RM 2.0 , the FDA, and J&J: The Big Kids Want to Play

By January 19, 2009Uncategorized

We have been putting a great deal of thought into the next phase of relationship marketing for pharma. Note: watch for a white paper, coming to a website near you. Anyway, according to a post by Eye on FDA, quoting a Congressional Quarterly Politics article, two of the seriously heavy hitters in pharma –  the FDA, and Johnson & Johnson — are beginning to say and do things that sound like what we've been saying and doing. Here come the big kids.

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Let's get a little more specific. We have put a lot of thought and work into filling in the outlines of what we think the next phase of relationship marketing for pharma is going to look like. Boiled way, way down, we think it's going to consist of marketers using online communities to create self-supporting groups of patients.

Originally, pharmaceutical marketing consisted of companies pushing information at patients. That information was almost completely about their drug, specifically safety and efficacy. As patients grew more informed, and "lifestyle" drugs like Viagra and Rogaine appeared, and as the financial structure of healthcare made getting advice directly from a physician more and more difficult and less and less affordable, patients began taking responsibility for their own healthcare. The result was relationship marketing. In this 1.0 world, smart marketers put the patients at the center of their thinking rather than the drug.

As the Web has evolved, so has this model. Increasingly, patients are now forming independent on-line communities. Think of Web 2.0, except applied to pharma. Patients create their own content, and provide information and support around how the drug affects their day-to-day lives. In this environment, the smartest move for pharma companies to make is not to try to avoid or overpower this community model or control the community, but instead to support it. By being the creator of an online environment in which, say, sufferers of Crohn's Disease can virtually gather, communicate and share information, encouragement and so on, a pharma brand can become incredibly central to the lives of patients, and incredibly valid and strong.

Interestingly, it looks like both the FDA and J&J are reaching the same conclusions, or at least beginning to think along the same lines. Given that the FDA is, well, the FDA, and J&J is the biggest pharma company in the country, this is not unimportant.

J&J has built (or at least is sponsoring) an ADHD website — a place here parents of kids with the condition can interact, share stories and support, and so on. The CQ piece describes this initiative as follows:

Parent company Johnson & Johnson has
been in the vanguard of this kind of indirect, community-oriented
online marketing for prescription medications — setting up blogs,
Facebook pages and YouTube channels to help extend its brands. Some
drugmaker marketers see campaigns like those as the industry’s future.

“The
genie is out of the bottle,” said Peter Justason, a global marketing
director for Johnson & Johnson, in a recent TNS Media Intelligence
report on using “social media” for branding. “Now it doesn’t cost
anything for a million people to get online and talk to each other.
People are trusting people like themselves more and more, as opposed to
some sort of third-party authoritative figure.”

Not to sound conceited or anything, but Justason's observation about "people trusting people like themselves" could have come straight out of our writings on advocates.

The FDA may be inadvertently supporting this shift towards online as a marketing channel by focusing all of its regulatory firepower on DTC, while DTC is simultaneously becoming ever more tightly regulated, and may be on the point of being regulated out of existence. The CQ piece makes this point, too:

FDA’s regulations for digital
communications are the same as those for direct-to-consumer
pharmaceutical messages in other media, including rules against
promoting a product’s possible off-label uses and requirements that
drug companies clearly disclose potential side effects and adverse
reactions. If anything, the Web may provide better opportunities for
that kind of disclosure than the tiny type in magazines and the
fast-talking voice-overs on TV.

Nonetheless, drug
companies have been slower than other industries to explore social
media’s potential. A key concern: “user generated content,” such as the
stories and comments posted on ADHD Moms. Some in the industry fear
that user comments will dramatically increase reports of possible
adverse reactions, which the companies are then legally required to
document.

Such worries have kept many drugmakers from
doing anything more online than buying some ads and creating static,
carefully vetted Web pages. But that could soon change. In a series of
videos posted on his site, EyeOnFDA blogger Mark Senak notes that
Congress is likely to consider imposing a moratorium on TV ads for
newly approved drugs and restrictions on direct outreach to doctors and
medical groups — moves he predicts would accelerate the pharmaceutical
industry’s online shift. “Traditional concerns” about Internet
marketing “actually crumble in the face of the fact that coming reforms
are really going to demand new approaches,” says Senak, who’s an
executive at Fleishman-Hillard.

They certainly are.