Pharma brands need the human touch, and MS marketing offers some ideas

What's the best path forward for healthcare brands? It starts with making a difference and serving the people they're working to connect with, according to Digitas Health executive director Graham Mills--and that's something he says marketers in the multiple sclerosis space already do exceptionally well.

Marketers need to "look beyond the product attributes" and find the "human need beyond the treatment," Mills wrote in a recent post for MediaPost's Marketing Daily.

They might start by taking a page from the MS playbook. There, "marketers have understood that people want community more than advertising, and some have provided it," he notes.

No one has understood that better throughout the years than Teva ($TEVA), whose market leader Copaxone took home a Pharmaceutical Executive Magazine "Brand of the Year" award for 2014. Back in 1996, John Hassler, VP of marketing for Teva's central nervous system division, and his team put together a suite of services called "Shared Solutions," which was to become the base of Teva's marketing model for the drug. It started with a 24/7 call center that now fields nearly 1 million patient calls a year, and the company has updated it with digital marketing tools--like apps that provide medication reminders--too.

Sanofi's ($SNY) Genzyme understood it, too, when the FDA in 2013 turned down its Lemtrada. It used the extra time before launch to fine-tune its marketing strategy, Carole Huntsman, Genzyme VP and MS business unit head, told FiercePharmaMarketing last winter, setting up an extensive provider-and-patient support program featuring a group of "thought leader liaisons" that coordinate Genzyme activity at 220 top MS centers around the country.

And that was just the tip of the iceberg for Genzyme. It also put in place infusion support managers, business relations managers to help healthcare providers with access and procurement, and MS One to One, a program that provides every MS center with a site manager who can answer questions and provide info. Patients also each have a nurse assigned to them whom they can reach around the clock.

But perhaps one of the most important parts of both programs was the insights marketers took from MS patients, doctors and caregivers themselves. Their feedback helped shape the initiatives so that they could best serve patients' needs, and as Mills points out, "being bold enough to allow comments means there is an authenticity that is impossible to fake."

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