Should Pharma Go Culture Casting?

by Carl Turner, SVP, Director of Insight and Brand Strategy, Palio

If 2011 showed us anything, it’s that the people have the power.

Marketing messages and buying digital advertising is still important, but companies today are using advertising less to promote their products and more to direct consumers to their Facebook or Twitter pages. With conversations taking center stage for extending brand messages, it’s time for pharmaceutical companies to go culture casting and find brand influencers to support them in communicating key messages.

Pharmaceutical companies have long relied on other people to pitch their products and tell their story. Key opinion leaders such as physicians who hold academic titles at medical schools often partner with pharmaceutical companies to speak at industry events or participate in detailing prescription drugs to doctors. Physicians have also long been the conduit of information for patients. But, with more individuals going online for health information, their role is changing.

Physicians will continue to play an active role in influencing decisions, but having a doctor endorse a drug or treatment is similar to a mother giving advice to a teenager. While parents are often right, it’s the peer group that holds the most influence. The same is true for communicating with patients; other people may be the most influential opinion leaders. Going culture casting and finding the most active patient participants can help influence public opinion in an authentic manner.

Pharmaceutical advertising has incorporated the stories of real patients to connect with customers. Smoking-cessation drug Chantrix has people sharing their experiences quitting smoking. Long Island Jewish Medical Center uses a narrator to tell the tale of real patient encounters. New York Columbia Presbyterian hospital features actual patients who are undergoing treatment or have overcome an illness thanks to physician expertise and state-of-the-art facilities.

Market research supports the power of peer influence. Tapping into the power of empowered patients can play a meaningful role in other’s health care decisions.

Why should pharma cultivate more brand ambassadors?

*There will be negative stories. Transparency is a must, and that means patients will be posting about procedures that went wrong or drugs that weren’t effective. Encouraging patients who had a more positive experience to post and share their stories can provide balance and perpetuate positive messages.

*Buzz builds buzz. An expert word-of-mouth network can support the launch of a new drug, foster discussion around new health guidelines, or raise awareness of a clinical trial. Getting people talking – whether that’s posting comments on your blog, retweeting messages or interacting with their followers and sharing opinions and views – can provide the support patients need to help them make informed decisions. And, the more influential and vocal an individual becomes, the more their network listens to them and turns to them for advice.

*People remember stories. People tuned into your culture tell the most compelling stories – which are much more memorable than marketing messages. That’s because people remember stories that elicit an emotion and it’s sometimes hard to differentiate marketing messages. Plus, as people develop a following, they build trust and their opinions tend to be valued.

The current pharma landscape still doesn’t offer guidelines for social media participation, but it’s not stopping patients from talking and influencing their networks. Going culture casting and enlisting the help of the most influential patients can help companies establish an online presence, inform people of an unknown disease or treatment, elicit hope or provide support to patients and improve disease care.

What are you doing to engage patients and get people talking?

Palio is an advertising agency revolutionizing pharmaceutical and healthcare marketing to create experiences that will Never Be Forgotten.


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