As we never cease to study Relationship Marketing and how it is applied inside and outside of pharma, it becomes very clear very fast that one particular disease state perhaps sets the highest bar for patient service: Multiple Sclerosis. It affects fewer than 1 million people in the U.S. It is not cancer or diabetes, with large swaths of sufferers, but the lessons it holds for marketers are very relevant to the future of pharma patient marketing.
Check out a few of the MS patient support sites: www.sharedsolutions.com, www.mslifelines.com, and while you're at it, Google for Avonex, Tysabri's TOUCH program, on and on. Each treatment tries to outdo the others in comprehensiveness, design, and so on. What's most striking about these programs is their emphasis on fostering a sense of community among MS patients. For instance, the mslifelines.com site includes video interviews with other MS patients, Journals, personal stories, everything. On www.sharedsolutions.com, the site provides the ability to find a peer — literally, to identify and connect online with a real person who suffers from MS and has a similar background/situation to yours. The amount of emotional coverage these sites provide is incredible.
Pharma clients should stop obsessing with Web 2.0, and instead analyze these support programs — this is Patient Support 2.0.
All of these programs "get it": that when your treatments start to become less differentiated, you need to use RM/patient support programs as the differentiator. This is something marketers in other fields have known for decades. BMW provides customers with roadside assistance, free maintenance, and so on. iTunes makes recommendations for customers. Even a discount travel site like HotWire will send members news about special deals.
There are two reasons for this. The first is, again, lack of differentiation. RM has the most impact when one is talking about chronic conditions — MS, lupus, diabetes and so on. In each of these situations, no treatment is going to make a dramatic, short-term difference. Instead, they're intended to moderate the effect of a disease over a lifetime. Because there isn't any quick, significant benefit, patients often lost motivation, and adherence drops. It's difficult enough to get patients to stay on their regimen. It's even more difficult to both do that, and get them to differentiate between your drug and someone else's when neither one of them seems to be making much difference. In such a situation, the benefits have to be manufactured with programs.
The second reason is more mercenary: treatments are lifelong and can range between 12K to 20K a year. If an MS patient is diagnoses when she's 40, the pharma companies are looking at,using an average, $450,000 in revenues. Assuming a 20% profit margin, that works out to $90,000 in profits. Or, to look at it another way, that's around $250 in profits for every month a patient remains on the medication. That is worth a very hefty investment in relationship marketing programs.
The point of all this is that in the space where we play — pharma RM — a good relationship marketing program isn't simply window dressing. It can support and prolong adherence, it can vastly enhance a company's brand, and it can actually, as with these RM products, create value.