One aspect of relationship marketing that we've discussed a lot is the creation of online communities. There are lots of examples, such as patientslikeme.com out there. But once someone has joined a community, the battle is only half-won. The other half of the battle is keeping them there, and keeping them engaged.
An interesting post on Tuesday (okay, it's a few days old) in emergencemarketing.com on this topic suggests that the way to prevent switching is to create transactional switching costs. In English, this means make leaving the community such a pain in the neck that nobody wants to leave. This is a very negative strategy. Basically, what it's saying is that although you may want to leave, you won't.
This is sort of like the Recording Artists Industry of America taking it upon itself to sue people who were engaged in peer-to-peer downloading. Suing your own customers is never, ah, good marketing, and it also masks the underlying problem — people illegally download music because they feel the industry's available options are not really meeting their needs. So they switch.
I think that a much better approach is a kind of aggregation strategy. The goal is to make your community the hub of the issue — kind of the operating system for the condition. You are already working with, incorporating and therefore aggregating all the other possible resources. There's nowhere else for patients to go because you've already got it.
This approach was nicely described in a November 3 post of the Pharma 2.0 blog. The post describes a community site developed and launched by Bristol-Meyers Squibb for women living with advanced breast cancer. I'll let the post speak for itself:
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the initiative is that it
involved buy-in from 13 non-profit organizations! See the list of
participating breast cancer patient advocacy organizations below.
Breast Cancer Network of Strength (formerly Y-Me)
Breast Cancer Research Foundation
The Linda Creed Foundation
Living Beyond Breast Cancer
Metastatic Breast Cancer Network
Susan G. Komen for the Cure
The Wellness Community
Young Survival Coalition
Now, who in their right mind is going to join this community, and then leave? Where, exactly, are they going to go? By involving all these organizations in the process of creating a community, they have started with a community focus from the very beginning. Everyone's involved, everyone stays, this site basically becomes the standard.