We put a fair amount of time, effort and thought into cultivating what we call "advocates" for our clients' products. An advocate is a patient who thinks enough of the drug to voluntarily start going around and telling others about it.
Advocates are incredibly valuable people. They have immense credibility, because they're independently sharing their experiences rather than representing the pharma company or the drug. They're even more important given that, as our surveys have demonstrated, most patients get their healthcare information from, at least in part, conversations with friends and families. In that kind of environment, an advocate is going to play a major role.
The challenge presented by advocates is that they have to be self-identifying. You can't recruit them because that weakens their perceived objectivity, which is the source of their identity. Basically, you have to get them to raise their hands, and begin acting as advocates without any real prompting from you. You can provide them with information, and perhaps a little bit of direction, but that's about it.
What would be REALLY helpful is if you knew not just that advocates existed, and that they were important, but who they were, how they tended to think and act, and how they developed a role as an advocate in the first place.
Some recent research, written up in the wonderful Psyblog earlier this week. The study dealt with the dynamics of the emergence of leaders within groups, so the parallels aren't exact. But they are instructive.You can't be a leader without followers — what do leaders do that gets other people to listen?
Here's what, according to a study cited by the blog post:
This study suggests leaders emerge through more
subtle processes than the word 'dominance' might imply. Rather than
brow-beating or bullying others into submission, leaders-in-waiting
effectively signal their competence to the group by making greater
verbal contributions to discussions. Others then assume that their
greater contribution will mean their group will be more likely to
In other words, they talk more, and when they talk, people listen. Which means they need raw material, which means information.
And not technical or medical information. Remember, they need to communicate this with other people. That's what they're all about. No self-respecting advocate is going to get up there and go on about pH levels or the likelihood of side effects. But what they will go on about, what will serioiusly goose your brand, and what will encourage them to advocate even more firmly, is information about what your drug does on a day-to-day basis, hints and advice for managing the condition, and most importantly, the opportunity to learn — and disseminate — more if they want to. A newsletter, a packet of information, whatever, and in whatever form they really want it.
Advocates are priceless, and they're out there. Let them help you spread the word by giving them what they need to do it.