It’s been a little over a month since Digital Pharma East’s fall event in Philadelphia, but the takeaways haven’t expired. The conference was packed with insightful sessions; what follows are a few enduring lessons we wanted to share as we head into a new year, brimming with opportunities – to make new connections, build stronger relationships, and stretch ourselves creatively and strategically.

Patient Centricity: Just Because You Say It Doesn’t Make It True
In her presentation, “Unpacking Customer Experience in Pharma,” Tracy Yedlin — social, mobile and innovation lead, customer engagement and marketing innovation team at Takeda — noted that only 9% of U.S. consumers believe pharma and biotech value their health over profits. And simply saying you’re patient centric doesn’t differentiate you anymore. What can you do to prove you’re truly in touch with your audience?

Yedlin provided a number of examples, but perhaps the most instructive was her analogy of gift giving and receiving: Think of the worst gift and the best gift you’ve ever gotten. The worst gift is one that seems to have been chosen by a person who’s never met you. If your mother gives you a gorgeous wool sweater, for example, but you’re allergic to wool, you think, “What the heck, mom?! Were you thinking of my sister when you bought this?” You’re likely to be annoyed and even insulted. If instead, your mother gives you a 100% cotton cardigan, you think, “She knows me SO WELL.” You’re happy; you feel listened to and appreciated.

Regarding email as a tool for engagement, Yedlin noted that the way people engage with email is evolving, and will continue to evolve. If you’re asking a patient or customer to sign up for your CRM program, you may need to find another way to connect — unless there’s a clear exchange of value.

Meeting Docs Where They Are: The EHR
In a “fireside chat,” Miriam Paramore, president of OptimizeRx, sat down with physician Jack Pinney of MidMichigan Health to talk about medication adherence and quality of care. During their discussion, Dr. Pinney noted that he sees between 25 and 30 patients per day, and 25 minutes of every visit is spent interacting with the electronic health record (EHR).

“If you want to visit me, visit me in the EHR,” Dr. Pinney said, referring to the best way for pharma marketers to reach out.

And what kinds of information should pharma look to share inside the EHR?

  • Information about cost. Medication adherence and cost are intertwined: A patient can’t adhere to a medicine they can’t afford. A physician might develop great treatment strategies, but getting patients to follow a regimen can be a challenge when cost is top of mind, and doctors haven’t really talked about affordability with patients in the past – now they must. Prescribers want to know about ways to help patients get – and stay – on medications, with via sponsorship, coupons, etc., and they want it at their fingertips.
  • Information about branded drugs. Doctors tend to prescribe generics, but sometimes that’s not the best option for the patient. The problem is that physicians don’t always have a lot of information about brand-name options. They want that information.
  • Clear, concise clinical messaging. What’s the most up-to-date information on the drug and treatment? Messaging must be short, current and relevant. Most doctors ignore pop-ups and alerts, so it’s crucial to provide information that’s disease and demographic specific.

Do You Really Know Your Audience?
It turns out that brevity isn’t always the soul of wit, and sometimes, what marketers think will resonate … doesn’t. Michael Pearlman and Matthew Snodgrass, of Syneos Health, talked about connecting with audiences and how they don’t always respond as expected:

  • Pharma often likes to depict messages of hope — who doesn’t want to be optimistic about the future? But, in a comparison between two versions of an ad for a migraine medication, the ad showing a woman looking pained was more successful than an aspirational image of a happy woman, unencumbered by pain. Maybe it’s true that misery loves company. Maybe, when we’re in the throes of discomfort, what we most want to see is someone who feels like we do, so we know we’re not in this alone. A November survey from YouGov also noted that older people with diabetes want to see people and families like theirs reflected in advertising.
  • We usually think less is more when it comes to ad copy, but in another test, Syneos found that an ad with more copy performed better (76%) than a short ad (24%).
  • These days, there’s a lot of wonderful photography available for marketers, but those photos don’t always connect the dots between your product and a patient’s experience. In a third example Pearlman and Snodgrass cited, an ad with an illustration – yep, a drawing — performed better than photography. The takeaway? When you show images of real people, you assume that the viewer connects, but that may not be true at the moment. An illustration, on the other hand, may convey a concept that applies any time the viewer sees it.

How Do We Talk to Millennials About Health and Wellness?
Dante Gaudio, senior vice president of sales at the medical information site Healthline explained that with 20+million sessions a month centered around nutrition and 91% traffic growth around nutritional content, Millennials are changing how we think about health in general. In fact, happiness is one of the top indicators of health, and the very meaning of the word health is evolving. Further, 86% of Millennials said they would rather be healthy than wealthy.

How can marketers connect? We can be experts without being authoritative, for one thing. Millennials seek allies who happen to be experts, and they don’t always think of healthcare providers as the best source of health-relatedinformation. Other tips:

  • Be positive, not superficial.
  • Address the whole person.
  • Tone and language matter.
  • Move from transactional to meaningful – offer them help, just because.
  • Use imagery that’s genuine and connects. They can spot stock photography a mile away. Be as real as possible.
  • Use language that connects instead of alienates: on Healthline, for example, they stopped using the word prognosis, and started saying outlook instead. Healthline also got a lot of negative feedback about their HIV content; so they started listening to advocates, users, etc., and updated 400 pieces of content — words like infected were removed from the site based on that feedback. Following the updates, Healthline saw 32% growth, and time onsite increased.

Pharma as the Florence of Digital Marketing?
Finally, another standout session was presented by Glenn Butcher, senior director of global cystic fibrosis marketing at Vertex Pharmaceuticals. He suggested pharma marketers can learn from a book called The Medici Effect. The book illustrates the principle that “true innovation happens at the intersection of disciplines.” Butcher explained that Florence, Italy, which thrived under the influence of the powerful Medici family in the 14th century, provides a useful lesson on what it takes to succeed. Florence was a geographic, artistic and intellectual crossroads, an incubator for innovation. Butcher’s “Top 10 to be like Florence”:

  1. Look outside pharma for great ideas.
  2. Hire diverse teams, even if they don’t have the pharma skills you’re looking for.
  3. Collaborate within your own company.
  4. Bring your external passions to work.
  5. Open up to non-healthcare partners.
  6. Capitalize on rotations, co-ops and internships.
  7. Embrace the constraints.
  8. Build for failure.
  9. Manage up.
  10. Accept and manage risk aversion.