, and University of Michigan Medical School. According to the website…

The Medpedia Project is a long-term, worldwide project to evolve a new model for sharing and advancing knowledge about health, medicine and the body among medical professionals and the general public. This model is founded on providing a free online technology platform that is collaborative, interdisciplinary and transparent. Read more about the model.

Users of the platform include physicians, consumers, medical and scientific journals, medical schools, research institutes, medical associations, hospitals, for-profit and non-profit organizations, expert patients, policy makers, students, non-professionals taking care of loved ones, individual medical professionals, scientists, etc.

If Wikipedia is any inidcation of how powerful and successful a well designed and maintained wiki can be, then I have to agree with Mark Senak’s post about the importance of Medpedia in the future, where it may become tops in organic Google search for medical and health related terms, just as we seem to see now with many Wikipedia definitions

The question is: Will the right people be engaged and willing enough to spend time “maintaining the Medpedia garden” in order for it to become the dominant medical/health reference of the future? Perhaps… I think it definitely stands a chance just looking at the number of Health Professional articles on Google’s Knol and videos on YouTube. Read EyeOnFDA’s report on this which also has a great audio interview with the founder and head of Medpedia, James Currier.

Pharma’s Tweeting…



Twitter has been growing like Jack’s beanstalk lately. In fact, it grew by 752% in 2008. So it’s probably no surprise that a lot of companies are also jumping on board, including pharma and biotech. Up till recently, the only two pharma’s I knew of that use Twitter as official communications channel are @novartis and @Boehringer. I also recently discovered that AstraZeneca (US) has a Twitter account (@AstraZenecaUS), though their udpates seem to be pretty sparse at the time of writing. In addition to all that, J&J also recently launched an official account, @JNJcomm, just last week. Previously, Marc Monseau (Editor of JNJBTW.com) had a personal twitter account, so it was not an official channel.

While there’s not as much control on Twitter account settings as YouTube has for it’s channels, I can only imagine that more pharma companies are going to be jumping on board the Twitter-train sooner rather than later. How they use it to engage, on the other hand, is going to vary greatly from company to company. At the very least, I see companies setting up accounts as “listening posts”, but others may choose to engage, like @boehringer does in an informal manner. Whatever the case, Twitter is fast becoming the new dominant space for listening and/or engaging with the community.

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