Did you know that $38 billion in branded drugs faced generic copies in 2013, and $142 billion was lost to patent protection by 2014?  Did you also know that drug manufacturers face 80% of revenue loss after the first year of generics?  According to EyeforPharma’s recently published industry health check report, 85% of respondents agree that patient-centricity is the best route for future profitability. With the lifetime value of brands decreasing, and the importance of patient-centricity increasing, how can pharmaceutical companies balance the brand-patient methods?


I reached out to Chris Cullmann, SVP Engagement Strategy at Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide, to understand how he advises top healthcare organizations in the practices of brand engagement.


Pharma is recognizing the need to place additional focus on the patient. How should companies balance brand and patient engagement, and how do the two compliment each other? 1300179.jpg

Pharmaceutical companies need to begin using digital channels, and that data, to help focus where they’re serving their messages.  They must also ensure that they are being sensitive to how a patient or a healthcare professional is going to engage, and what value is being delivered to them.


Pharma also needs to practice general sensitivity to people’s health and understand where they have the permission, and authority, to enter into that conversation. They’re not invited into all those conversations.  When considering the data, companies need to pause and ask, before including their brand in the conversation; “is this really a space that we’re going to be welcome?  Is this fertile ground for us to really have a dialogue about our brand?”


That’s the lens companies need to begin to look through when building communication strategies and tactical development.



The trend across pharma is “thinking beyond the pill” and really defining value. What recommendations do you have for pharmaceutical companies developing a focus on the value they offer for their patients? How can these companies begin to define what that value actually is?

I think for different brands that’s a different response. If we look at an oncology brand, you could have a physician who’s prescribing an oncology product which is incredibly beneficial, but may also have very bad side effects. It may be quite a challenge for the patients to be on the drug, but remain compliant. What does it look like when they begin to have that communication with the physician about the choices they’re making in regards to prescribing it?  Not only is it standard of care, but is there going to be coverage? Is this part of the practice’s regiment of prescribing drugs?


But also look at it from the patient’s perspective, where a lot of these conversations happen around value.   Companies must define how they begin to help the patient understand what those side effects are, and why they’re present, and why compliance is so important.  They must identify how to have those conversations with the caregivers who are caring for a patient, loved one, family member, or a spouse.


These patients and caregivers are online, searching for answers, finding advocacy groups, and discovering the brand.com. Pharmaceutical companies must begin to help curate this information.  But companies must understand what they have the authority and permission to speak about. Healthcare brands must know they can own the conversation around their drugs.


What’s the product, what are the side effects, how do we support the patients?

How do we actually have communications? What does pill-plus look like? When you move past pill schedulers, apps, and compliance tools, what do those campaigns look like? What does that communication look like and what does that core value look like when it goes back out to the patients and healthcare professionals?  Companies must also define what actually happens when a patient has been engaged with the brand and travels through the patient journey.


But what happens when patients and healthcare professionals proactively reach out? Outside of personal communication, where you have a rep involved, what are those channels where physicians and patients can begin to interact with the pharmaceutical company to really get answers to questions? Many healthcare companies have fully established call-in numbers that are staffed with nurses and category experts.   But how do companies move beyond those phone numbers into the modern paradigm of communication, where it’s social, two-way communication via chat, or email where you’re going to reach a brand expert and have that dialogue happen in a very quick turnaround?



What recommendations would you give companies about providing the right message at the right time, with the right tone?

Search, both paid and organic fills in this gap especially well. The right message at the right time and the right tone can be fulfilled by a landing page and search strategy.  One of the things the life sciences industry doesn’t do well is set up landing page architectures that really begin to look at answering questions as people key them into search.  Technology has trained the user, patient, and healthcare professional, to use semantic search, and just ask questions, both in a browser and through voice search.  There’s a lot of opportunity in serving up those responses to the audiences. 


This is an opportunity to be there when the user searches, both through paid and organic search, but then retargeting that person to make sure that you’ve answered those questions and haven’t missed the opportunity for engagement.  Whether they’re a payer, a healthcare professional, or a caregiver, they are someone who is wandering, looking for information. Companies must reach out to this person in innovative ways; through display advertisements, picking the person up again in an app inside of another channel, a podcast, website, even personal communication where it’s pertinent.



With the recommendations that you’ve just defined, how do you recommend these pharmaceutical companies approach the use of social media to deliver, measure, and evolve the message that they’re trying to communicate?

I might point to a program like Gilenya.  They’re actually identifying patients who are hand-raisers and identifying themselves as suffers from the disease.  Novartis is proactively reaching out to them and using an 800-number in order to pull them into a channel, which they already have a very rich architecture and ecosystem to engage with the patient, and fully support them.  It’s an excellent example of using multiple channels to be proactive and treat the patient.  


Conducting outreach as a response to data is another example of how companies can begin to use not only social media, but digital media in order to make those decisions.  Companies think physicians put on a lab coat and stop being consumers.  A common objection to social media is “healthcare professionals aren’t talking about patients on social media”. And from a HIPAA compliance standpoint, that’s true.  But must career professionals don’t go home at night and start Tweeting about the clients they’ve worked with during the day.  However, there is a lot of searching, hashtaging, conference following, and online associations people engage with.  This is very telling in regards to what physicians are doing in their day-to-day lives, and how we might be able to affect some of the decision making.


And this is true not only around actually writing prescriptions, but those people who hold influence over policy inside organizations.  There are a lot of healthcare brands that are dealing with some very serious therapies that are truly beneficial.  In order to really gain scale in mass, companies need to begin to target not just the physicians who are writing prescriptions, but those who really have influence over what the organization does from a standards of care standpoint, as well as those people who hold influence over policy.



To the listen to the entire interview with Chris, please click here.