Alternative Media: Mouthing Off - Pharmaceutical Executive


Alternative Media: Mouthing Off
Word-of-mouth marketing provides insight into patients' attitudes on drugs and treatments.

Pharmaceutical Executive

Here is a sampling of questions for which these conversational data can provide answers: Why do certain patients trust one brand and not another? In positioning your new drug, how did the market perceive your competition's launch six months prior? How are patients reacting to negative results of a recent clinical trial, or a full-blown black-box warning? Are there false or damaging buzz storms circulating about your brand? Which patients are most evangelical about your brand, and which ones are detractors?

Word-of-Mouth Igniters

Word-of-mouth research can give the industry great insight into strategic decisions surrounding drug launches, black-box warnings, patient feedback, and product development and positioning. But companies must take a strategic approach to obtaining this information.

Delivering content to the most engaged is a good start. Your most highly involved patients are the word-of-mouth igniters. They are thirsty for information and will become the agents of your message. To reach them, it's important to create separate Web sites or information centers with deeper information and exclusive features that can be accessed by influential customer segments, and then carried forward to a larger audience. These information centers should contain features such as expert opinions, deep technical content, "talkable" new ideas, community interaction, and attentive corporate ears to engage in deep dialogue.

For example, in late 2004 when AstraZeneca encountered backlash for the Crestor brand, it developed a Web site called Countering misinformation and a serious buzz storm, the site regularly delivers updated content about Crestor to patients and caregivers seeking deeper information than what is usually contained on a standard brand Web site. The site features information from a number of sources, including AstraZeneca, FDA, recent clinical trials, and expert opinions. All of the facts are presented in an easy-to-understand format and visitors are able to contact Astra Zeneca with further questions and can email the page to their personal contacts.

Another tactic to engage consumers and patients is to use special events to deliver messages. These can include webinars, live online chats, in-person meetings and facility tours to introduce new products, treatments, or ideas. Recruiting experts to participate in these events will lend credibility to your program. Participants should leave with new, "buzzworthy" ideas—ones they are excited to share with their peers.

WebMD provides a fantastic forum for pharmaceutical companies to talk to their key constituents. The healthcare Web site regularly moderates seminars between medical professionals and patients. The professionals who participate in these events are highly regarded experts within their particular field. Since these events are run through WebMD, they are not perceived as being biased, even though they are generally sponsored by a pharmaceutical company. Participants at these online seminars have an opportunity to ask questions that the experts answer.

Welcoming online commentators aboard can also prove beneficial. Online influencers, such as nurses, family members and patients themselves, often develop large audiences and are not limited by geographic barriers. Furthermore, their opinions and reporting are often trusted more than official news media.

It's also important to develop genuine, one-on-one relationships with leading medical bloggers, discussion group leaders and similar individuals who serve as filters and authority figures to their respective groups.


It can also be beneficial to insert word-of-mouth programs into your existing marketing infrastructure. Pharma marketing typically requires extensive and expensive scrutiny from the legal department, so latching onto existing programs lessens the administration and oversight typically required.


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