By Guy Mastrion
The consumer is not an idiot she is our medium.
We have a lot to learn from social media. The new and powerful insights gleaned from this environment offer us fresh perspectives on what matters most to the communities we serve, and what does and does not work for them.
Social media is democracy in action. If you spend even a few minutes on Flickr, and search diabetes, you will quickly realize that there is a community of highly engaged patients pouring out their hearts about everything from how hard they find it to be successfully compliant with their meds and glucose meters. We could not write better or more engaging dialogue and we shouldnt try.
A couple of things you will notice immediately: there is tremendous support for each other among this group of patients; and good products get lots of attention while the products that do not perform as expected quickly become minimized. What this means for marketers: good products will survive, but great products will thrive, and word spreads at lightning speed. It also means that advertising had best be truthful and not hyperbolic because patients have an Internet-based resource for information about a product or service beyond your company Web site, TV, and other promotions, with content that speaks from the heart.
Lets imagine a world in which we embrace social media for its heartfelt content and not fret over the desire to control and codify all communications related to a product or service; what we have is an on-going data feed about how any given product is really performing. This does a couple of important things for marketers and the FDA: first, it makes their jobs easier concerning observing real-world performance; and second, it extends their reach by enlisting the help of social media in the reporting of issues.
For more on social media and the reporting of adverse events see the Nielsen online paper:
Listening to Consumers in a Highly Regulated Environment
How Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Can LeverageConsumer-Generated Media
Assuming that a product is safe and delivers an approvable level of efficacy, it will live and die in the market on its ability to perform in the real world. The big difference now is that well have almost immediate feedback from consumers to doctors to pharmacists to marketers, and of course the FDA. There is no place left to hide and creative selling will not save a product that does not deliver.
Patients are at the heart of this prescription
Patients benefit from this level of discourse. Armed with feedback from other patients, they are better prepared for more meaningful dialogue with physicians and caregivers, their expectations are more in-line with reality, and they have a support group that is just a few clicks away. Doctors and other healthcare providers, marketers, and the FDA can drop in on these conversations and possibly even sponsor them. Listening carefully and being cautious not to overstep the boundaries of social media,we will learn first-hand what is and is not working.
Social media is emotional media
Compared to traditional advertising and marketing of consumer products like automobiles and packaged goods, pharma marketing has always been slightly veiled. A products total efficacy and resulting level of success has only been available to a relatively small number of people and the level of information and access to that information has been limited. DTC advertising began to change that and we all found ourselves suddenly aware of things, such as side effects, but the deep information was still hard to reach. The Internet and Web sites opened up more of that information to consumers, but it was mostly technical and promotional information and an onslaught of fair balance info that taught most of us to stop listening.
How many of you remember the Yugo, the little car with the big promises from Yugoslavia? This car was going to help rescue America from earlier economic disasters of fuel shortages and a down economy. The Yugo launched in America with great fanfare, a fantastic PR campaign built expectations, and a really wonderful ad campaign created a great personality for this little car. Many Americans could not wait to get their hands on it; and, once they did, those same Americans were furious to learn the hard way that the car was a complete disaster on wheels. Because this was a product of massive consumer potential and the auto plays so heavily in the lives of most Americans, the true news of how bad this car performed spread rapidly through the media. Within weeks of launch, the little Yugo was dead in the American market. Great marketing will not save a bad product. A brand is a promise and when the promise of that brand is not fulfilled in the market, trust is lost and consumers turn their backs.
Social media has the potential to be the leveler of pharmaceutical products and healthcare services. Even though the relative market size for any given therapy may pale by comparison to the automobile market, we now have a media that treats the news about the quality of these products as equal in importance, with a global reach at the speed of light. For smart marketers with good products, the emotive power of social media will be a positive force of change.
Trust has always been at the heart of all effective advertising, it is no different today
In their first book, Trust Agents, Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, give us powerful insights and strong building blocks to begin our own process of harnessing social media and digital technologies to establish trust for our brands.
Social media offers us the opportunity to weave together, for our industry and our brands, a powerful network of trust built on real emotion and insight. This will not simply help us do a better job as marketers, but will hold the potential to help us be betterpartners with healthcare practitioners and their patients, and maybe, just maybe, improve patient outcomes through a greater sense of trust and shared responsibility.
What do you think? Do you see the potential in social media to help improve healthcare?
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