Get Organized

Jul 01, 2009

Megan Svensen
The last presidential campaign brought two words into the lexicon of political and popular culture when the ultimate "community organizer," Barack Obama, was elected President. Pundits credit much of Obama's electoral success to the vast grassroots network he built by applying some of the core principles of community organizing. The good news for pharma marketers is that the principles and tools of community organizing are effective for far more than winning elections; they can also build powerful brand communities.

In this digital marketing age, consumers increasingly want to be part of the brand conversation rather than passive receivers of brand messages. This environment creates the perfect opportunity for brand marketers to recast themselves as community organizers of sorts, advocating and mobilizing on behalf of the brands they support to achieve their own successful results.

Not So Strange Bedfellows

Community organizing is a process by which people living in proximity to each other are brought together to act in their common self-interest and achieve social change through collective action. For pharma, however, community organizing takes a slightly different form. Rather than geographical proximity, we are looking to build communities of patients, using a shared condition and the desire to live a better life as the ties that bind.

The concept of a brand community focuses on connections between consumers; it is a community based on attachment to a product or the need to gain support surrounding a condition or disease. As time passes, the brand community begins to draw its strength from relationships with fellow community members, building a deeper and richer community that can benefit the brand that brought patients together.

Core Principles

Though brand communities are not geographically bound, there is still much that marketers can learn from community organizers to mobilize and connect their target consumers. Specifically, there are three core principles of community organizing—reflection, relationship building, and action—as identified by the Marin Institute, a non-profit that has successfully used community organizing as part of their mission to reduce alcohol problems through environmental prevention.

When used effectively, these principles can translate to PR strategy planning and program development, with the ultimate goal of creating strong and sustainable brand communities on behalf of clients. Novo Nordisk is one company that is doing a good job of using their category leadership to build brand communities. Here's how that company is putting these three core principles to work:

Reflection A community organizer must get to know the community he or she will be working in as a way to lay the foundation for the work that comes later. This includes talking to community members to gauge their concerns and identify the issues that are important to them. It means listening to people's stories, finding a common thread, and working to share those stories to help bring about change.

For pharma marketers, an important first step in formulating a strategy is to take time for thoughtful, deliberative assessment. It's crucial to understand the marketing challenges and opportunities. This understanding is not possible without listening to the target audience. How do they feel about their condition? How do they feel about their treatment? How can you make an emotional connection? Brand communities are driven by connection and passion, thus a brand must engage emotionally to win consumer engagement.

Novo Nordisk's "Be the Face of Change" diabetes education campaign is an example of effectively engaging a community—in this case, diabetes patients—by learning about their concerns. Living with diabetes requires adapting to new lifestyle habits and adjusting to new and sometimes different treatment regimens over time, including insulin. Through the DAWN (Diabetes Attitudes, Wishes and Needs) program, Novo Nordisk partnered with International Diabetes Federation and an international expert advisory board to improve psychosocial support for people with diabetes worldwide. Research from the DAWN study showed people with diabetes need support and coaching to master their disease in daily life and deal with the medical and psychosocial challenges it brings.

"Be the Face of Change" was developed to inspire and encourage patients to embrace the changes required to live healthy lives with their disease. This was achieved through real patients sharing their stories of successful diabetes management via a photo exhibit. By celebrating their examples, Novo Nordisk sent a message to people living with diabetes that managing diabetes is within reach.

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