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Can DTC Marketers Develop Digital Content Interesting Enough to Hold the Attention of Patients?

The strategic role of content marketing in DTC campaigns is a hotly debated topic. While many industries have shifted their focus to building content that is authentic, educational and even whimsical in the hopes of building a rapport with patients, the healthcare industry is still finding its voice. Brands leading discussions can be perceived as self-serving, and creating authority in a world where brand communications are rarely heard is a challenge.

When determining the role of content marketing for Rx brands in the healthcare industry, our hands may be tied a bit, but it can still be a valuable tool when used correctly. The greatest opportunity for Rx brands is in content with broad appeal, because content has to compete for attention on a level playing field with everything from information to community to entertainment. This means that therapies addressing conditions with larger patient populations are most likely to have success with content marketing.

Given that content can travel across the Internet, many pharmaceutical marketers aren’t comfortable with models that distribute branded content into places their legal teams aren’t able to approve ahead of time. For many, this will mean that initial content marketing tests are best conducted with unbranded communications. Before you start producing content though, developing and agreeing upon a sound strategy is key.

It is important to focus on information patients, KOLs and caregivers want from you. Not trying to be everything for everyone is difficult to accept, but having focus can still allow your voice to be heard.

The recent campaign by Shire Pharmaceuticals does just this. The campaign focuses on driving education and awareness around Binge Eating Disorder (B.E.D.), a condition officially recognized in 2014 by the American Psychiatric Association. When treated, Shire benefits with approval of their drug Vyvanse being the only medication approved to treat moderate to severe B.E.D. in adults in the US. Because of this unique situation, they are in a position to drive the conversation around B.E.D. among patients in a landscape where they are one of the few voices.

When you are in a position to drive a conversation it is easy to be heavy-handed and talk only about your company or brand. This is one of the biggest mistakes Rx brands can make in this area. Eisai Pharmaceuticals developed a content and social campaign around their weight-loss drug Belviq. They have developed a social strategy under their corporate name, which is a step in the right direction, but it is clearly focused only on their own agenda.

It is no surprise that the above message has very little engagement as the entire program is focused on promoting their support and savings programs. Consumers can sense when they are being sold to versus having a conversation with, and will act accordingly.

While consumers hate being sold to, they do appreciate and trust authorities. Focusing your information to the right audience is important, but proving to be the authority on that information is what will gain traction and trust with your audience. Biogen Idec recently announced a partnership with two athletes who will act as patient advocates for the company’s multiple sclerosis campaign, Both Tyler Campbell (former NFL prospect) and Chris Wright (former NBA player) suffer from the disease and take Biogen’s MS infusion treatment, Tysabri. The goal of is to drive MS sufferers to submit their own inspirational stories just as both Tyler and Chris have. Chris Wright (@self_madeest89) is regularly promoting the site as well as his own foundation while Tyler Campbell’s Hall of Fame father Earl (@earlccampbell) also actively promotes the effort.

This is a great example of a brand knowing they cannot always be the face of a content campaign and get the results they want. Instead they align themselves with an authority figure that can help get the message out.

A common hurdle most pharma content marketing campaigns face is keeping content fresh. A large part of this can be attributed to the seemingly insurmountable challenge that regulatory bodies can present in approving content at a pace that will keep patients engaged. With legal reviews, what goes in is not always what comes out, and unique and creative content is usually the first thing to hit the cutting room floor. Knowing this variable isn’t going away, it stresses the importance of thinking strategically about what role content marketing plays for your brand and if it is a channel worth pursuing. If you are not able to produce the content that is truly meaningful to your target audience, an alternative channel or platform may be a better option.

While there is no doubt that content marketing can have a large impact for Rx brands when done right, it is not always a feasible option for everyone. Before content development begins, it is important that the appropriate marketing teams think strategically about the role it plays and quantify the value to determine its worth.

Chris Tuleya
Chris Tuleya leads the Direct Response practice at Underscore. He has over 12 years of pharma experience working with Rx brands of all sizes. Chris is an expert in digital field working with both patient and HCP marketing teams to develop effective digital media campaigns.

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