Direct Marketing, a lost marketing art

People could easily debate that subject line — in many ways, the Internet is a prime example of the awesome power of direct marketing. And that is true. But it's true like my daughter looking at me as I tried to have an explicit 'teaching moment' about recycling and never littering, and she looked at me and said, "No one thinks about that. It's just what you do."

So Direct Marketing online is just what is done. But perhaps increased awareness of some of the core tenets and some tricks of the trade would help us all.

Real direct marketing is, at its core, making sure every communications requests a response on the part of the recipient.  Does anyone know the some of the first real direct marketing? It was by Lester Wundeman for Columbia House; he put a loose penny in the envelope. The whole theme was around what you got for a penny. The open rates were astronomical.

Letter writing is definitely a lost art. And what is lost could easily be applied to email. Have any of you ever seen a three-page subscription letter? I once read one for a small obscure fishing magazine and despite NOT caring anything about fishing, when I was done with that letter, I wanted to fish and I wanted that magazine to teach me how — it was that compelling, personal and moving. 

Call-to-action. Ok,many Web sites do a good job, and of course, transactional sites have to or else. But every site Web page should not engender a discussion about the nav bar, but also about what is the natural and needed call-to-action you want the visitor to take. And how many young designers have I seen take the call-to-action on a home page and design it to death. Design it so it blends so well into the page that it no longer has the prominence it needs.

Even before the Web, we would speak of a direct mail package "sequence", the order of events you want the reader to take. So many pharma companies cram stuff in the mail — as if poundage equals effectiveness. But in the same way people get lost in a crowd, well, they get lost in a fulfillment package that has too much stuff. Or on a Web site that has too much navigation, or too many tabs. (Example: i recently received a free pink backpack full of six small brochures and a MOA DVD. From one of the world's top breast cancer drugs; well, it was without a doubt the least engaging, unfocused group of brochures I ever read. No focus. What a waste.)

I am going to invite a friend who is a truly amazing creative direct marketer to write a blog entry next week. She knows this stuff better than anyone. Clients who read will learn a lot.

So, let's see what great gems of Direct Marketing we can share so clients get more effective work.

Rush to Social Media: It’s Not About Doing It, It’s How You Do It.

Social media and innovation…in some ways, the rush towards social media by pharma brands is a seminal moment in the maturing of their marketing. Up until social media emerged as an influencer in the treatment choice and adherence discussion, many pharma marketers really only gave lip serve in terms of insight and focus on patient’s real needs.

Perhaps because no one really thought that patients had any real power.

Then social media came onto the scene and grew like weeds; and with that growth, suddenly, pharma brands realized conversations were being held that they could not be part of but were often about their brand. Well, that’s like overhearing some gossipy people talk about you and you feel the frustration of not being able to relate the story from your perspective.

So after a decade or more of barely addressing their patients in any meaningful way, many pharma brands have now decided WE NEED TO BE IN SOCIAL MEDIA!!!

Yes, it is a shout. And the shout creates a rush; and the rush creates the classic throw the ideas on the wall and let’s tries it, only to have the internal legal mechanisms stop any idea at the doorstep. Even worse, how about attaching all that rushed time and effort to an ROI calculation?

But what’s the rush? Where is the real need? How influential are these communities and blogs and Facebook? If I look on Facebook for breast cancer and find no group having more than 400-500 members, and yet, a charity walk for breast cancer can have ten thousand people, tell me where the real influence is? Even J&J who deserve major kudos for their ventures into Social Media, how much real traffic do they get?

So, the challenge is not why to do it, but as usual, it comes down to how to do it and be relevant. Social Media is good, but pharma is going about it in the wrong way.

Creating patient communities. Unless they have real relevance and meaning they are a waste of time. I know of one oncology brand that created a worldwide community for its patients, encouraging them to tell their story and connect with each other. Not a bad idea (though it has been replicated elsewhere in better, more authentic ways). What is the point for the patient? One visit? Two maybe? And the registration form has more caveats than signing your first home contract.

Asking patients to come to a pharma-sponsored patient community to share stories is like asking people to socialize at a police precinct and share stories of past misdeeds.

So, here are two suggestions that are about the “how to do it” which actually are based on human behavior and creating ongoing relevance and engagement.

But add a cause-related angle to the community and then it has meaning. Take www.diabeteshandprint.com, or BMS’s “Candle community” for AIDS.

This has meaning. This has the “gravity” to pull people in, speak to their values and needs and passions…and participate. And maybe come back to see what others have done. People believe in causes and they are more willing to trust the company that also supports a like-minded cause.

Another idea comes down to the community or blog “host.”

Have a community hosted by someone very senior inside the company. How about the head scientist who helped discover Viagra host that community? Viva Viagra!  

On a more serious note, what about having the head of a therapeutic group write posts a few times a week and be interviewed by patients who are trying to understand more of the actual science and not just be fearful of the side effects– the number one reason for people discontinuing or not starting treatments. Talk about authenticity and transparency. True, it would be legally challenging, but more importantly, it would be authentic, honest and you bet people would come a read the postings. People have a desperate need for medical knowledge and having a direct line to the people who have it, well, that’s a real draw.

So, cause-related could work and having access to those who really understand the drugs we take could work…is there another way?

I welcome suggestions.

What will heathcare reform mean to Relationship Marketing? Be smarter. Be better. Be prepared.

Today, when I woke up, I did the usual weekend "surf-your-sites-with-coffee" ritual. What was different was that on my Facebook page, besides the normal silly crap that fills the Wall, I found the beginning of a thread on health care reform prompted by a query from a person who works client side….they asked why the 'public option' could not co-exist with insurance companies like FedEx co-exists with the US Postal Service. I joined in and enjoyed the discourse, but wondered the whole time: shouldn't we be discussing the implications this has on our business?

As most of us pharma/biotech folk are engaged in the anti-vacation practice of brand-planning, it would seem Reform should be on the table as an issue. At least for the marketers we should be acting on Reform as if it were a huge competitor coming into the market (it still being too soon for the rest of the Access/Managed Care, manufacturing and other arms of the corporate body to react since they have nothing to react to.) But we marketers do know enough to make some cogent decisions: marketers take responsibility for not just doing patient communications, but doing them in the better, smarter way.

Let me lay it out:

Insight is most important, but it's about listening and interpreting. Research is a great tool, and finally pharma on the whole has made the revolutionary move to actually being patient-centric from product-based. That is huge, but it still needs a guiding hand from those really know insight — mass marketers. Take Dove for example — true, none of us are selling soap, but what brand has more brilliantly gone from being about "99.9% pure" to "Campaign for Real Beauty" — from product attributes to aligning your inner Self image? That transformation is amazing and all of pharma/biotech could learn from what Dove does to engage with customers. And that whole change occurred because of Insight.  And always remember: insight is not asking them what they want, it's a LISTENING exercise and from that gleaning the Truths you can build upon — do not underestimate the power of intuition.

Think multi-channel and that means integration. Use as many channels as you can afford, but do not think of it like separate channels, but challenge yourself at every turn to leverage and maximize what each channel does best; and do not fall into the pit of making one channel stand alone or act in a silo. Example: if you have a DRTV spot, the 800 number should be up at least 40 of the 60 seconds (Best Practice). If you ave a strong drive-to-Web, then make sure your site integrates the TV message and offer on the home page, not some buried link or as some sort of navigation call-out. In the same way, you do not want people to change the channel, you do not want them having to work and click their way to an offer, be it financial or informational. In the same vein, do not assume that creating more direct mail or some custom-pub magazine is an answer, in reality it is nothing more than another media touch point and needs to incorporate the Web and call center. (One aside: be careful about your agency promising it can do all online and offline work; the skill sets for offline are becoming harder to find because the creative and account folks have gotten younger and many only know digital.)

AcquisitionConversionRetention. Think of them as one word. Consumers, patients, human beings, love media — they are hungry for more. Why else is everyone obsessed with Social Media? Also, consumers are used to loyalty programs, so at acquisition, get them into your RM/adherence program.

Adherence still needs to be funded. the number one issue for pharma/biotech that will help both form a revenue and PR perspective in the coming Reform will be starting to embrace LifeTime Value (LTV) and working with everyone on keeping patients on their therapies. Of course, what pharma marketers may not like an LTV approach is that you need to intentionality separate those you spend the most against to get the most back, and not treat everyone equally.

So, in the end, putting the patient at the center of your communications — what we have preached for years has now taken hold. But embracing a strategy is no guarantee you execute it well.

More on Brand Planning coming soon…