Since May 2018, several calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) inhibitors have entered the migraine field, with no fewer than seven gaining U.S. Food & Drug Administration approval for acute migraine treatment and/or prevention. Thanks to this influx of new prescription therapies, the global migraine market is expanding, with some analysts expecting to see its value soar as high as $13 billion by 2027. But if drugmakers want to realize the market’s full potential, they’re going to have to double down on raising public and provider awareness, new data shows.
Only about half of migraine sufferers (52%) have tried acute therapy, and only 37% have used preventive therapy, according to research from Phreesia Life Sciences, which surveyed more than 4,000 migraine patients when they checked in for their doctors’ appointments. What’s more, many patients aren’t even talking to their doctors about new migraine drugs: Among patients who have discussed migraine with their doctor, 36% have not discussed acute migraine medications, and 46% have not discussed preventive treatment options.
Those numbers point to a need for more provider education—particularly for primary care providers, many of whom may not be up to speed on the many new treatment options. Since migraine patients far outnumber headache specialists in the U.S.—in 2020, there were just 700 specialists for 39 million migraine sufferers, according to the Migraine Research Foundation—that’s an audience pharma needs to take into greater consideration.
But pharma marketers also need to get the word out and improve brand recognition among patients. Nearly half (47%) of surveyed patients couldn’t recall a single brand name in the preventive migraine category, and the only brand that came to mind for more than 10% of patients was Topamax, an older drug that gained approval for migraine back in 2004.
So what can CGRP drugmakers do to convert more patients to brand? For starters, they can strengthen their messaging aimed at prescription-naïve patients, many of whom don’t think their condition is serious enough to warrant prescription treatment—and, in some cases, to even discuss with their doctors. Nearly one-fifth of surveyed patients (19%) said they had never talked to their doctors about their migraine symptoms, and among those who hadn’t brought up migraine with their doctors in the past year, 45% said their headaches weren’t serious enough to discuss, and 38% said they were using over-the-counter medications to control their symptoms.
Pharma also can supply the tools and resources that migraine patients want and need to make treatment decisions. When asked what types of information would increase their interest in a new preventive migraine medication, 36% of patients said they wanted information about its side effects, and 28% requested cost information. Separately, when asked what migraine-care resources would be helpful to them, 36% of patients said they could use more information about how a medication works, and 25% said they would find doctor discussion guides helpful.
Drugmakers who can successfully help migraine patients understand that they don’t need to suffer through their symptoms, encourage doctor-patient conversations and empower patients to actively participate in their migraine treatment will benefit as the CGRP market grows increasingly crowded.
For years, the DTC National Conference has showcased the best in direct-to-consumer Rx marketing. At the heart of DTC is the “Patient Experience,” essentially the sum total of each person’s unique journey from illness to treatment and, if the experience is successful, back to some kind of health or “new normal.”
Companies use various metrics to characterize what a good patient experience is like. Many of them are similar to a personalized eCommerce experience where buyers’ needs are met, expectations exceeded. Today’s end-users demand convenience, responsiveness, and ongoing support.
For patients, the stakes are even higher because their health and often their very lives are at risk. Healthcare brands understand this urgency, and they devote significant resources to market research with the hope of understanding patients and optimizing their healthcare experience.
Market research at its best helps pharma brands thrive by providing actionable insights into unmet needs, personal attitudes, treatment options, audience behaviors and triggers, and the effectiveness of marketing campaigns. To accomplish these goals, research agencies traditionally use a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods. But challenges persist, and hybrid approaches often fall short of the insights brands need to succeed.
Recent advances in digital technology have revolutionized market research, and healthcare brands are taking notice. Many of the techniques used by Big Tech giants like Apple, Google, and Amazon are now part of our DTC market research toolkit.
The global pandemic has accelerated progress in digital health, exemplified by increased telehealth adoption and the digitization of market research for pharma brands. From data collection to analysis and reporting, let’s take a look at how digital is changing the game.
The Digitization of Data Collection
A challenge of traditional market research is similar to that facing the health system itself: How do you collect biometrically rich and accurate data to best inform diagnostic and treatment decision making? The human body is speaking to us through data, but are we able to listen?
Patients are speaking, too, and the time has come for market research to do better than fill-in-the-blank surveys and questionnaire bubbles, unnatural interviews and focus groups, and other self-limiting formats. Even rigorous observational studies are subject to bias.
In contrast, consider the power of a patient voice recording compared to a written response from a survey or questionnaire. Patients are already sharing their thoughts and feelings about their experience with a disease state, vaccine, or treatment from their own smartphones.
Not only does a voice recording contain 100x or more data than the written word, but no data is lost or filtered during the input process. The data is also acquired conveniently, candidly, and efficiently, and in a manner that can seamlessly and relatively rapidly scale to need.
Unlike eye-tracking widgets, heat mapping, and other tech, voice offers a comprehensive window into the thoughts and feelings of your patients. By letting them speak for themselves, researchers can listen to the unfiltered essence of what’s on patients’ minds.
A Human & Machine Approach to Data Analysis
After market research data is collected, the information must be analyzed to extract actionable insights. For quantitative research, the application of complex mathematical algorithms is usually involved; for quantitative, human researchers take a much more subjective, and often laborious, approach.
Given these differences between quant and qual data analysis, brands again feel tradeoffs are necessary: mountains of quant data is anonymized and statistically processed for generalized insights, while more dimensional, deeper data sets from smaller qual samples are extrapolated for more nuanced analysis of smaller sample sizes.
Innovative voice technologies offer a better way: trained language scientists conducting qualitative analysis assisted by an AI-powered processing interface that utilizes machine learning tools. Such a hybrid approach reveals insights lost or never inputted in the first place through mere checkbox surveys.
Layering advanced sentiment analysis on top of transcribed textual responses reveals added dimensions of subtle nuance and behavioral indicators. These emotional responses reveal the why behind patient behaviors, providing pharma brands unique insights.
Learning from the likes of Big Tech, a combination of sophisticated software and human-powered analytics can reveal the underlying needs of patients and fulfil unmet expectations for an ideal experience with your pharma brand.
The Digitization of Market Research Reporting
The whole point of conducting market research is to better understand and hopefully improve their experience. Extracting key insights are just the first step – brand teams need effective recommendations to translate data into action.
From Google AdWords and Analytics to Microsoft Azure, Big Tech again leads the way. The presentation of data results in a visual, intuitive, and compelling way is the hallmark of digital supremacy, as PowerPoint decks are replaced by visual, interactive, and intuitive digital interfaces that tell stories.
Layered, dimensional output is another benefit of collecting voice data as opposed to text or other limited inputs. Voice data lends itself well to a dynamic dashboard with insights that drive action, from study design structure to endpoint recommendations to a health-literate lexicon.
The more patient biometric data you collect and analyze, the more nuanced your reporting opportunities. Being able to play original source audio files instantly connects brand teams back to their key stakeholders; hearing the subjects speaking for themselves infuses the output with transparency, credibility, and passion, which gives the research unparalleled credibility.
“Without data,” W. Edwards Deming once said, “you’re just another person with an opinion.” And without a visual, intuitive, and KPI-driven way to dynamically report actionable recommendations back to brand teams, your market research results could get lost in the noise.
Bringing the Patient Experience to Life
Adept brand stewards identify research opportunities across functional teams and the product life cycle, from clinical trials and R&D to primary and health economics and outcomes research, et al. Tailored combinations of quant and qual are the norm – now enhanced with digital.
To best understand patients and their unique needs, you need a market research approach with agility and power. The current opportunity demands a capability with the fluidity and speed of quant and the depth and dimensionality of qual. Digital innovation fills that gap.
Opportunities abound for innovative approaches, such as when patient recruitment is time consuming or tricky; you have more questions and need another layer of insights but have minimal ramp up time; or campaign stimuli need to be tested during the creative development cycle.
By harnessing the natural power of the patient’s own voice, a fresh approach to market research gives additional flexibility and strength to the arsenal of tools already at a brand’s disposal. By embracing the potential of voice for market research, the patient experience is revitalized.
When done with empathy, personalization, and innovation, market research helps explain what the optimal patient experience should be like, and it recommends how healthcare brands can assist in creating it. The digitization of market research adds to the arsenal of digital health and maximizes the power of DTC marketing.
Social media users respond to voice and human connection. People like people. This makes working with influencers an excellent way to impact your target audience.
When the words “social media influencer” are thrown around, it can sometimes trigger thoughts of makeup brands, clothing companies, or even beauty supplements. However, the vast world of social media changes every day, and one of the more recent changes is that anyone can be an influencer. If an online user has followers that hit your target audience, and their content is “brand friendly,” you have the perfect pairing for an influencer partnership that will get you ROI. Healthcare marketing is no exception.
During the pandemic, we’ve seen doctors become even more interested in being connected to brands they love and to their fellow health care professionals. Doctors are open to sponsoring products and devices they’re passionate about, just as a beauty influencer would promote a mascara they love.
Finding the Right Influencer
A lot of brands focus on the number of followers a person has and want to select influencers just based on this number. Don’t get me wrong, having a lot of followers is a great start, but it’s not everything. Influence isn’t just about follower count. Micro-influencers can actually have the biggest impact if they’re the ones who are engaging with the audience you most want to reach.
We are looking for KOLs – Key Opinion Leaders. Whether you’re on the hunt for patient or physician influencers for your brand, you want to ensure that their followers (no matter the number) are within your target audience and are engaging with the potential influencer’s posts.
You also want to make sure the influencer is “brand friendly.” Are they putting out relevant content that aligns with the brand’s message? Are they posting competitor products? Are they using profanity or language that the brand doesn’t want to be associated with?
Analyze an influencer’s profile and feed to determine who fits the brand’s bill. It’s important to establish with the brand’s marketing team that these points are what’s important when choosing influencers. Create a checklist with the marketing team that everyone signs off on. This way, once scouts are sent in to hunt down potential influencers, you are working off a consistent, agreed-upon standard that aligns with the brand strategy.
Choosing the Best Channel
Sometimes there will be questions about which platform to use for influencer programs. I’ve found that researching hashtags is the best way to find out whether a platform is appropriate. For example, if we’re looking for an influencer for a diabetic macular edema drug, we’ll search “DME” or “diabeticmacularedema” in hashtags across platforms. This not only helps give a sense of the conversation but also may provide insight into who is talking about your product or disease state the most.
At the moment, we’re running campaigns on Facebook and Instagram. That’s where the influencers are. But there’s always new players, right?
Enter TikTok. The channel is still new territory in terms of the medical field, but we’re keeping our ear to the ground because of the number of our target audience members that use it. More physicians are moving to TikTok to talk about procedures and patients’ stories. Patients are also going viral with their own stories. This is the kind of platform that can make a campaign go viral.
Content That Matters
When it comes to building the content, we put a lot of focus on staying within FTC and FDA guidelines for distributing information for sponsored content. However, we also try to cultivate a strong, trusting relationship with the influencers.
Get an understanding of their aesthetic on Instagram and how they speak in their posts. Content development is much more of a collaboration than a plug and play. Don’t say, “Okay, we’re going to make this post for you. Here it is. We’re paying you to put it on there.” It’s more that you are getting the influencers’ true thoughts, feelings, and opinions.
It’s important that the posts are in the influencer’s voice. Their audience needs to feel the person behind the post, and the influencer needs to feel they are being properly represented. This is why the working relationship with the influencer is so important.
Encourage influencers to follow along with prompts that are given to them to best align their posts with the goals of the campaign. For example, say, “Tell us about the first time you prescribed X to a patient.” Then take their answer and create a post for them, ensuring that all FTC and FDA language is incorporated. A copywriting team will ensure that you are retaining the influencer’s voice, while also staying compliant. Designers can then add the brand’s logo or important safety information as needed.
Legal Review Can Be a Breeze
To some, especially your MLRC or legal teams, it can be daunting to consider having influencers as branded partners who are not tied to the brand in the way an agency would be. Working with a team member experienced in social media marketing helps marketing teams approach their internal and the legal teams to communicate both the importance of social media influencers and the safeguards put in place to meet FDA and FTC requirements.
A good way to frame it is that this influencer is a kind of contractor. They are working with the brand, they signed a contract, and they are being compensated accordingly. Be careful about who you select. Once that person is on board, they should be trained and monitored the way an agency would be, and their duty to comply with company standards is included in their contracts. It’s important to make these teams comfortable with the idea of influencers and to reiterate that the risk is low and the potential ROI is high.
Once you have the influencer’s posts compiled and the influencer has signed off on them, put the post through internal or MLRC review. Any changes made from this point forward are communicated to the influencer, and work with them to ensure that the post is still in their voice.
After the MLRC team approves the post, provide a post distribution schedule to the influencer with the dates and times their post should go out. They’re given all the assets they need to post it on social media and be successful in doing so.
On the date a post is scheduled to go live, check that the post is live, that everything looks compliant, and that everything is posted as it was approved.
All branded language in these posts is tied to compliance the same way it would be in a normal post that goes out on a brand channel. FTC requirements have become very direct over the years and their requirements are easy to incorporate. For example, at the top of the post, you need to have “#ad” or you need to disclose that this is a paid partnership.
The biggest question for brands is always about how influencers interact with the community once they have distributed these posts. The post goes live and people are commenting on the post. How is the influencer going to interact under that post? How are they going to interact in direct messages? There’s always a big question about adverse events (AE), too. How is this person going to report an AE?
Consider creating a training document that can be molded to your brand. It can include approved responses that the influencer agrees to use under all sponsored content, and also a full briefing and overview on AE reporting and the steps an influencer needs to take to ensure an AE is reported to the brand.
If the brand prefers, the influencer can turn off Instagram comments under their posts so that all interaction on the post is restricted to direct messages. This isn’t ideal as we WANT engagement under the influencer posts, but it’s a compromise we’ve seen in order to push programs through approval.
Working with social media influencers is new to many pharmaceutical and medical device brands. I’ve found that a key to success is having clear, strategic steps that not only help retain control over the outcome, but also make all internal brand teams comfortable with the process.
It is vital for the brand to be properly represented and for regulatory authorities to be satisfied. It is also important for the influencer to feel authentic, which should happen naturally when you select doctors who truly love the brand.
To take full advantage of the potential in these campaigns, the personal voice must stay in the posts. People respond to specific, relatable facets of other human beings.
Again, I think it is important to emphasize that for these campaigns the reward is so much higher than the risk. We’ve seen amazing responses to influencers and from my POV, HCP and patient influencer campaigns deserve to be a standard part of brand planning moving forward for pharmaceutical and med device companies.
For the six in 10 Americans living with a chronic health condition, the COVID-19 pandemic took an especially difficult toll. 69% of people living with chronic disease report the pandemic has made it more difficult to manage their condition, and one in three say the symptoms of their condition worsened during the pandemic. Just as they were beginning to venture back out to in-person appointments with their doctors and to pre-pandemic exercise regimens and social engagements – the Delta variant swept in and put a damper on returning to life as normal.
(Image courtesy of MyHealthTeams)
There is a huge opportunity to engage and help patients with chronic conditions right now by giving them the content and information they need and want, in the setting where they feel safe and comfortable. Follow these six strategies to get an unfair advantage in engaging patients in Q4 and 2022 (all while feeling good knowing you are helping patients).
1. Answer the questions they have – not the questions you want them to have
On the surface this may sound obvious, but it’s amazing how often the healthcare system and pharmaceutical companies fail to address the most important, pressing questions on the minds of the patients they are trying to reach. Case in point – COVID vaccine recommendations. Exactly nobody with Crohn’s disease, or Multiple Sclerosis, or leukemia, or multiple myeloma were comfortable following the CDC’s general guidance about getting the COVID vaccine. They wanted to know whether it was safe for them, given their diagnosis, and their current medication (often an immunosuppressant). If you spend all your time marketing to people with leukemia, then get in their heads. Understand the pressing questions and figure out a way to get them to content that has trusted answers. Doing so will show that you are on their side and interested in helping them achieve better outcomes – not to mention catch their eye, get them to stop what they are doing, and engage with the content you are sponsoring.
2. Bring the experts to the masses
The number of people utilizing telehealth services surged during the pandemic, and while that is a good thing, it is still one patient at a time and reliant on everyone having access to good specialists via telehealth. But now is a great time to bring the specialist, leading experts in a disease, to the masses. Not every patient with vitiligo has access to a dermatologist involved in clinical trials and research in that condition, for instance. So why not do a Live Q&A with the vitiligo expert and make it available to thousands of people with vitiligo (or whatever condition you are serving)? In one hour or less, a doctor can address about 10 hot topics that are top of mind for thousands of people facing the same disease and grappling with similar day-to-day challenges. And for those who can’t make the live event you can always record it for later viewing. Here’s the thing – hospitals don’t typically do this. Insurance companies don’t typically do this. Pharma companies absolutely should do this to engage patients – just make sure you do it with a partner, in a way that is at arms-length, so you don’t have to spend half of your life in MLR review.
3. Empower patients with virtual rehab sessions
Sheltering in place for months on end drove many people living with a chronic condition to try ondemand, at-home opportunities to care for their health – and it worked. The Home Rehab Network, for example, created virtual pulmonary rehabilitation sessions for COPD patients when the pandemic stopped all in-person sessions with respiratory patients. Short, two-minute video tutorials proved especially effective, with 71% of patients who regularly practiced the techniques reporting improvement in their shortness of breath. The content was engaging. Two-thirds of those who tried the techniques made them a daily habit. This type of approach opens up opportunities across many chronic conditions, serving patients who are seeking tips for how to incorporate simple condition-specific rehab exercises into their daily routines.
4. Think beyond the pill to serve the whole person
When surveyed, chronic condition patients consistently point to two factors that most influence their satisfaction with doctors: “Listens to me and understands me” and “Spends enough time with me.” In most cases, what they’re really seeking is recognition and practical advice for some of the things they are facing due to their chronic condition such as stress, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, bladder issues, sleeping issues – or – tips on how to eat healthy and workout safely while living with their specific disease. Filling this gap is a valuable patient engagement opportunity. Resources such as condition-specific nutrition recommendations, recipes and shopping guides, and even destigmatizing topics around mental or sexual health for example, can go a long way toward serving the whole person.
5. Foster strong social connections
There’s a growing body of evidence that strong social connections improve health outcomes. Finding ways to foster communication among people who share the same chronic disease diagnosis helps them share their unfiltered truth – firsthand experiences with treatments and side effects, practical tips for navigating challenges at work or home, emotional support for getting through the tough days, guidance for questions to ask at the next doctor’s appointment. This can happen through traditional patient support groups, of course. But in today’s digitally-driven world, it increasingly happens online – especially in condition-specific patient social networks.
6. Prioritize direct relationships with diagnosed patients
For marketers tasked with reaching diagnosed patients, it’s more important than ever before to prioritize audience quality when evaluating media partners. As Google phases out third-party cookies in a couple of years, these partnerships will be key to reaching and engaging target consumers. First-party data will be king, and the time is now to start building those trusted relationships. Connecting with patients when and where they are actively discussing and seeking information about their health will be essential to patient engagement success in 2022 and beyond.
Ultimately, following these strategies will not only get you strong results, they will also help improve health outcomes by empowering people to make informed health decisions and take the actions that are right for them.