Lessons Learned by a Pharma Marketer: A Case Study

I have always visualized data as a river rushing down a mountain pass with stones representing the seemingly small but collectively important answers to our toughest strategic questions. Many successful marketing campaigns are like the river, littered with slippery, strategic choices. But committing to walking across the river and choosing the stones carefully, before you put your foot down, can help brands meet regulatory requirements, succeed and maintain their sales sustainability.

Unlike the 1990s when our sales tools and messages were paper and analog based, pharma is enjoying a digital renaissance as massive amounts of data are accumulated—in provider offices, ERs and hospitals. “Big Data” provides marketers with the ability to make strategic adjustments in real time with pinpoint accuracy. Perhaps the most important thing marketers must do when building a wellness program is to collect Big Data.

A few years ago, our marketing team developed an eye care wellness program to engage, educate and empower patients to visit their healthcare professional. We needed to develop a campaign that fulfilled three criteria: 1) build an unbranded program; 2) one that must assist with quality ratings tied to Medicare; and 3) impact the budget minimally. How did we get patients to access and use it? Our answer was digital since it provided the scalability and mobility options we needed within budget.

Sometimes a marketer’s biggest obstacles to launching a program are internal; this was the case initially as we began to develop our wellness program. Executing a campaign that was exclusively digital can be uncomfortable for finance and leadership groups. As with most traditional companies, certainties and solid return on investment analyses were required. So we created reporting dashboards to reassure internal leadership groups that the river was flowing in the right direction.

Review Regulatory from Start to Finish

We also had to overcome regulatory and compliance misunderstandings to even begin the project. The main regulatory concern was ensuring that all videos, apps and brochures consistently supported eye care and did not wander into unrelated disease areas.

One significant regulatory hurdle came up during the development of the smartphone app, which was created as a patient empowerment application to encourage patients to visit their healthcare provider. The app embodied the foundation of our wellness platform and was pivotal to our success.

The challenge: Explaining to our regulatory and compliance committee that the mobile app was neither a toy nor a diagnostic tool. If the app were taken too seriously as a diagnostic tool, it would raise regulatory concerns. If it were viewed as a toy, it would not be used. We overcame this challenge by having an internal eye care physician provide guidance on its development, improve the layout and support us throughout the regulatory process. Moreover, we learned firsthand how important an expert advocate can be in overcoming regulatory concerns and alleviating issues before they derail your project. By conducting regulatory concept reviews and leveraging expert guidance from genesis throughout every development phase, we eased concerns and secured every milestone. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and the program provided information, hope and engagement to many patients.

However, we stepped on a slippery stone and took a slight spill. There was one question we missed: How to effectively measure our progress and, if needed, change course in real time. Without this critical data, we were uncertain about the program’s sustainability and could not provide a clear answer to senior leadership. So a plan is now in place to re-build the wellness program with an analytics-based, data-generating engine. Someday, data from the wellness program will shed greater light on its success and sustainability. It will also shine light on the sure steps forward and where the slippery stones may lie.