Latest News

November 19, 2014 Mike Rutstein0

By Mike Rutstein


How many cures can you count in your lifetime? For the majority of us living today, that number is likely few, if any.

While vaccines for polio, chicken pox and diphtheria made a dramatic 20th Century impact in life expectancy (particularly in the Western World), until recently, cures and therapies with curative intent for serious diseases such as cancer and Hepatitis C have been relatively unreliable and not always effective.

For years, conspiracy theory has swirled about with critics showcasing the pharmaceutical industry as an example of the worst part of capitalism with the sole purpose of garnering profit and the incentive to suppress curing disease. These same critics cite economic interest as the main reason why no medical breakthroughs or cures have been made for the most common diseases. Despite resounding proof demonstrating dramatic progress across a number of disease states, economic outcomes data and improvement in quality of life measures, the swirl continues and the pharmaceutical industry remains a lighting rod for criticism for stalling progress in the name of profits.

But something surprising is starting to happen. Cures and therapies with curative intent are here in Hepatitis C, and they are coming in cancer, as well as other serious diseases. And everyone, from the pharma suppliers to providers, to payers and patients, is suddenly scrambling to figure out what all of this means.

From Chronic to Cured

Historically, the model in which pharma and its marketing machine have operated against for most serious diseases has been driven by maintenance and chronic care. And that means ongoing disease management, a long-term and complex patient journey, a lifetime of prescription therapy (often trial and failure of multiple medications) compliance challenges and a heavy recall schedule.

But a new cure creates new healthcare norms for all.

As marketers, we’ve been taught and trained to play the long game. To build brands slowly and purposefully over time. And to recognize that where one therapy has failed, another may successfully help manage and control a condition from progressively getting worse.

However, in the case of a condition like Hepatitis C, new cures mean that every key stakeholder is suddenly faced with the prospect of quickly eradicating a virus. The treatment paradigm shifts from trial and error with unreliable therapies and long-term disease management, to short course therapy with 90%-plus efficacy. From spreading financial exposure over time, to upfront cost amortized by eliminating longer range consequences including hospital costs and potential liver transplantation. From a stagnant pool of warehoused patients, to an aggressive waterfall driven by intense patient demand. From a single reliable cure, to multiple cures with (in some cases), almost parity effectiveness. And everyone fighting for their piece of a relatively small pie.

The first thing that new cures for any disease demand is a change in the way healthcare marketers think about managing their molecules. That starts by hitting the reset button on the planning process. In an environment where multiple cures with relative efficacy are aggressively elbowing for market share, the traditional top-down cascade and slow and steady brand building may not be the strategy that that will win the race. Marketers need to strike rapidly and aggressively to establish themselves as “The Cure Standard.”

Getting there is about a lot more than just being first or pouring on the money. It’s about:

  • Socializing the advent of a new cure to permeate popular culture and create talk value
  • Building a bond with patients and demonstrating that you truly understand them and how their lives have been impacted by their disease on a physical and emotional level
  • Establishing credibility – a critical component in all communications given skepticism around the ability to cure disease
  • Redefining the “value” proposition; providing perspective and helping patients understand the longer term health and economic value of treating today
  • Creating an unparalleled experience in a parity world and providing a specific cure choice that goes well beyond just product features and attributes
  • Recognizing that, with some cures, the patient journey may be relatively short, so the treatment experience needs to be fulfilling, yet simple and easy to navigate.
  • Leveraging the influence and power of cured patients (and their stories) to further establish a specific Brand as “the standard of cure”

The future is Here

With a robust clinical portfolio, ongoing promotional presence and positive patient response, historically, brands have been able to reach standard of care status and astronomical heights over time. But the future is here and, in the case of Hepatitis C, new cures are changing the game for everyone. In other categories such as cancer, researchers are unraveling, cutting and manipulating DNA, combining nanotechnology with medicine, exploring gene therapy and creating immune response that allows the body to act as its own therapy.

While it is unlikely that we will experience a flood of new cures in different categories anytime soon, DTC marketers should begin to think through the broader business implications that a cure potentially carries. On the surface, many traditional marketing principles still apply, but establishing a “Standard of Cure” is not business as usual. Consideration needs to be given across a number of areas including the influence of culture, the changing dynamics around the patient journey, and the importance of establishing an unparalleled patient experience.

November 18, 2014 Matt McNally

For years, marketing has begun with the brand, the campaign, and the big idea.  It has been shaped by what we want to say, how we want to say it, and how many times we want our “targets” to hear it. We would spend months and months developing headlines, copy, TV spot, print campaign, email and banner ads. Then, at the end of the process, we’d call the media team to find a place to stick it. Of course, the best places where we could “hit” as many people in our target audience as possible. Often not realizing that we shared this audience with our competition.

Many brands in healthcare tend to focus on women aged 35-64, either they suffer from the illnesses we aim to treat or we believe they hold the keys to every healthcare decision in their household. This is why for years, and even now, shows like the Today Show look like they our sponsored by big pharma and healthcare; we have been stuck in a game of “whack-a-mole,” trying to hit our target with our message as many times as possible, with a goal to change her behavior.

We need to remind ourselves that health is a journey like no other. From the moment we are born, it begins; from boo-boos and scraped knees, to getting fit, giving life, battling illness, the health journey is something we all have in common. It is a journey that is continuous, challenging, and sometimes rewarding – but always requires fortitude – from within and from without.

Health is a journey that matters. It’s one of the reasons that health is one of the most searched categories on Google, and the most discussed topic in social media; the reason that there are 1.2 billion pages of web content dedicated to health and wellness, and that half a trillion dollars of investment have been spent there in just the past 10 years.

Health is a journey made up of moments; moments that are full of emotion, decision and action. Moments that require us to take a step back and make sense of a new situation, to assess, learn, ask advice and seek answers. It is time to stop thinking first about the big idea and the campaign, but to begin our thinking with understanding where these moments and conversations happen. Basically shift from a media last mentality to embracing a media first point of view.

Media’s Evolution

For years media was the afterthought. When we were in a “tonnage” game this was fine. We were able reach the majority of our audience through prime time television and print. And let’s be honest, shooting the TV spot and the print campaign were much more sexy than talking about TRPs and reach frequency curves.

However, today, media is changing faster than advertising. If Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest country behind India and China. According to comScore (May 2, 2014), 166 million people in the US own smartphones (68.8% mobile market penetration). These stats were not the case only 12 months ago. I believe media is the new black and where the sexy is happening.

Media has moved beyond spots and dots and impressions, to delivering critical information about what our customers truly want, how they want to engage, and where they gather information across their health journey. It’s beyond buying space. Media agencies today are working with publishers and producers to broker content deals. This is happening because our customers don’t want to hear everything from the brand. Furthermore, in pharma there is only so much we can say. However, we need to realize our audiences need more support and information than what is prescribed on our label.

Publisher partners can lend credibility and a trusted voice to help meet the needs of our customers. Oftentimes they can deliver the content our audiences desire faster and more cost efficient than creative agencies. For example, if your audience requires information around food, why are you creating the content, and not Food Network? If your audience loves music, why aren’t you streaming content from Pandora? Media agencies can help identify and develop partnerships with these types of publishers and move you from simply selling your brand to providing a service.

So, next time you are kicking off a campaign, thinking about your next big idea, I encourage you to look around the room and make sure your media team is present. Health is different. It is the only journey we are on that never stops. As brand marketers, we need to know where and how we are going to show up, not just what we want to talk about.