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May 29, 2018 David Shronk0

If I have heard it once, I have heard it a thousand times: organic marketing on Facebook is dead. Pay-to-play, experts say, is the only way to really reach desired audiences. Regardless of industry, this has been the overall takeaway.

This clarion call has only gotten louder since Facebook announced in January that it would further prioritize content from friends and family on users’ News Feeds (see here for Facebook’s current commercial). This effectively makes it nearly impossible for brands’ organic content to rank high enough to be seen and forces them to spend more on paid ads.

Well, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of organic Facebook marketing have been greatly exaggerated. The first step to successfully fighting off that organic content death knell is identifying what connects Facebook users to those friends and family whose content will be prioritized: relationship.

Relationship Required for Effective Organic AND Paid

The challenge – for brands, at least – is that Facebook feeds effectively reflect what we want to do and see in real life. As users, we are interested in what our family members are up to; get excited about friends’ baby announcements; and engage with people on their opinion about new movies.

All of these things are built around our unique relationships, and, to be blunt, reading a post from a pharmaceutical campaign doesn’t typically rise to that same level. In general, a brand’s priorities are not about the Facebook user; they’re about the brand. It’s possible for a brand to establish a trustworthy relationship with users, but it requires commitment.

What exactly do I mean when I talk about a relationship on Facebook? Despite Facebook being a technology platform, the relationships are still human. They can be emotional, educational and supportive. Ultimately, two-way conversations are the cost of entry for a true relationship.

If a brand creates content that allows for meaningful conversation and has a clear benefit to users, it will start to receive likes, comments, and shares. As that brand’s content consistently receives engagement, Facebook will increasingly deem this a real relationship and make it more likely for that content to appear organically in the feed.

Organic growth will slowly occur as people share posts with their friends, who then share the posts with their friends. Eventually, brands will begin to build relationships via these people who are connected by shared interests. For those with patience, there is power in organic growth.

Of course, for those with less patience who want to reach more people quickly, it then is necessary to pay to promote content. However, a marketer with good Facebook user relationships – and, as a result, successful organic content – won’t need to pay as much. Facebook understands the value of relationships to users, as well as the value of those relationships to the relevance of the entire platform. Therefore, it doesn’t want to waste feed real estate – no matter how much brands pay them – on poor relationships.

How Most DTC Marketing Content Falls Short

Unfortunately, pharmaceutical brands don’t necessarily have the infrastructure to create authentic, relationship-building content that truly meets patients where they are. For a multitude of reasons – including risk, regulatory issues, and the lack of a core competency in creating content – it is nearly impossible for marketers to engage in open-ended conversations via social and digital platforms, including via unbranded campaigns. This reality limits the organic potential.

Marketers of unbranded campaigns often create generic content relevant to a perceived majority of people living with a specific condition or focused around a celebrity with some relationship to that condition.

However, not every person has the same experience with a specific condition. From symptoms to family life dynamics, people are as diverse as their feeds. Regardless, pharma brands spend a lot of money and resources forcing generic content into people’s Facebook feeds that doesn’t truly foster a relationship. Making matters worse, it creates a vicious cycle of overpaying.

What Marketers Need to Do

As marketers, we need to create a range of personal content that speaks to people at various stages of their journeys. This content must encompass a wide variety of emotional, educational and comprehension levels. For example, it’s important to include posts about clinical trials for those who are more inquisitive and proactive about treatments along with lifestyle articles about how tough it can be to wake up in the morning for the newly diagnosed.

The intent behind this is not simply to increase reach, which it still does. On a greater scale, it establishes that a brand is willing to understand where people are in their patient journeys, as well as the information, resources, and conversations they need. This increases the likelihood that a Facebook user with a specific condition will find content relevant and worthy of engagement. That engagement then makes it more likely to push that marketer’s content toward the top of that user’s feed.

There are two major obstacles here. First, it’s not easy to just start creating relatable posts, engaging around it on Facebook, and assuming it will have impact as organic content. Marketers need to be fully committed to having a two-way relationship with people and everything that entails.

Second, as mentioned previously, pharmaceutical brands can only do so much on social and digital channels, due to the regulatory environment. Therefore, the first step is to get into the mindset of “meeting people where they are.” This is done by being open to and then creating promotional campaigns, tools, and ads that show the brand understands various aspects of the patient journey, as opposed to creating a single ad or promoted post that might only be relevant to a subset of people with a condition.

However, to truly get the desired organic reach on Facebook, brands should invest in the necessary resources to understand people’s needs. The best way to do this is by partnering with companies adept at listening to relevant condition-specific conversations, moderating engagement, and adapting messaging. In short, these partnerships are the relationships brands need to create and maintain meaningful relationships on Facebook.

May 29, 2018 Karen Weber0

In an ever-changing pharma environment staying connected is vital. Amidst regulatory challenges and uncertainty of new channels, the pharma industry is beginning to embrace social media to empower patients and healthcare providers. Social platforms are uniquely designed to support patient and provider needs perhaps more directly and efficiently than traditional channels. Social technologies can be leveraged to support patient engagement, ultimately leading to healthier patient outcomes.


May 29, 2018 Linda Ruschau0

Sponsored Content

PatientPoint had the honor of sponsoring the Top 25 DTC Marketers and Hall of Fame awards at last month’s DTC National. During Hall of Fame inductee Christine Sakdalan’s passionate acceptance speech, one of her quotes really stood out, as it touched on some very relevant topics within our industry. She said: “More than ever, we have the great privilege and responsibility in healthcare to positively impact people’s lives. To make a meaningful difference in patient outcomes, we must purposefully lead with compassion and empathy, engage in relevant dialogue and foster partnership across the healthcare ecosystem.”

These values that Christine noted need to be at the forefront of decision-making during planning season. Lead with empathy. Engage in meaningful dialogue. Foster partnership. If your marketing strategy is built on these foundational tenants, and delivers relevant messaging to the patient at the time he or she needs the information the most, a positive impact is a near guarantee.

I see proof of this daily as I work with our client partners to create plans that enable their brands to be a part of the important discussions between patients and physicians. Sharing compelling testimonials, savings offers, clinical trial results and other similar information in the doctor’s office offers patients the guidance and empowerment they need at this time, making your brand a true partner to not only patients but their healthcare providers as well.

With all the news about consumers losing trust in brands today, it seems now more than ever is the time we collectively focus our efforts on what truly matters the most—the patient. This may involve a change from your tried and true marketing tactics, instead thinking outside the box to focus more on the channels, like point of care, that enable you to truly connect with patients and physicians and, as Christine so well noted in her speech, make a meaningful difference in patients’ lives. PatientPoint can help you do just that.


The word “cancer” has become a household word, used by cancer centers, drug manufactures and the non-profit community in aggressive and extensive DTC marketing initiatives. But, historically, marketing cancer products directly to consumers rarely (if ever) happened; it was one of those areas that was deemed to be “pushing it too far.” What has contributed to this significant shift? And what role does DTC advertising truly play today? As the cancer conversation continues to grow across national television and other channels, we believe understanding this shift is imperative. As such, we initiated research to uncover insight into the impact and role of today’s DTC efforts in this once taboo category. Our work included a combination of quantitative and ethnographic research with cancer patients and their oncologists.

We recently had the privilege of presenting our findings to an audience of industry peers and colleagues at the 2018 DTC National Conference in Boston and, not surprisingly, our presentation hit a nerve. In fact, during the presentation, one audience member spoke out, sharing his experience with a stage 4 cancer diagnosis and how he could directly relate to the research findings we were presenting. This powerful moment was followed by a few others, including multiple audience members approaching us after our presentation to share their personal cancer anecdotes. We were moved by this level of audience engagement, and, of course, thrilled that our content had transcended professional relevance to make personal connections with people who had themselves experienced cancer. What follows is a summation of some of the more salient points from our presentation.

We are in the age of consumer-driven, patient-centered healthcare. New tools are empowering patients and shifting US consumer expectations. Take the Internet, for example, easily the broadest and most common tool…

  • 70% of people use the Internet to figure out what condition they may have before visiting the doctor1
  • 52% use the Internet to understand what they need to discuss with the doctor1
  • 84% use the Internet to learn about treatment options after receiving an initial diagnosis1
  • 61% use the Internet to learn about treatment choices and side effects1

Information sources proliferate. Think about it: there is so much available, both online and offline, from government agencies, manufacturers, pharmacy services, health plans, hospitals, cancer centers, non-profit organizations, clinical trial recruitment, advocacy groups, support services, and even social media.

As such, healthcare has become an everyday conversation. And this includes the once taboo c-word, cancer. Can you remember a time when you would hear a friend or family member whisper that someone has cancer? Now, you hear people talk about it openly at home, at work, and even at the local market or Starbucks.

The Mighty is a social media platform where consumers create message boards and share content. Within the platform, there are about 40,000 people following the broader topic of cancer today, with about 50 separate cancer communities. This demonstrates exactly what we were saying—people are no longer afraid to talk about cancer. Patients and care partners seek out these communities for emotional support, education, information, and often for some much needed self-expression.

In 1996, when DTC advertising began with blockbuster drugs like Lipitor and Claritin, there was a total spend of $555 million behind prescription medications. It was a market dominated by allergy, cholesterol, migraine, and dermatology treatments. At that time, and even just a few years ago, DTC about cancer treatments wasn’t a thought. However, DTC today reflects a different mix for a different time. Every time you turn on the TV, there’s a good likelihood you’ll see a DTC ad focused on a cancer treatment. This includes some great work from brands like Ibrance, Keytruda, Neulasta, and Opdivo. Not surprisingly, $504 million was spent on oncology DTC in 2017 alone. Yes, that is close to the whole DTC spend across all categories back in 1996. And the cancer conversation is not limited to just advertising. Cancer has become a topic in mass media and news environments as well. From Robin Roberts’ very public cancer journey on TV, Time Magazine’s cover pages on how to cure cancer, and even US News and World Report ranking the top cancer hospitals in 2017-18, there is no shortage of daily headlines about cancer.

So why the shift?

  • Talking about cancer is no longer taboo.
  • Consumer expectations of cancer have changed. For example, there is now an understanding and expectation that—in many cases—you will survive a cancer diagnosis. In addition, treatments can go on for an extended period of time.
  • The information age has helped to drive shared decision making.
  • There’s an increased level of patient involvement in the physical treatment. In fact, from targeted oral therapies to patches, some patients can now engage in chemotherapy at home.
  • There is increased competition and “noise” in the cancer space, from the proliferation of treatment options, to discussions of rising healthcare costs, and the rise in the number of interested and invested parties (i.e., health systems, advocacy, etc.).

Yet, despite all of these changes, people still lack a voice when it comes to cancer conversations with their oncologists. With our 20 years of experience in ethnographic in-office dialogue research, we have recorded well over 4,000 visits, with over 400 in oncology. That, combined with the over 800 post-visit interviews with oncology patients and their oncologists separately, has provided us with a real-world view of these poor communication interactions.

During our presentation, we shared two video clips of interactions between oncology patients and their oncologists. Unfortunately, one can’t really call them conversations, as they are completely dominated by the oncologists. These videos helped to demonstrate some of what the patient has to deal with. The visits are wrought with emotion, and the oncologist not only dominates the interaction, but throws out medical jargon and technical terminology that even the brighter than average patient cannot understand.

Witnessing this, we asked ourselves a couple important questions:

“If today’s patient is more informed about their health overall, and cancer is far less stigmatized in today’s society, why isn’t the cancer patient having more of a voice? And, what does this say about the role of DTC in advancing the cancer conversation?”

To help us gain a better understanding, we conducted an online survey with our WPP partners at Lightspeed, and reached out to 100 people ages 18-65 who are either going through cancer treatment or have completed cancer treatment. We focused the survey mostly on people who had been diagnosed with breast cancer, lung cancer, or melanoma, as many of the DTC ads out today are focused on these topics; however, other cancer types were also included.

We learned that DTC contributes to a more level playing field. Seeing a DTC ad helps cancer patients become more comfortable and educated. It also supplements the research they are already doing, and provides a comfort level.

Over half of the respondents replied that they agree, or strongly agree that seeing a pharmaceutical ad for a cancer treatment reminds them that they’re not alone.

Our research also demonstrated that DTC supports a more common, better understood language about cancer. It helps provide patients with information in their own language. It also helps to identify that there are choices available so they can balance what they’re being told by their oncologists.

In addition, DTC helps improve overall feelings of trust for cancer patients. Those we surveyed told us they feel more informed, more comfortable with medical conversations, and less alone as a result of exposure to DTC advertising.

Trust is a topic that was of particular interest to us, so we dug deeper into this data. We found 84% of our survey respondents said they are extremely or very likely to trust their oncologist. And while pharmaceutical companies ranked the lowest when patients were asked about trusted sources of cancer treatment information, they did report that DTC advertising itself improves their trust in the specific product or brand that was advertised.

Regardless, it was not a surprise when 93% of patients surveyed said they have not asked for an oncology treatment by name. This is a consistent finding with our ethnographic research experiences across other categories.

In summary, cancer has become “Primetime” for a reason. At a high level,

  • Patients today expect to be informed
  • They demand information at their fingertips
  • They don’t want to be blindly led

What does the future of oncology DTC look like?

  1. We must continue to tap into and align with cultural values.
  2. We should look to be even more informative and balanced, not less.
  3. We need to find ways to connect with patients on their terms.

As DTC marketers, there is an incredible opportunity in front of us to help fuel an evolving and improved two-way conversation.

While patients will continue to look to and trust their oncologists and the cancer community for expertise and guidance, DTC can also continue to stimulate patient awareness and understanding, provide an often needed feeling of inclusion and support, and, thereby, support a more level playing field.

If you have questions or clients who you feel would benefit from knowing more, please reach out to Catherine Goss or Ashli Sherman.



1 – Manhattan Research, Google Consumer Study 2015 among online patients.


May 18, 2018 admin0

I was watching HHS Secretary Alex Azar during the White House press briefing unveil an idea we have heard pushed before. That is, DTC advertising should disclose the price of the advertised drug. That sounds fair but is a lot more difficult to implement than any other advertised category.

Most advertised retail prices have relevance to consumers. A car advertised at MSRP will sell for somewhere between 85-100% of that price. That is true for most products that disclose prices. Health care prices are wildly variable depending on the payer. Those prices can vary by as much as 50-75%. I understand the goal of HHS. It is to give consumers an idea about how expensive a drug is before they and their physician make the decisions to use it.

Bob Ehrlich
“I doubt a DTC ad is the right place to discuss price.”
-Bob Ehrlich

In my last column on this topic, which was written last July after the American Medical Association recommended that a drug’s price be required in DTC ads, I said prescription drugs are unique in that consumers have no idea what the advertised drug costs based on the ad itself. No other category has ads where its products range from $300 a year to $100,000. Consumers who are interested in an advertised drug may be in for sticker shock and depending on coverage may be paying a high out of pocket cost. Secretary Azar thinks that the consumer deserves to know that price information in advance. The issue is how to do that in the prescription market with its myriad of discounts. What consumers want to know is what they will pay, not what their insurer will pay. Given the numerous payers, all with different formulary coverage and individual discounts, that is hard to communicate.

Clearly drugs can be broadly categorized by cost, so perhaps an ad can say in what pricing category the drug fits. Maybe there are terms HHS can come up with to give consumers an idea in which cost category the drug belongs. Even if they do, consumers care what they pay not the listed retail price. It is possible a $100,000 drug costs them less than the $3000 drug based on reimbursement.

This price disclosure motive seems to be designed to put pressure on drug makers to be embarrassed advertising high priced drugs. That may mean those $100,000 cancer drugs prefer not to advertise if they had to list a high retail price in the ad. My recommendation would be to have ads refer to a link on their website or an HHS website that can discuss price in detail. In a 60 second spot HHS can only expect a super that discloses a list price or a voice over saying what the drug may cost. That would be totally insufficient for consumers and more likely confuse them.

OPDP likely will propose research studies on how best to convey price and we can expect a guidance several years out. I do not agree with the practical value of some of their research studies but this one deserves careful study. I doubt a DTC ad is the right place to discuss price but if it is mandated by FDA then it must be done to help consumers evaluate a drug on the cost/benefit context, and not just to generate public outrage that some drugs are very expensive.