Making Big Waves - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Making Big Waves


Pharmaceutical Executive


Peter H. Nalen
To many marketers, the challenge would seem nearly impossible: introduce a specialty product into a category dominated by a well-established player, and into a marketplace largely satisfied with the existing standard of care. Such was the situation that Tercica, Inc., a subsidiary of the Ipsen Group, found itself in as it prepared to launch Somatuline Depot (lanreotide) Injection, a pre-filled, home-delivered treatment for acromegaly, a rare condition that affects 60 out of every 1 million people.

For Tercica, getting physicians to adopt Somatuline Depot versus staying with the well-established market leader required acknowledging some substantial barriers up front. Few patients were dissatisfied with current treatment options, Tercica was competing against a well-supported and well-established market leader, US physician brand familiarity was low at launch, and Somatuline Depot would have constrained sales and marketing resources compared with the competitor. These challenges meant that Tercica needed a creative and ambitious launch plan for Somatuline Depot.

How can small brands launch against larger, better funded competitors? With speedboat-like maneuverability inherent in interactive marketing.

Prepare the Market

To help establish awareness and drive adoption of its new product, Tercica worked with Compass Healthcare Communications to develop a measurable interactive plan divided into a three-phased approach: prepare the market, launch into the market, and become the market.

You can create pre-launch excitement by developing and launching, as soon as allowed, an initial "placeholder" Web site as a destination for those who are seeking information about the soon-to-be launched brand. In addition, visitors can opt in to a database for the latest news about the brand, launch timing, and availability, which can be used at launch to drive trials.

In the case of Somatuline Depot, the market was neither excited nor clamoring for a new acromegaly treatment. So the goal, to create excitement, was tough. Fortunately, Somatuline Depot offered enough unique benefits to make physicians and patients take notice. Never before in the US had an acromegaly treatment come in a ready-to-use pre-filled syringe for easy injection. Simplicity, efficacy, and tolerability were three key areas that differentiated the product from the competition—and these were the benefits highlighted in the placeholder Web site, developed to generate excitement for the soon-to-be-launched brand.

Ready, Aim, Launch!

The brand's launch was supported on a number of interactive fronts that included:

  • Targeted email blasts to healthcare professionals Endocrinologists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and pharmacists received emails announcing the arrival of the only somatostatin analog in a pre-filled syringe. For pharmacists, in particular, the announcement was particularly newsworthy, as this marked the first time that they would dispense this type of therapy.
  • SomatulineDepot.com launch As the email campaign hit professional audiences, the full brand site was also being launched. The site contained sections for both healthcare professionals and patients. It reinforced to both audiences the key branding hallmarks of Somatuline Depot—simplicity, efficacy, and tolerability. A brief video on the site highlighted features of the product that distinguished it from the market leader—shorter needle length, smaller injection volume, and a subcutaneous delivery method—and emphasized its easy, two-step injection process.
  • Search marketing with the TEEM approach (Targeted, Efficient, Effective and Measurable) Another interactive strategy that helped propel Somatuline Depot into the market was paid search or text ads or sponsored links that appear at the top or side of search results pages. Marketers can buy certain keywords or terms that customers use to search. In leveraging paid search, Tercica was able to identify critical keywords that people were using to find information on the Internet about acromegaly and its treatment. By incorporating the findings from this research, Tercica developed a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy that drove even more qualified traffic to the Somatuline Depot site.

Get Social

To support your patient targets, leverage social media and insight-driven resources. While it may seem farfetched for a small and relatively unknown newcomer to dominate the market, the goal seemed an achievable one. Through our SOCIAL MEDIAtion process, Compass began observing the social media space—identifying key sources of information relevant to our brand such as message boards, Facebook, and other networking groups and online communities.

Next, we identified 20 key sites that contained acromegaly and treatment information, including Mayoclinic.com, About.com, and Drugs.com. To ensure that the Somatuline Depot message appeared in as many places as possible and was always accurately represented, Compass employed its Online Outreach service. Using Online Outreach, Compass developed, distributed, and gained placement of educational content on many of these prominent sites, often with links back to SomatulineDepot.com.

The Results

In terms of building brand awareness, driving traffic to the Web site, and establishing product trial, the results of Tercica's interactive efforts far exceeded the company's goals for the brand.

The email campaign enjoyed a highly favorable open rate, with 13.4 percent of physicians and 11 percent of pharmacists opening the launch announcement email. Of the 18,000 pharmacists who opened the email, close to 7,000 clicked through to the new Somatuline Depot Web site.

Online Outreach efforts resulted in 75 percent penetration and adoption, with eight of the 11 identified sites implementing the educational content submitted to them.

Furthermore, Tercica was especially pleased with how many patients and healthcare professionals visited SomatulineDepot.com. In the first 12 months post-launch, more than 32,000 unique visitors arrived at the site, with 80 percent of site traffic being delivered via paid search.

Not only were the interactive marketing efforts successful in driving qualified traffic to the site, once visitors arrived, but they were also effective in driving online traffic. Visitors averaged 6.2 minutes on the site with 125 visitors opting into the database in the first month alone (60 percent of those were patients; 40 percent, healthcare professionals). Within the first six months, 115 consumers signed up for the CRM program, and 20 percent of CRM enrollees went on to print the online coupon for Somatuline Depot, with 46 percent of them redeeming it.

Somatuline Depot is living proof that for small, specialty pharma companies, interactive marketing can bring them into the big leagues, but more importantly, emerge them as a star player. While Big Pharmas may have greater resources, their sheer size can cause them to move slowly, like a battleship. So, get moving—propel your brand into the market like a speedboat, and in the process, create powerful waves.

Peter H. Nalen is president and CEO of Compass Healthcare Communications. He can be reached at

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