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Jay Carter Discusses Sources of Marketing Strategy Inspiration

9August, 2022

Old School or New School—Marketing Inspiration Can Come From Any Direction – PM360 (

The important (and fun!) thing about marketing pharmaceutical products is not grand strategies or cutting-edge tactics. It’s about helping people live their lives better, safer, and healthier. I would argue that you’re not doing that when you’re selling Coors, Grey Goose, or Marlboros.

Strategy does matter, however, as does choice of tactics. So it’s worth reflecting on which strategic and tactical models we draw from to achieve success, whether they’re old stalwarts, new approaches, or from other industries that have nothing to do with healthcare.

Respect the Traditional

While the therapies we promote may be new and exciting, the pure strategies for moving them forward might appear rather staid. Critical success factors always include:

  • Gain prescriber awareness of the brand, its competitive advantages, and how to use the brand effectively.
  • Responsibly build awareness of the risks of the medication, and how to mediate those risks.
  • Work with payers to assure adequate access for the brand.
  • When appropriate, build awareness and demand for the brand among consumers (undiagnosed) and patients (those who know that they have the disease).

Nothing too rousing there, yet all of these factors are uniformly critical. And they appear in strikingly similar form in almost every strategic document. So it’s not the marketing strategies that are bold and dazzling, but the array of tactics.

People love all the shiny new channels used to build awareness and drive trial and utilization. Sometimes the sheer volume and glitter takes your breath away. But an absolute truth that every pharma marketer should embrace: traditional strategies and tactics became traditional for a reason—they work. Most of the time, innovation isn’t about inventing the new, but rather about skillfully applying the traditional in a new way.

Look Sideways, Not Just Backward or Forward

Are you familiar with the Emeril Lagasse Air Fryer? The George Foreman Grill? OxiCleanProactiv? All are products introduced and popularized via long-form TV infomercials, usually aired late at night when rates are cheapest. The fact that you are aware of these products, if not owners or consumers of them, is proof of the effectiveness of the medium. I’m willing to bet that everyone reading this has sat through a 15- to 30-minute infomercial at some point in their lives.

Selling nonstick cookware might not seem to have a lot in common with differentiating a biotech product, but you can still take a cue from infomercials. For example, consider you are representing an old and very well-established biotech brand with multi-billion-dollar sales. Then, a competitor joins the market and it, too, has multi-billion-dollar sales. Competition is fierce, and market share between the two players has solidified.

You need a way to break up the logjam. While there are no new trials or studies to help drive sales, there is a cool innovation in delivery. The drug is self-injected, and the company just developed a new self-injection device. State of the art. Tons of research to validate the improvement. But doctors don’t care. They are unwilling to listen to anything new because they figure they already know everything.

But after discussing with your teams to find out what exactly the doctors didn’t know, it turns out there was a lot. So how can you help doctors discover what they don’t know? You can turn to the lessons provided by infomercials and perform a “ShamWow” on the product to get the doctors’ attention and break through their assumptions. (For the uninitiated, a ShamWow is an “As-Seen-On-TV” cleaning cloth that’s super absorbent.)

In this case, market research finds that the specialists prescribing the brand are well…kind of nerdy. They like to tinker, they want to know how things work, and they love puzzles. In response, you develop a long-form communication on what it took to develop this new self-injector, discussing everything from the motivation behind its development to the science and research behind it to different analogs for gripping the device. All without mentioning a brand name. Then you can attract physicians with banner advertising to visit your unbranded website. And if the single long-form ad proves successful and grabs the attention of specialists, then you can expand by developing additional long-form campaigns to keep them engaged.

This type of strategy could be applied to similar cases where an audience thinks that they know everything about a product, when in fact there is much to be learned. Some other examples of this from the marketplace include gastroenterology, where new science surrounding the microbiome is about to make huge changes, and gene therapy, where there is that ever-tantalizing potential to not just treat, but cure. The opportunities are enormous.

Keep Your Eyes (and Mind) Open

What other old-school strategies and tactics can be re-purposed in the digital age? How about the Cosmo Quiz? I can honestly say I’ve never completed one—I already know what kind of cocktail I am—but I understand the power of short, playful quizzes to pique people’s interest and draw them in.

For example, consider the use of quiz-taking to help people with hemophilia become more self-aware. Patients with hemophilia B begin infusions before they can remember, and during adolescence are taught to self-infuse. Like all rare disease patients, they are quick to join communities and share their understanding of their disease and ways to cope with it. However, sometimes they are slow to really think about how bad an occasional bleed is (spoiler alert—it’s bad). By not understanding the damage being done and the latest treatment options, these patients can jeopardize their joints later in life.

So, to encourage young men with hemophilia B to better understand if they are getting top-notch care, how about a program driven by Facebook (yep, old-fashioned Facebook—people with rare diseases often congregate there as it’s an easy place to form groups). Create unbranded stimuli to get the attention of patients and then urge them to educate themselves with a quiz on how well they are really taking care of their disease. Ultimately, it can help them understand that even though they have been treated for a long time for their disease, they might want to evaluate other options.

In the end, the message I want to make clear is that it takes more than a creative visual or headline to produce an effective ad and a successful campaign. It takes more than a thorough understanding of the product and its competitive set. It takes big-picture creativity and an open mind to find a great way to achieve your strategic goals tactically. And there’s no reason not to look to success stories both within and outside of our industry to inspire you.

Jay Carter

Jay Carter is Executive Vice President, Director of Business Development at AbelsonTaylor. Jay is a pharmacist who understands the science behind health and wellness products, and an MBA who knows the business of branding. After 38 years in the industry, he still loves his job.

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