Guidelines Have Message for All Marketers

Draft Guidance, the Food and Drug Administration's code for the broadcast advertising of prescription products, has encouraged many companies to try to measure the direct contribution of direct-to-consumer and direct-to-patient activities and to search for the optimum marketing mix via ROI and trade-off analyses.

One way to ensure that DTP communications has a positive ROI is with the mining of the patient databases. One of the key issues to be aware of with these tactics is that management, financial analysts and stockholders tend to expect unrealistically rapid results.

With that in mind, here are some key questions you should ask before embarking on these important programs:

* What's the overall business objective?

* Is my product a viable candidate for DTC and/or DTP?

* How long do I want to run this campaign?

* How will I measure results?

* How will I educate doctors regarding the rationale behind these ads?

* How do I ensure that there is a consistent message among all audiences (branding)?

* How do I assure fair balance (risks vs. benefits)?

* What kind of retention strategies am I going to employ?

* How do I balance my DTC and DTP activities (marketing mix allocation)?

* How will I educate my sales reps?

Ongoing conversations with consumers and patients are critical since each individual has different needs and a unique demographic and psychographic profile.

By constructing databases and implementing ongoing one-to-one communications programs we can ensure that we learn as much as possible about each person (prospect/predictive modeling) so we can communicate with them as individuals.

Surveying patients with each communication is critical. One-to-one marketing initiatives can ensure that patients remain loyal to specific brands over time, increasing the lifetime value of each patient and reinforcing the correct use of drugs as directed by manufacturers. The patient databases should be considered corporate assets and can also be readily used to inform patients about new/improved dosage forms of existing products, and forthcoming over-the-counter switches.

There are many scientifically proven techniques that can be easily applied to DTC/DTP initiatives over time. The following are some effective examples:

Duplicate abuser logic. If you are providing premiums or incentives, asking consumers/patients to call in or return a business reply card, or if you're mailing ongoing communications, you do not want to spend your limited budget on repeat mailings to the same persons. Logic is built into the database that specifically looks for potential abusers. If spotted, they are immediately removed from the database to be handled separately. Similar to the duplicate elimination process, it employs a match code that is linked to name, address, city, state and ZIP code.

Variable survey logic. When surveying consumers or patients there are certain questions that can be segmented into, “must know,” “would like to know,” or “would be nice to know,” in ranked order. Again, custom logic is built into the database that ensures that “must know” questions are asked in subsequent surveys until answers are received.

Blind check surveys: Before a product launch or as a re-qualification incentive to retain customers on a program, the response rates tend to be very impressive. Dollar amounts do not need to be significant, for example $1-$2 checks will get an impressive response.

Checks vs. coupons: Checks have a higher perceived value than coupons and historically are cashed at a much higher rate. Additionally, with checks you are able to capture the person's name and address when cashed and append specific behaviors to the database. It also enhances compliance and alerts you to the most “fertile” patients.

Householding: As in some of the other techniques listed above, logic, in the form of a match code, looks for multiple people at the same address who have called in or submitted a BRC to receive an incentive or to enroll in a program. This is different from duplicate abusers depending on the product marketed. For instance, two people from the same family might suffer from both migraines and nail fungus. You may also opt to “household” across product lines, to look for families that use multiple products from one company.

One thing is for certain. There are many exciting new products in late stage clinical research that will soon hit the market, including those coming from biotech firms. Some of these products will be true innovations (new chemical entities) and others will be “me too” competitors with marginal benefits over existing therapies. The latter, however, will have major advertising and promotional budgets behind them.

All of these products will contribute to media clutter and will further confuse patients. DTP communications can serve to offer patients an in-depth knowledge of the disease state over time as well as provide them with critical information about specific products and other therapeutic alternatives, which will make the doctor-patient discussion more fruitful. These initiatives and components within the DTP programs will provide patients with perceived value and will contribute to enhanced loyalty and compliance. Patients might even be willing to pay a price premium to obtain the product they believe is best for them.

DTC/DTP communications, if executed correctly, can help to improve compliance, avoid expensive hospital interventions, and enhance overall quality of life (at times even saving lives) and will have the wanted side effect of contributing to the financial well being of many companies. The incremental sales and profits will allow pharmaceutical manufacturers to continue to invest in the latest R&D technologies, which will yield superior treatments for serious diseases such as cancer, AIDS and heart disease.

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