Pharma marketers have to change their current paradigm of disconnected channels and content silos, along with sparse (or absent) social media interaction, and create authentic campaigns that leverage a specific goal for each channel—while putting the patient at the center of it all.

If you’re like me, when you think of Disney, you think of incredible stories and experiences. But in 1939, Walt Disney had a problem, similar to one that we in pharma face today. He had a multi-disciplinary team working on a complicated project—the remarkable musical score for Fantasia. But, similar to what I see across the pharma industry, he feared audiences would have a less-than-incredible experience with his brand. The low-quality sound technologies of the day could only deliver what Disney described as the “thin, tinkly and strainy” sound of a single speaker from behind a movie screen.1

The solution? He and his engineers created what would become “surround sound”—a richer, far more immersive way to engage movie audiences and make them feel like they were part of the adventure. And he didn’t stop there. Disney’s multi-channel program drove awareness of Fantasia, audience engagement and motivation to action—not only to see the movie, but ignite viral word of mouth marketing that drove others to action. While Disney was leveraging multi-channel marketing, he still wasn’t thinking multi-social. And in today’s environment, pharma marketers need to take that extra step. Simply being “multi-channel” is not enough, and social marketing alone is not enough—welcome Multi-Social.

We all know the elephant in the living room with just one example being the heart palpitations that pharma marketers have around social media administration, monitoring and legal concerns. It’s not surprising, then, that few pharmaceutical companies have fully embraced a multi-social strategy—one that integrates offline, web, mobile and social components into a cohesive story that addresses the needs and preferences of key audiences while respecting the nuances particular to each channel or platform. Therein lies the rub, but also the fertile ground of opportunity.

 Enter Cartier—Stage Right

It was February 2012, and holy…did Cartier blaze a trail in marketing. The jewelry maker showcased a video titled L’Odyssée de Cartier at an event at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art ( The video beautifully evokes the Cartier brand, draws viewers into its story, takes you through a breathtaking journey of their history (while cleverly promoting their products throughout the piece), and makes a distinct emotional connection with its audience (Figure 1).


What also stands out about the video is the highly successful campaign that Cartier built around it. TV and cinema advertising exposed a worldwide audience to the video, and Cartier highlighted it on their website and in their online magazine. What really got traction, however, was creating a Facebook page and, especially, placing the video on YouTube where it received nearly 10 million views in four weeks.

Enter Drive4COPD—Stage Left

In PM360’s March Digital Compendium I wrote about Drive4COPD, a joint initiative between Boehringer Ingleheim and the COPD Foundation. It is, in my opinion, the Cartier of the pharma examples. The program, which the company handed off to the foundation in 2012, is the Official Health Initiative of NASCAR and integrates online and offline elements including a Twitter feed (, Facebook presence (, website (, contact center, employer toolkit, events and sponsorship of driver Austin Dillon (Figure 2).


I know from experience that the interconnectedness of the messages and offers make it easy for the COPD audience to see themselves in the story and, ultimately, connect with BI’s COPD therapy, Spiriva. On the Facebook page, I posted about a real friend of mine with COPD and received advice from patients and caregivers. Then Click-to-Chat on the Drive4COPD website connected me to a live nurse counselor who provided more advice. I also received the proper direction to talk to my doctor when the discussion got too close to the brand or specific medical diagnosis/treatment.

There was no mention of Spiriva, but did I notice who sponsored the website? Yep. Did I research COPD, BI and treatments? Yep. Did I discover a product to recommend that my friend talk about with his doctor? Yep. Could this make his next visit to his doctor more valuable, take less time, and generate a better outcome—quite possibly…yep.

This campaign demonstrates great progress toward multi-social marketing, and there are a few other examples in our industry, but it’s still not true multi-social.

Four Tenets of True Multi-Social

Multi-social is about storytelling. By helping audiences to see themselves as the protagonists on a path of discovery and interaction, you help them address important challenges with the confidence that comes from having the support of caring people. It’s not enough to have your core creative and messaging spread across your online and offline channels; instead, brands should tell an entire story so all members of the cast (physicians, nurses, pharmacists, payers, patients and caregivers) must move through initial diagnosis to acceptance of treatment to taking action and seeing what success looks like on appropriate therapies. Adopting the following four principles is essential.

1. Remove the silos. From a tactical perspective, the key to multi-social marketing is integration, and that’s largely what’s missing today. To foster engagement across channels requires cross pollination of content and calls-to-action, helping you connect with audiences where they’re interacting. Consistent messaging and design are essential, but the tone and content in each channel will vary based on audience expectations and where patients are in their journey.

2. Honesty is the only policy. Authenticity and transparency are hallmarks of multi-social. People trust others who provide reliable information that is either unbiased or honest about its biases. When planning a multi-social strategy, get commitment from the top down to always communicate with integrity and with slightly more openness than is typically comfortable (and yes, you’re going to need to pull your regulatory team along in this journey).

3. Be where your audience is. Don’t assume anything. In social media especially, it’s easy to be blinded by the big headlights (Facebook and YouTube) or to chase countless fireflies (new apps and community-building platforms). So include investing, testing and piloting in your budget. Audiences move and in social in particular, it’s fairly easy and inexpensive to test different platforms before investing heavily in those that work and, more importantly, avoiding those that don’t.

4. Measure what counts. In addition to your channel-specific metrics you’ll need an over-arching set of key performance indicators (KPIs). One of these is multi-social engagement. In short, plan to assess audience engagement and interaction across channels—and ladder those up to your business objectives and revenue targets. Create a one-to-two page dashboard that’s meaningful, not five different 60–100 page reports from each of your agencies. You also need to know which segments are interacting most with which channels and content. These insights help you to refine your story and optimize your investments.

Another important measure is cross channel migration. Specifically, examine the movement to and from different media and content types—offline to digital, digital to social, social to digital, and so on. Visualizing that business intelligence in conjunction with the dates of specific initiatives in your campaigns, such as when a TV spot runs or an e-newsletter goes out, will help you connect the dots between marketing tactics, audience engagement and ultimately, sales.

The Stats Don’t Lie

In case you have doubts, I’ve got the stats to show that key pharma audiences are ready and waiting for a multi-social approach.

The 2011 ePharma Consumer report from Manhattan Research shows that not only do “42% of online adults agree that pharmaceutical companies should be involved in online health communities for consumers” but only 19% disagree while 39% are impartial.

A study in the September 2012 Journal of Medical Internet Research reported that 61% of doctors surveyed use social media once a week or more to scan or explore medical information for new insights, and 58% of doctors reported using social to seek specific information about a medical condition or problem.2

In its Health 2011 Point-of-Care Survey, Wolters Kluwer found that “63% of physicians report changing an initial diagnosis based on new information accessed via online resources/support tools.”3

Among caregivers, in its Family Caregivers Online 2012 report, Pew revealed that 79% of caregivers have Internet access and, “of those, 88% look online for health information, outpacing other Internet users on every health topic included in our survey.”4

And we’ve all seen the stats about the growth of health research online via computers and mobile devices.

The Future is “Ownable”

I started by describing Disney and the creation of surround sound. I’ll finish by drawing on Walt’s legend just a little further.

Disney personifies the axiom, “Don’t follow—lead.” He understood the power of a great story to connect with people and the power of technology to help fill their need to be a part of the experience. He didn’t wait for other studios to show the way for him, and the company he founded thrives because of his vision and tenacity.

So don’t wait—instead ask yourself these questions: “Have I adequately assessed my multi-social readiness? Have I focused on a set number of social and traditional channels, with a defined role for each?” If you’re not satisfied with your answers, you need to get cracking ASAP if you want to reach your sales and marketing goals.

In the end, make sure you establish a presence and leverage content to drive visitors and engagement, and remember at each point to surround your audience with consistent, authentic experiences that place them at the center of the story.


1. “Mickey Mouse Goes Classical” by Andrew R. Boone, Popular Science, January, 1941.

2. “Understanding the Factors That Influence the Adoption and Meaningful Use of Social Media by Physicians to Share Medical Information,” Journal of Medical Internet Research, September 2012.

3. Wolters Kluwer Health 2011 Point-of-Care Survey,

4. Ibzd., Family Caregivers Online, Pew Internet & American Life Project, July 12, 2012,

  • Kurt Mueller

    Kurt Mueller is Chief Digital & Science Officer for Roska Healthcare Advertising, which is redefining acceptance, relationships, and multi-channel marketing for healthcare brands.


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