"AIM" High and Win

Feb 01, 2009
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

Richard T. Minoff
Who do consumers listen to? The answer in today's business world is "each other." It's an answer that has led to a proliferation of marketing efforts centered on identifying individual "influencers" who drive word-of-mouth and build buzz for a marketer's brand.

Maryellen Royle
The gut-level appeal of such efforts is clear to anyone working in the pharmaceutical space. Growing public distrust of DTC advertising is widely recognized, and distrust of news media can erode the impact of traditional public relations efforts. With these pillars of mass marketing under fire, it's hard to resist the notion of cost-effectively cultivating key individuals who will spread your brand message.

But there's scant evidence that one can pinpoint individual consumers who have extraordinary sway over significant numbers of family, friends, and neighbors. "Reconsidering Models of Influence: The Relationship Between Consumer Social Networks and Word-of-Mouth Effectiveness," a paper published in the Journal of Advertising Research, debunks the notion of pyramid structures of consumer influence. Rather than power concentrating among a small number of highly connected individuals at the top, the paper posits that "the moderately connected majority...hold the greatest potential for influence."

Instead of dedicating efforts to seeking these Holy Grails, marketers should focus on facilitating the spread and circulation of messages across aggregated groups of mid-level influencers.

Find Your Hive, Buzz Will Follow

Sharpen Your AIM
Dorland Global has had remarkable success with programs that seek out this critical middle ground. An Aggregated Influence Marketing (AIM) effort begins with finding groups—or hives—of consumers whose needs align with a particular brand's offering. Dialogue is then cultivated not just between the brand and these mutually engaged consumers, but also among consumers. Talking to each other, teaching each other, and learning from each other while incorporating the brand in the dialogue simultaneously validates, mirrors, and amplifies each participant's unmet needs, creating individual advocates and powerful buzz.

In cultivating these conversations, you will not only position your brand as a potential solution to problems, but also as a legitimate member of a concerned community, establishing long-term relationships that can extend to future efforts.

Unlike in DTP marketing, where KOLs are critical influencers, successful AIM campaigns draw strength from democratic non-expertise. Everyone in the hive is invested in helping each other; they adopt a brand not only because it helps them address a common medical problem, but also because it honors the value of their group bond.

Identifying High-Potential Hives

In developing a new AIM campaign for one of the world's largest producers of influenza vaccine, we analyzed client CDC, category data, and psychographic profiles of potential vaccine customers in order to find valuable new space from a marketing communications perspective. Many schools, large businesses, and pharmacies were already engaged in flu vaccination programs with our client, so we sought a new arena in which to generate interest in the vaccine. The result was a successful program conducted in conjunction with Kiwanis International. The novelty of a flu prevention campaign, plus the effort's natural fit with Kiwanis' overall mission, helped win strong chapter adoption across the US.

The two-phase program began with a lightly branded health education campaign, including training kits created by Dorland Global that allowed chapters to help members understand the importance of annual vaccination. Turn-key kits were developed that featured both our client's and Kiwanis' branding, and the training was offered by group members to other group members. The second phase featured Kiwanis-sponsored community vaccination clinics where our client's brand was the administered vaccine.

The Kiwanis vaccination clinics were promoted via national and chapter Web sites and newsletters, and were featured in chapters' local newspapers, extending the impact of the buzz beyond Kiwanians to broader communities. Our client's brand was regularly included in press releases and coverage.

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