Category: Pharmaceutical Marketing

The Changing “Patient Journey”

“Patient Journey” studies in the pharmaceutical industry used to be rather predictable and formulaic. They were conducted with patients with particular diseases or conditions and typically focused very specifically on clinical events that unfolded from diagnosis through treatment. 

In this very informative piece, you will see that is changing. Many forces are at work that, as the title of the piece says, require us to use data to understand “patients as humans.” The events of the last 18 months have been pivotal here. With the COVID-19 pandemic, people (not just patients!) have become increasingly concerned with health issues, and are decreasingly willing and able to seek out information through personal visits to physicians’ offices. The result? A significant shift to a greater reliance on digital information sources. And the result of that? An increased ability of marketers to collect and utilize data to custom tailor messaging.

AND. Increasingly marketers using patient journeys are expanding their purview beyond disease. Traditionally, a patient journey study of cancer patients would track the steps in medical care from diagnosis forward. Radiation, chemotherapy, role of various specialists, etc. But a cancer patient is a person. A person that has anxiety, that wants to go to weddings, that has interests, priorities, obligations. Key here is the author’s comment that increasingly, marketers are coming to recognize that “the disease does not define the person.”

Bottom Line. Interesting stuff! Complicated stuff. This more holistic approach, empowered by digital data, suggests to me that we may need to develop some new terminology. Conatively, “Patient Journey” focuses us so much on disease that it may be too limiting.

Any ideas for replacement verbiage???

“Hazardous” Yes and No Questions

Check this out. What you will see is a great riff by a psychiatrist on how hazardous yes and no questions can be to a relationship. Or even to a conversation.  So many times when you get a curt yes/no response, what the responder actually means is “Yes (or no), but…..”

The plot thickens. Ask a person a series of yes/no questions, and the thought process behind the answers becomes more and more stilted. And more and more information gets left on the table.

AND. It is fairly easy to see that repeatedly being subjected to that kind of prosecutorial questioning can have a negative effect on interpersonal relationships. 

Over the course of my 50-year career collecting information from physicians for my pharmaceutical company clients, I have increasingly moved from “interviews” to “conversations” for exactly the reasons talked about in this article. Only by using phrases like Dr. Adelman is recommending (“Talk to me about….” “Catch me up on…” “I’m all ears”) can we understand the whole story that the discussant wants to share with us. Only by using these phrases can we understand the salience of individual themes to the discussant. What comes up first? What gets talked about the longest? And by listening carefully to the story being told, we can also understand its overall emotionality, as well as the emotions engendered by various parts of the story. 

Bottom Line. If you really want to understand what someone is thinking, don’t ask them questions. Let them talk!

COVID “Treatment” is About to Get Interesting

Check this out. What you will see is a write-up that is interesting in several different ways. First, as the writer tells the story, the interest surrounding Molnupiravir, Merck’s much anticipated therapy for COVID-19, has captured analysts’ focus far more than the overall quarterly performance of the giant drug company. How those two factor will converge in quarters to come will be fascinating to watch.

Second, intervention decisions related to COVID-19 will get more complicated, and thus more interesting, when this product is approved. Sure, frontline for the foreseeable future will remain the vaccines. Molnupiravir’s role would seem fairly straightforward, i.e., in the treatment of compromised patients with mild to moderate disease. BUT. The possibility of using the product for postexposure prophylactic therapy could substantially increase the patient pool. 

And where will the monoclonal antibodies fit in as all of this gels? And what other forms of therapy will become available that will need to find their way into the mix?

Bottom Line. The general take on the situation is that COVID-19 and its variants will be around for a long, long time. Expect that the armamentarium of agents available to prevent and to fight the infection will continue to evolve. And for the developing pathways through that armamentarium to have a substantial impact on the economic fortunes of the companies that develop and market them. 

Let’s Give “Breakthrough Infections” a Break

Check this out. A dollop of common sense here. Words are always important. We have sort of known all along that the specific words we choose to make a point can be our best friends or our worst enemies.  But the COVID-19 pandemic has given this concept new meaning. Think about the word “mandate.” As in “mask mandate” or “vaccine mandate.” In both phrases, the use of the word mandate is (has been made to be?) inflammatory, to put it mildly. Prior to the pandemic, the primary use that I recall of the term “mandate” was when a politician won an election by a large majority and declared that he had received a mandate from the electorate. In the good old days, a mandate was a good thing.

For those of you interested in getting a more erudite view of this topic, you might like to tap into this book. What you will see is a thoughtful review of how words can be crafted in such a way as to take advantage of such behavioral economics principles as biases and heuristics, and in turn can be used to influence desired healthcare attitudes and behaviors.

Now we focus on the point of the article referenced here. The use of the term “breakthrough infections” is unfortunately providing evidence for anti-vaxxers to use in making the point that the “vaccines don’t work.” Unfortunate since, as I have noted before, most people originally interpreted “90%” efficacy as “works for everybody,” responding to the behavioral economics principle of “rounding,” when in fact, it clearly means something very different. And then there are “little details” like the fact that most of the “breakthroughs” are milder cases, with very few hospitalizations or deaths. 

Bottom Line. Is it too late to undo the public health damage being done by these few words? Probably! As a wise teacher once taught me, “Until you say them, you are the master of your words. After you say them, they are the master of you.”

BUT. Hopefully going forward, we can avoid the setting of any more semantic traps which would likely contribute to even more lives being lost to the coronavirus.

AND. More generally, we hopefully will come to understand the emotional impact of words and how to work with them to society’s public health benefit rather than to its detriment.

Buffy the Asthma Slayer

In our previous post, we talked about the need for pharma to be increasingly creative in its “visual storytelling” if it expects to get its message across to jaded consumers in this Zoom fatigued, hyper video streaming world. So here is a great example.

What you see here is Teva going all out to communicate appropriate use of its “smart” asthma inhaler that allows the collection of “objective” data, in an effort to eliminate the overuse, underuse, and misuse of inhalers which is apparently very prevalent among asthma patients. Start with hiring Sarah Michelle Gellar, who last time around was seen slaying mythical creatures. (Remember Buffy the Vampire Slayer???)

Add in a talking pink inhaler, roll it all up into a compelling (quick, clear, accurate) storyline, and away you go. 

Bottom Line. Good stuff! Like I said in the last post, the production elegance is now as important as the message. Spend a minute watching the video, and you will see that this visual story clears that hurdle handily.

Storytelling in a Zoom Fatigued World

Check this out. What you will see is a piece on how pharma needs to work extra hard in 2021 to capture attention. Much of our population suffers from pandemic-induced Zoom fatigue. Virtually everyone is awash in streaming media from hundreds of sources. The result? The bar for attention-grabbing has been raised significantly. What to do? Get over using simple graphics and move on to emotion-grabbing “visual storytelling.” Sophisticated cinematography. Speed, clarity, accuracy. These are all boxes that must increasingly be checked if we are to grab our increasingly sophisticated customers’ attention. As this piece points out, the elegance with which a spot is shot is now as important as the strategy underlying the message. 

Bottom Line. BUT. This is not just art for art’s sake. Powerful renditions, it is argued here, draw people into the story, raise emotions, let the viewer experience what the people in the story they are watching are experiencing. 

Gone are the days of “Pop Pop Fizz Fizz, oh what a relief it is” being all you needed to sell Alka Seltzer. 

Long gone! 

What’s in a Name???

Here’s an interesting one, the likes of which we have never seen before. When the Pfizer vaccine received final FDA approval, the company quickly rolled out a brand name for the product. Comirnaty. You can see the “creatives’” minds at work coming up with this one.  “Co” for COVID. “mirna” for the first authorized messenger RNA. “ty” for community. 

The only question is whether any of this marketing fluff will matter. Likely “the Pfizer vaccine” is a term heard, around the world, more frequently than the name of any other pharmaceutical product prior to its FDA approval.  As we have often discussed, habits are strong forces, and I scratch my head wondering whether anyone will take the time to learn the new “brand name,” and to substitute it for the terminology now entered on hundreds of millions of vaccination cards. Will the result be clarification or confusion?

Bottom Line. While I see why Pfizer felt the need to promote this name, I wonder how many times someone will say “Comirnaty,” get a quizzical look from a listener, and respond, “You know! The Pfizer vaccine!!!” 

Will Pfizer spend a lot of money to drive the new name home? Will it matter? It will be interesting to watch and see!!!

Did You Forget Something???

Check this out. What you will see is a “pull through” strategy being employed by Biogen to increase the sales of its Alzheimer’s drug, Aduhelm. Take an unvalidated quiz to see if your concerns about having Alzheimer’s are, well, valid. Whatever your score, the online quiz is programmed to tell you to speak with your physician about cognitive screening. OR. You can enter your zip code and be turfed to a specialist who can do fun things like a spinal tap to determine if you have a buildup of amyloid plaque. 

Bottom Line. Pull throughs like this are not new to the pharmaceutical industry. Raising physician consciousness of an underdiagnosed disease is probably a good thing in most cases. Ditto raising patient consciousness through DTC. BUT. How about here?

My two cents worth is that using an unvalidated quiz to get patients to believe that even the most casual forgetting is Alzheimer’s is iffy. Throw in the optics of trying to get new patients to take a drug that maybe works and maybe doesn’t, but in any event costs the health care system over $50,000 per year per patient, and Biogen has certainly given muck raking journalists something to feast on! 

Keeping Weight Loss Supplements Out of the Hands of America’s Youth

In my previous post, I talked about the bad habits that were brought to us courtesy of COVID-19. But check this out. Yet another healthcare issue being brought to light by the pandemic. 

Here’s the story in a nutshell.  During the pandemic, kids were among the people that we talked about in the previous post who are overeating and, surprise, gaining weight. Big time. Doctors report that hospitalizations for eating disorders skyrocketed during the height of the pandemic. 

And out on the street, kids were increasingly scrambling to find “appetite suppressants” that would permit them to regain the self-control that they had lost when they went into “lock down” and no longer had to face their friends.

The plot thickens. These products, like “supplements” in general, are unregulated, and many contain hazardous ingredients. Danger for kids and adults alike, but kids are more vulnerable and have more advertisements for these products directed specifically at them. 

Bottom Line. So here we see society putting a Band-Aid on a hemorrhaging artery. Rather than bring such products under Federal regulatory scrutiny and control, thus protecting adults and adolescents alike, three States are trying to keep these products out of the hands of young customers by restricting the marketing and sales of such products to them. You read that right…Three States!!! AND. Is it not likely that the local nature of these actions will simply drive the supplement market to the Internet? 

Aw c’mon. We can do better! 

Anyone Out There Not See This One Coming???

Check this out. What you will see are recent Harris Poll results indicating that the pharmaceutical industry’s image seems to have its “halo slipping.” More quantitatively, we see that positive ratings have slid from 62% positive several months ago to 56% now. And what might that mean? Maybe lots of things, or maybe nothing!

In the “nothing” category, it should be noted that while across the year we see a gradual trend downward, the majority rating is still one of positivity. The bottom is not falling out. 

Relatedly, the statisticians among our readers may interpret this as nothing more or less than a “regression toward the mean.” Translated, that means that the perception of pharmaceutical companies jumped up significantly, as we have previously discussed, when the rapid development of effective COVID-19 vaccines made us heroes.  Maybe the blush is just coming off that rose a little bit. 

On the other hand, pharmaceutical companies are once again being excoriated in the news. The introduction of an Alzheimer’s drug that may or may not work, and costs over $50,000 a year per patient, doesn’t help. And then the indications for using that drug getting “walked back” by the manufacturer makes matters worse.  AND. The fact that the FDA is now calling for an investigation of their own doctors involved in the approval process for this drug is likely to crank our rating down yet another few notches in the eyes of the public.

Bottom Line. We said several months ago that the pharmaceutical industry had an opportunity to build on the fleeting vaccine positivity and establish a pathway to a more permanent positive public image. 

Nonetheless, here we are!