There are myriad reasons why patients may bypass CHD marketers' messages. Some older patients may feel frustrated by the number
of pills they need to take and the degree to which medications disrupt their lifestyles. Other CHD patients may not realize
that their cholesterol levels are out of the normal range and could be a contributing factor to CHD. And while overcoming
that obstacle is a core challenge for pharma marketers, it is, of course, possible. Just look at the grassroots "Know Your
Numbers" health-education campaign: It urges consumers to learn their blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose levels,
and it has effectively increased awareness and treatment of hypertension, dyslipidemia, and diabetes in communities supporting
the campaign. Key to the campaign's success is close adherence to health-literacy guidelines—using clear, common language
and plainly identifying the action to take, why it's important, and specific next steps (testing and follow-up discussions
with healthcare providers).
Today, many companies are making headway by creating personalized disease-management programs—what some in the industry are
calling "a pill and a plan"—to help patients better navigate the range of factors that affect their health behaviors. Personalized
health communication enables marketers to vary the messages they deliver to patients with different needs and abilities, and
it increases their ability to motivate different patients to act.
"It's getting harder and harder to justify using only a DTC/broadcast-promotion approach," says Tom Snow, EMD Serono's director
of marketing, reproductive health. "Many disease states require more nuanced, complicated relationship-marketing initiatives."
For example, EMD Serono combines offline tactics, like a toll-free number, with online strategies to help patients become
more engaged in their treatment plan. "We have created online tools for our
http://fertilitylifelines.com/ Web site to help people self-navigate to the information that is most relevant to them," Snow says. "For instance, the My
Fertility Profile tool asks users a series of questions about age, medical history, and how long they've been trying to conceive,
and then generates a customized report."
Other companies are attempting to tackle the emotional barriers to engagement. For example, Lilly includes an interactive
video module that explores specific attitudes and beliefs about depression on its
http://cymbalta.com/ Web site. Unlike typical pharmaceutical Web sites, the language used on the navigational tabs and in the videos reflects
the real words that people use to describe their feelings about depression. By avoiding medical jargon and "sanitized" terms,
the content is more approachable and more easily understood by people with low health-literacy skills.
Certainly, these tools can be used for health-information seekers. But for brand teams, their return on investment really
comes in terms of providing individualized support after a patient sees the physician, so that the tool helps the patient
better interpret the physician's care.
The NAAL findings confirm what many marketers already knew: A much-needed innovation in marketing and patient care will come,
in part, from more focused, understandable, and relevant disease information. However, Snow warns that developing these communications
can be very resource intensive and, therefore, cost prohibitive. In those cases, pharma companies may decide to reassess current
executions rather than reworking entire marketing campaigns.
Some companies have started to personalize their patient brochures and other programs for certain audiences by changing the
images and including messages relevant to the target group. Others are tackling health literacy by ramping up the number of
delivery platforms (like podcasts, blogs, and text messages) used to disseminate health information, in an effort to bring
these messages to a wider audience. But the NAAL study results show a simple truth: Despite innovation in the delivery of
these messages, too much drug advertising and healthcare information is not understood.
Instead, the industry must take a critical examination of the content, style, tone, reading level, and layout of its communication.
As a first step, companies should ensure their brand messages are understood and actionable by consumers at even very low
levels of health literacy. "It's important to take what can be very complex and boil it down to the simplest-possible description,"
says Anne Myers, patient marketing manager for Lilly's neuroscience portfolio. "Communicate with people at their level."