Rob Rebak is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of QualityHealth. He is a 20-year healthcare and interactive marketing industry veteran with a broad range of strategic and operational experience in Fortune 500 and earlier-stage ventures within the pharmaceutical, consumer health, and interactive marketing industries.
PM360: How has the healthcare marketing business changed over the last year?
ROB REBAK: Things have changed in many ways, particularly in the Direct-to-Consumer arena. There’s growing recognition that broad-based DTC awareness programs are less effective than in the past for several reasons. The proliferation of generics, growing influence of managed care, and e-prescribing have all taken their toll. The results of decreasing effectiveness from traditional awareness campaigns will be far reaching. Pharmaceutical companies are, for example, already redirecting their internal personnel and advertising agencies to focus on how to be more successful with online marketing. Issues around online targeting, privacy, and security are under the microscope, however, so the nature of online programs will need to continue to evolve as well.
What new opportunities exist for healthcare marketers to increase ROI?
Within the DTC arena, some of the most exciting things that we see out there are large-scale, performance-based DTC programs. Marketers now realize that the online channel has the scale and impact to generate significant volumes of new Rxs at lower cost. Structuring programs on a performance basis enables marketers to transfer more risk, allowing them to be a bit more proactive in moving their programs online and to take advantage of targeting efficiency and lower media costs. There are also clear benefits to ensuring that their strategic vendors have incentives that are clearly aligned with their own, which will maximize ROI.
Looking toward the future, we would expect to see strong ROI performance from closed-loop systems which connect patients and doctors to ensure higher quality customer interactions. This is something that can be done now in a way that couldn’t be done in the past with the kind of targeting and tracking needed to execute such programs cost-effectively.
What healthcare marketing avenues do you feel are less effective at this point?
We certainly aren’t the only ones seeing it, but the decline in the effectiveness of broad-based DTC advertising, particularly TV, is pronounced. The costs are high, many of the impressions are to consumers who are not prospects, and regulations of the messaging continue to undermine effectiveness. One-way media will find it increasingly difficult to compete with all the growth and diversity available in more effective interactive media of all types.
How does your company’s service offering differ from those of your competitors?
I think it’s really important to establish that the QualityHealth difference goes all the way to our foundation, to our core, our business model of pay for performance, where we measure ourselves by the results our clients achieve—it aligns our company’s values and focus with the brand’s objectives. So in broad-based DTC, for example, marketers pay for gross rating points or impressions and hope to hit their targets. It’s hard to imagine a TV network agreeing to get paid based on how many viewers asked their doctors about a particular brand. With QualityHealth, if a marketer wants to enroll specific types of individuals into a relationship marketing program, they can pay only for the successful enrollments. We think that aligning our payment schedule with the brand objectives is a really big thing, and a very significant difference. Our platform is also 100% opt-in, which facilitates very concrete program ROI attribution. Clear ROI attribution at a large scale is what all DTC marketers should be looking for.
Going forward, we are extending our platform to deliver against the promise of a closed-loop system, which facilitates improved communication between patients and physicians.
What strategic guidance do you have to offer healthcare marketers in our current economic environment?
I think in the current environment, Pharma marketers need to continue to look for efficiencies, and in looking for these efficiencies they should allocate some reasonable portion of their budgets to more performance-based types of marketing initiatives where they can actually pay for actions, at a rate that is guaranteed to hit their ROI targets. It’s a smart thing to do in an efficiency-based environment. For some of the smaller and mid-sized Pharma companies, some of these closed-loop systems also offer the potential to actually do targeted DTC, where DTC may not have been an option for them previously when TV, print, and bigger, broader resources were the only option.
Do you believe social media is an effective healthcare marketing tool?
I believe it is important to “follow the traffic” and to continually refresh the understanding of where consumers are spending their time online, and how they are using new media to gather information or make decisions about their health. Of course it is critical to Pharma to use appropriate platforms that draw upon social media in order to feed and follow the traffic. Whether or not it’s effective depends entirely on how good the platform is. DDMAC hasn’t provided guidance yet, so going into social media environments and having consumers talk about brands can be a very risky proposition. As a traffic feeder though, it can be very effective. Social media is also useful right now as a research tool— it’s relatively safe for Pharma to use it to gather tremendous consumer insights.
I’ll add that the potential for unbranded communications is significant. Take a launch scenario such as the lupus category, where there’s not been a new product in 50 years. There’s a real opportunity to establish awareness without mentioning the brand, affording patients the opportunity to learn about a new option.
Are you finding that formulary coverage patterns are stable, or do you see signs of large changes?
I think that depends primarily on how many products there are in the category. Largely, they’re relatively stable where there’s limited generic or OTC competition. But where there is more competition and/or more generics, and growth in e-prescribing, the formularies are changing, and more aggressively over time, resulting in increased instability. That’s a trend that I don’t see going away.