Advocates and the Long Tail

By March 5, 2008Strategy

We are tremendous fans of the concept of the Advocate. In a recent post, Seth Godin links to an analysis of the Long Tail by fellow blogger Kevin Kelly that brilliantly explains the role of the advocate in pharma marketing.

First, the Long Tail. The Long Tail, as defined by Wikipedia, is a description of the business models of Amazon or Netflix, where, rather than attempting to sell a zillion copies of a hit book or CD, they have the ability to sell smaller quantities of millions of things to niche buyers. The distribution and inventory costs of those business allow them to
realize significant profit out of selling small volumes of hard-to-find
items to many customers, instead of only selling large volumes of a
reduced number of popular items. It was described in a very influential book by Chris Anderson.

A picture helps. The Long Tail looks like this:

Longtail On the far left side of the graph, imagine that you have the sales income from patients who see some kind of DTC ad, and promptly run into their doctors’ office and insist on it. Say, you launch a drug with a big, heavily-funded DTC campaign, and you get an immediate, enormous response. The drug is a blockbuster, and you have the initial, left-side-of-the-curve revenue from a phenomenally successful acquisition campaign. Great.

However, there’s another way to look at it, and that is what Kelly does. In his post, he writes about creators — artists, writers, craftspersons or whatever. And he says this (I’m going to edit it somewhat):


Other than aim for a blockbuster hit, what can an artist do to escape the long tail?


One solution is to find 1,000 True Fans. While some artists have
discovered this path without calling it that, I think it is worth
trying to formalize. The gist of 1,000 True Fans can be stated simply:

A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer,
craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author – in
other words, anyone producing works of art – needs to acquire only
1,000 True Fans to make a living.

A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and
everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They
will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even
though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for
your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions
show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies.
They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till
you issue your next work. They are true fans.

To raise your sales out of the flatline of the long tail you need to
connect with your True Fans directly.  Another way to state this is,
you need to convert a thousand Lesser Fans into a thousand True Fans.

This is an almost letter-perfect description of an Advocate.  And although you need a LOT more than 1,000 of them to  make a drug profitable, the purpose of relationship marketing in pharmaceuticals is to identify Advocates, and to connect with them. Just as the True Fan will purchase anything an artist puts out, an Advocate will share with others her story of success with your drug. The value of this is beyond measure.

We are not talking here about using DTC to push drugs into the channel. We’re talking instead about using True Fans of your drug to help others achieve the same result. Think of the diabetes patient who’s on a therapy long-term, and who uses a combination of diet, exercise, and medication to get her numbers down and keep them down. By connecting with her, your brand can show her how to help others do the same thing.