Direct to Consumer: Q&A with Jill Balderson

More Education, Less Promotion. Patient materials should teach rather than tell.
Mar 01, 2006

Jill Balderson
Dtc ads often don't teach consumers how to tackle their health issues. They may disseminate information, but they don't tell consumers how to act on that information. Jill Balderson, vice president of strategic marketing services at HealthEd, says consumers deserve more education and less promotion from pharma marketers. "Sometimes the most valuable and useful information—such as how to use the product—gets muddled in a promotional message," she says. "Education means giving patients information they need to know in order to see a positive outcome." She says that traditional patient materials lack the clarity and specificity that consumers need to learn about a disease or illness, let alone follow the medication's directions. But, Balderson believes times are changing. "Marketers are starting to realize that consumers need information they can not only understand but use," she says.

Balderson talks to Pharm Exec about the value of educational marketing in improving patient compliance. She gives insight into how to craft effective educational materials that speak to patients with different learning styles.

Pharm Exec: How do you define educational marketing? And how does this approach differ from traditional DTC strategies?

Lilly's "Depression Hurts" campaign educates people on the less-talked-about physical symptoms of depression.
Balderson: I definitely see a shift from a heavy-handed branded approach to a more informational approach. But I don't think information is the same as education. Health education is a process that is very personal and complex. We need to do more than just distribute information—we need to look at how consumers process, internalize, and act on information. Educational marketing should deliver information, instead of promotional messages, free trials, offers, and premiums. At its best, educational marketing takes into account all of these challenges. It helps teach rather than tell. And it's the responsible thing to do.

What is the value of educational marketing for consumers?

Many people have certain barriers to action. That barrier could be seeking treatment for a condition, accepting a diagnosis, or making the informed decision to take that therapy and stay on it. Some people don't have the skills to talk about their symptoms with doctors or to integrate the task of taking a pill into their everyday life. Some people may just not believe in using drugs to treat a condition. In a lot of ways, people tend to think that by not acting, they are putting themselves at less risk. A successful educational program effectively helps patients overcome these barriers.

What role should healthcare professionals play in disseminating disease information?

Nowadays, healthcare professionals are seeing more patients, but spending less time with each of them. So, they generally welcome marketing materials that can effectively educate. They promote materials that allow their patients to accurately interpret and understand their symptoms and encourage them to track those symptoms over time. This way doctors know which medications work and which don't. While some doctors' offices have a no-branded-materials policy, we find that by increasing the utility of the materials, we can help break down the no-branded mentality.

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