What makes a great DTC marketer ?

visionToday having a great vision of where your marketing needs to go is not enough.  You also need to be a great salesperson so you can sell your organization on where you want  to go and get them excited about reaching todays web savvy patients and consumers.As a DTC marketer, you probably know a lot about marketing basics, but other people, like your M-L-R team, may not understand how people are making health care decisions today.  It’s important to share with others, within the organization, not only what you want to do, but why you want to do it.

First use of social media in a pharma website..

When I launched Sarafem.com in early 2002 I included a page called “share our strength” where woman could post stories about their experience with PMDD.  I got the idea while attending some qualitative research when I found that groups of women wanted to share their experiences and talk with one another about PMDD.

When I launched Sarafem online in 2001 we allowed woman to share their stories. In the first week we had over 300 posts from women who wanted to share their stories on how PMDD was affecting their lives.

When I launched Sarafem online in 2001 we allowed woman to share their stories. In the first week we had over 300 posts from women who wanted to share their stories on how PMDD was affecting their lives.

I began to sell my regulatory and legal people on the idea and overcame the following barriers

(1) Privacy – The first names would only be posted, not the last name to protect patient privacy.

(2) Product claims – We added a disclaimer saying that Lilly was allowed to “edit” content per FDA guidelines.

(3) Real people – The posts would not go through an approval unless the email address was automatically verified by the poster.

The result was over 300 posts in the first week of going live with women sharing their stories, plus we had a lot of return visitors to this area of the website to read posts.

I also learned that our target audience was looking for ways to reduce stress during attacks of PMDD so we offered downloads of soothing sounds, like the ocean, and serene screen savers with the Sarafem logo.  Much to my surprise these pages were among the most heavily trafficked with a big percentage downloading both the screen saver and soothing sounds white noise app.


How was I able to get this done in a conservative pharma company ?  By continually meeting with my M-L-R team and business unit stakeholders to share the why behind what I wanted to do.  I also spent a lot of time meeting with my IT people and agency to open up the lines of communication.

A double-click study showed a lift in awareness and intent to ask for the brand due to the website and the brand team was very happy.  It was a win for the brand and the company, but most of all for our audience who wanted someone to understand their PMDD symptoms.

Finally, because physicians were not convinced PMDD was a real medical issue, we included a symptom tracker which patients could print out and take to their doctor.  I was also able to share with HCP marketing the stories from patients so they could better understand why women wanted help with this condition. We even allowed women to sign up for a CRM program of “affirmations & inspirations” which delivered positive thoughts for the day, week or month.  Over 20,000 people signed up.


This project was a win-win and although it required a lot of meetings and one-on-one’s to get done was the right direction based on my research.  It’s a good lesson in selling your organization on your vision and having the energy to see it through.


2 thoughts on “What makes a great DTC marketer ?

  1. Let’s just think about what we want as consumers and occasional patients (as we all get sick at some time). We want people to listen to our particular circumstances and we want objective un biased advice. This by definition can only be served by drug makers if they offer the whole range of products and services for the disease. This is rare. It is also what our Doctors are for… but it is also possible for biases here too. More often Pharma have one, possibly two product offerings and so any advice to patients can’t be seen as objective… even if it is, the consumer must have a healthy scepticism of the advice given. the best Direst-to-consumer communication is from other consumers having had a god experience from the product. Setting up an un-filtered forum where patients can share experiences freely and simply is the best any Pharma company can do. However, any sign of the sponsor ‘biasing’ or ‘filtering’ in any way looses all credibility. So to ensure this doesn’t happen it might be worth considering letting a 3rd party (charity or disease research group) run the site. I think for rare diseases, it might be possible for the drug company to run this but then their may not be the budget. I remember years ago one of the MS drug makers set up a patient forum where they were left to share symptoms and solutions. This was seen as a great help by patients and I’m sure they warmed to the drug company sponsoring the site. Whether this got a cold hard healthy ROI for the drug maker is not known. What is known is that to build trust with consumers is a good foundation for any enterprise… one could say it is essential. Unfortunately that is a hard thing to do with perceptions out there (some justified) of the drug industry.

  2. Letting your team understand why do you create certain elements and content is important in building up their confidence in you first. They can also learn a few basic ideas of your field of expertise and can use those in their own work. It transforms the team in a real working engine.

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