From a revenue perspective, there may be no industry that benefits from relationship marketing more than healthcare. And for rare disease’s patient/caregiver activations, it’s especially critical.
Relationship marketing does what it says on the tin: it refers to any practice that extends the relationship between a brand and its target market, nurturing toward conversion (and long-term, ongoing conversion, when applicable). Any tactic that falls under lead nurturing or retention/adherence is relationship marketing, and unlocking customer lifetime value is the ultimate goal.
Relationship Marketing’s Deep Healthcare Roots
Under the relationship marketing umbrella are some enormous marketing tools: CRM, omnichannel, test-and-learn, and personalization of all kinds. Any one of these is worthy of an article, but when you consider them together, you see why relationship marketing is relevant across the healthcare spectrum.
The highest customer lifetime values come from chronic conditions, of course. More than half of Americans have a chronic condition, according to the CDC[i], and almost half of Americans have two chronic conditions. That alone presents an incredible amount of Rx opportunity. Relationship marketing keeps patients and caregivers adhering to treatments and keeps healthcare professionals (HCPs) prescribing treatments.
Pre-launch, relationship marketing often has a crucial role. Rare’s unbranded disease education initiatives often launch a year or more before an FDA approval of the treatment, and relationship marketing keeps these audiences primed for a branded launch.
Fundamentally, any marketing beyond the first touch is relationship management, so getting a patient to Rx and then to the first fill/administration—all of that is relationship marketing, as is engaging with HCPs via reps or within a speaker’s bureau.
Why Rare’s Patient Relationship Marketing Is Extra Critical
Relationship marketing is probably most critical for rare diseases, specifically for patient/caregiver marketing, because EVERY SINGLE one of those leads may be critical to success.
To understand why, look to the opposite side of the healthcare spectrum from rare. In the biggest chronic healthcare spaces—diabetes, blood pressure, mental health, birth control—brands have so much of America to choose from, there’s some freedom to get it wrong. Sure, no brand wants to get it wrong, but volume builds in opportunity to fail. Test and learns can try bold options that fall into “love it or hate it” territory. Optimization can look for the most responsive audience with the lowest cost per conversion and cater just to them.
When it comes to rare patients and caregivers, you simply don’t have those options. You prospect where targeting shows any decent volume, likely widening the net to go a bit higher in the funnel, then give every semiqualified lead the white glove treatment.
Most rare brands at least include a considerate, differentiated surround sound that speaks to a broad content strategy framework. Lately, we see some rare brands going all the way to omnichannel.
The unique nature of rare consumer audiences’ relationship marketing needs can’t be overstated.
SMALL TOWN REPUTATION: These patients/caregivers often have a community established, and they will talk about you in it. When you think of the existing Facebook group, subreddit, or advocacy group of a rare disease, think of it like a small town—gossip travels fast, good and bad. Try to give them something good to talk about.
DIG DEEP & DELIVER: These patients/caregivers are in some stage of rare’s diagnostic Odyssey (the exhausting process of getting properly diagnosed and treated). Although the consumerization of healthcare is applicable across the board, these patients and caregivers may know more than their HCPs about their condition. If you give them the same basics found in the first two pages of a Google search on the condition, they will not be impressed: you have to bring more to the table.
RESPECT QUANT DATA: Whatever meaningful data you can find, worship it. For example, there’s often a chasm between what information these patients/caregivers are searching for and what content exists. There’s great opportunity for brands willing to stretch a bit to meet those content needs and incorporate search-discovered topics into their content strategy framework… even if these topics haven’t come up with patient panels and don’t resonate with that small pool.
If everyone who guides rare patient marketing takes away just those three bullets (consider your small town reputation, dig deep and deliver on content, and respect what quant data you have), rare patients will be in a better place. And considering the journey they’ve been on, we really owe it to them to deliver.