Can drug makers market to people rather than market segments?

green-division-green-lightbulb1-250x250Post Summary: Drug marketers should stop looking at patients as “market segments” and learn to engage each patient and treat them as a valued customer. It involves a deep empathetic understanding of each patient’s needs an moving internal barriers to earn the trust of a skeptical audience.

According to a recent column by Ed Silverman in general, 39% of the patient groups reported these drug makers have either an “excellent” or a “good” reputation, which is up from 35.4% last year and 34% in 2012. However, the showing remains well below the 42% notched in 2011, the first year that the firm compiled such rankings. And generic drug makers edged out their rivals as 40% of patient groups gave them the same assessment.

Meanwhile, 35% say the reputation of the brand-name industry has declined, although this is down from 40% last year. Conversely, 25% say industry reputation has improved, up from almost 20%, while about 40% say nothing has changed, which was the same proportion in 2013. The results suggest industry reputation has begun to recover, according to PatientView.

The negative stories in the media have brought out the trolls and while pharma still has a long way to go to earn trust a lot of people understand the benefits of prescription drugs.  The industry needs to evaluate every touch point with patients and a big part of that is via digital channels.

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Biogen Idec is doing a good job reaching out to MS patients via their patient support helpline and sponsoring events so MS patients can share experiences, but their product websites, as with most pharma websites,  still have a long long way to go.  Sanofi does a great job using social media to reach and engage diabetes patients, but too many other drug makers, social media is nothing more than another channel for their PR department.

Can drug makers market to people rather than market segments?  I believe they can but it’s going to take a serious paradigm shift.  It means acting every day to help patients navigate a healthcare system that often rewards empowered patients and punishes those who passive.  Helping patients help themselves is what it’s all about and small successes, one patient at a time, are better than talking to segments of people who may or may not act on your information.

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I still believe that an empathetic view of patients is needed to get beyond MBA thinking so marketers can develop a “feel” what patients need as they try and deal with medical problems and at the same time try and have a life.  What do you think?

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