The Road Ahead: 2020 Lessons and 2021 Predictions

We entered 2020 with our predictions and plans, never imagining that a global pandemic would change everything within a few short months. It led us down a road on an unexpected journey, challenging the healthcare system, the pharmaceutical industry, and humanity beyond measure.

After what the world experienced this past year, it feels bullish to make predictions while still in the path of the storm. It does, however, feel appropriate and, dare I say, even necessary, to reflect and take inventory of the lessons we have learned and how these lessons can help us predict what’s to come in the new year.

The Lesson: A Walk in Their Shoes

If I asked you to complete the phrase, “2020 has been….”, I undoubtedly would get mostly negative statements—some of them likely pretty crass. But despite all the negative, 2020 has been the year that the world took a humbling walk in the shoes of the chronic care patient. A year that deepened empathy and understanding toward the most vulnerable of us.

As an industry and individually, we navigated health uncertainty, feelings of isolation, and many common frustrations that chronic care patients regularly faced long before COVID-19 was a staple in our daily vocabulary.

Chronic care patients often share that there are two phases to their healthcare journey: “the before” and “the after” diagnosis. The frustration of longing for the before and the living in the after is a push and pull we all now recognize and empathize with having experienced a pandemic.

We now recognize the many things we took for granted in “the before” and understand how different those things may look in “the after.” We understand this experience will fundamentally change the way life looks moving forward.

We can also empathize with isolation. While many of us have lived our lives free from isolation, many chronic care patients have not been so fortunate and were quarantining and self-isolating out of necessity before it was “cool”.

And of course, living our lives with our mind constantly running risk analysis around our health is something we can draw parallels to. “Is going to the store really worth risking my health?” or “should I call the doctor or are these just symptoms of a common cold?” These once lightly made decisions take on a new meaning today.

The Prediction:

What this means for marketers is that we have a newfound sense of empathy and understanding of the patients we all serve. In 2021, we predict that empathetic messaging in healthcare marketing will accelerate and trend.

The Lesson: The Telehealth Tidal Wave

The telehealth train was coming long before the onset of COVID-19 and, as with many other facets of digital adoption, we saw the pandemic as the great accelerator.

In 2018, we surveyed the WEGO Health Patient Leader Network and about 1 in 5 (22%) of Patient Leaders had tried telehealth. Fast forward to 2020 and WEGO Health’s recent research in partnership with the Digital Health Coalition showed that 4 in 10 Patient Leaders utilized telehealth before the pandemic, and 9 in 10 have increased their telehealth utilization since the onset of COVID-19.

We are seeing pharma brands begin to leverage telehealth in a number of ways, from digitally providing educational information and patient-provider telehealth visits to full-on brand launches like that of Imvexxy with telehealth as the main prescription driver.

Digital technologies such as wearables have also increased exponentially, but patient desires in this area are still very practical in nature—the strongest for medication management and self-monitoring tools.

The Prediction:

The rapid adoption and development acceleration of digital technologies is just the beginning. We predict that 2021 will see an increase in strategic partnerships incorporating telehealth and digital technologies into the “patient experience,” with many more brands like Imvexxy partnering with Patient Influencers to spread the word. These partnerships and technologies provide the additional value patients are seeking and also help to strengthen adherence.

The Lesson: A New Day for the PSA

No, we’re not talking about prostate-specific-antigen levels (those are important too), but the good old fashioned public service announcement. While some conditions like HIV have been leveraging PSA’s for consumers for years, we haven’t seen them adopted by the industry in masse.

But 2020 brought a new style of PSA: the “Don’t Neglect Your Health” PSA. We saw television, digital, and social media marketing geared toward encouraging patients to continue to go to their doctors’ appointments and stay on their therapies.

From AstraZeneca “New Normal Same Cancer”

We have even seen industry thought leaders and scientists embracing hot new channels like Tik Tok as an opportunity to reach people to dispel misinformation and spread public safety awareness around the COVID-19 vaccine and science.

In my [humble] opinion, there has always been a lack of messaging as it relates to adherence coming from pharmaceutical manufacturers. With a staggering 50% of Americans not taking their medications as prescribed, “medication non-adherence” leads to preventable deaths and increased costs to the system.

In the patient community, we see a much higher emphasis on adherence messaging as Patient Influencers understand their power to drive patient behavior. Studies show that patients who receive peer-to-peer support services are more empowered and educated, and as a result, are able to make better healthcare choices and access resources that reduce the barriers to care.

The Prediction:

There is an opportunity for the pharmaceutical industry to partner with patients and HCP’s to continue to spread awareness and reinforce the value of keeping doctors’ appointments, staying on therapy, and managing mental health long after COVID-19 is in the rearview. This is a “hopeful” prediction of ours because, in this digital era, health ownership has never been more important.

The Lesson: A Brave New Virtual World

And we thought we were virtual before 2020! We have to look back and chuckle at our naive selves. HCP marketing, consumer marketing, product launches, and conferences and events all experienced rapid digital transformation.

Within a few short months, we’ve seen brands embracing new technology and partnerships that were years in the making, and the traditional rep-model has been flipped on its head.

Of course, many of these changes were a long time coming with COVID-19 again functioning as the great accelerator. But the question remains, “what ‘normal’ will we return to when this pandemic ends?”

A recent FiercePharma article stated (and we agree), there is no going back. When it comes to in-person promotion, an August 2020 Accenture survey found that 87% of HCP’s want either all virtual or a mix of virtual and in-person meetings after the pandemic ends. As a former pharma rep, I can say from experience in the field that this particular shift was a long time coming.

And the rep model was not the only major change. With nearly all in-person events (both industry and patient-facing) brought to a halt in 2020, the pharmaceutical industry has had to pivot like never before as it relates to both internal and external events.

While we miss in-person events, we also recognize that there is one person that virtual events work really well for—the chronically ill patient. In the past, to attend an in-person summit we would see patients have to move mountains to travel and exhaust themselves in a weekend with a nonstop, action-packed agenda. With many events becoming virtual in 2020, it provided the opportunity for patients who ordinarily could not travel to attend.

And to that point, we also saw a rise in patient webinars in the industry. In a WEGO Health survey conducted in April 2020, when asked what virtual solutions patients’ were seeking from pharma companies, 41% of patients shared that educational webinars were important to them.

We have seen more brands successfully executing webinars, “live” events, and forums utilizing social media and other digital platforms that allow patients to connect with one another and the community seems to be enjoying this new normal.

The Prediction:

While we know there is value in in-person events that is difficult to replicate virtually, we also predict this trend will continue to grow stronger far beyond 2021. The savviest of brands will tap into patients to design, execute, and help promote their virtual events to truly incorporate the patient voice in every digital moment that they are engaging with their audience.

The Lesson: The Year of the Patient Influencer

In 2020, life as we knew it was put on pause. The world turned to social media for information, as a form of escape, and to stay connected. Healthcare queries topped all other searches, and with studio content creation brought to a halt, patient influencers took center stage.

In a recent quarterly landscape survey, WEGO Health learned that 85% of patients are receptive to branded patient influencer marketing. Patients shared that the top considerations in branded campaigns were not the patient influencer’s reach, but their authenticity and transparency.

In the same survey, we found that patients had a greater trust in patient influencers over lifestyle influencers and that patient influencers have a greater influence in medication research over lifestyle influencers.

The Prediction:

While we don’t anticipate celebrity influencers or endorsers going away, we do anticipate more of a mix of influencers across the board in healthcare—including physicians!

With more receptive patients, we’re also seeing more pharma brands dip their toes into the influencer marketing waters. In a recent webinar produced by our team, over 50% of pharma marketers and agencies polled said they were either already testing influencer marketing or planning to do so in 2021. Of those same participants, 2 in 3 said they intended to partner with a mix of patient influencers (nano to mega) in 2021.

We predict this adoption will accelerate, and if done with an emphasis on authenticity, we also anticipate a rise in patient trust as a welcome secondary result.

The Lesson: All Eyes on Inequality & Health Disparities

Not that long ago, health inequality and disparities were the elephants in the room, taking an uncomfortable place under the rug in the healthcare conversation.

But with black and brown communities falling victim to COVID-19 at disproportionately higher rates coupled with horrific events of systemic racism like the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the industry began to open its eyes to the problems we face.

While telehealth adoption rates skyrocket, how will this impact an already daunting digital divide? In a world with “no child left behind,” what about the patient? Patients are being forced to become more accountable for their outcomes, and while some are swimming, others are sinking.

The good news is that, as an industry, we are starting to have these difficult conversations. We are seeing a rapid rise in senior-level Diversity & Inclusion roles within pharmaceutical companies and agencies. We are also seeing a rise in pharma and agency advertising and promotion of D&I to the public.

With movements like Insulin For All and organizations like BLKHLTH finally gaining momentum and a place in the spotlight after years of tireless work, 2020 saw the industry step up in bigger ways than ever before.

The Prediction:

While strides are being made, there is still much work to be done. and we predict that the industry will continue this important work in 2021 and beyond.

The Lesson: Spotlight on Science

Having spent the better part of my career in this industry, I have always known the amazing things that this industry is capable of. This year, the rest of the world got to see.

We watched as pharma companies developed, studied, and gained approval for two COVID-19 vaccines in an unprecedented timeframe with unprecedented efficacy. We watched as scientists and healthcare professionals worked around the clock, their faces scarred with bruising from the masks they wore all in an effort to save lives. We watched as our loved ones suffered, were isolated, and some were buried, as a result of a healthcare pandemic that we as a society never saw coming.

COVID-19 put a spotlight on science and the healthcare industry like never before, and the world got to see the vital work that pharmaceutical companies do.

There has been conflicting research in 2020 to assess how COVID-19 has affected patient trust with Harris Poll research looking optimistic and recent Takeda research skewing more negative. While research is never apples to apples, it does help us to identify trends that are important for the industry.

While WEGO Health research showed that patient trust was relatively split, we did learn one important factor: patients who partner with pharma companies have a greater tendency to hold higher opinions and more trust in the companies with which they work. Gaining a glimpse behind industry walls helps patients to see that we’re all patients and people, with common goals and emotions.

The Prediction:

We predict that we will continue to see a rise in patient trust in the pharma industry in 2021 and beyond. Starting with influencers as an early barometer, trickling down to the patient population as a whole.

The industry has an opportunity to harness this momentum, and we predict that they will through making progress in diversity and inclusion, collaboration with patients, and empathetic messaging.

“Change is inevitable. Evolution, however, is optional.” – Tony Robbins

We look forward to what 2021 will bring for our industry!

Pharma Influencer Marketing: Making the Case

Every day, more pharmaceutical brands are hoping to see the same outsized business results that other industries have found in influencer marketing – but pharma faces challenges far different from any other industry. How can pharma brands share control with influencers to build patient trust and engagement? How does trust translate to ROI?

In our most recent Quarterly Landscape Report, WEGO Health analyzed responses after surveying 263 of our members across 86 conditions to uncover patient influencer perspectives on influencer trust, action, attitudes toward pharma promotion, and partnership preferences.

Influence of Lifestyle Influencers versus Patient Influencers

Lifestyle influencers invite their followers to get a glimpse into their picturesque lives, revealing many aspects of their personalities. They typically share multiple talents or passions, like fashion, home décor, travel, and family life with their followers. To earn the title of “influencer,” they typically have large followings on the macro (10K – 1M followers) or mega (1M+ followers) level. They are masters at their craft, churning out beautiful content on multiple platforms, with the most popular earning a comfortable living on paid partnership income. While lifestyle influencers numbers have been on the rise over the last decade, they did not focus much on health issues such as living with medical conditions and taking medications until much more recently.

Because personal health journeys are a newer addition to the parts of their lives influencers share with their followers, there is great skepticism on the receiving end. “I’ve been following you for years, so why am I only hearing about your debilitating migraines now?”

On the flip side, health issues and medical conditions are the predominant focus of a patient influencer. Sure, they sprinkle in lifestyle content occasionally, but looking at the feed of a patient influencer, you mainly see their journey of living with a medical condition(s), inspiration and support for others, and documented experiences with medications and therapies. In a way, managing their condition often is their lifestyle. The pictures aren’t always pretty and the content doesn’t share only the highlights, but it’s real, raw, and authentic.

While there are patient influencers out there with sizable followings, the vast majority tend to fall more within the nano (1K-10K) to micro (10K-100K) categories. Their content is tailored specifically to their audience of patients living with or caregiving for their condition(s) versus the general population, and the smaller and more niche their condition, typically the smaller the reach of the influencer. By and large, they are not living off of the income they make as an influencer, but hustling in many forms from consulting as a patient in addition to full-time jobs to earn a living — all while still devoting many hours to the communities they manage and inspire. But don’t underestimate their impact. Nano and micro-influencers have greater, more impactful engagement with their followers and a well-established foundation of authenticity and trust in their communities.

While the patient influencer is a relatively “new” phenomenon to be brought into the healthcare industry spotlight, these folks have existed for over a decade. It’s only in recent years that they’ve started to gain notoriety among marketers for the value that they can bring.

So the question is, when it comes to health information, who is trusted more, patient influencers or lifestyle influencers?

NOTE: For our research and analysis, WEGO Health surveyed our Patient Leader Network members who are both patients and, in many cases, patient influencers themselves to varying degrees. Within our network, we have advocates, activated patients, and influencers as members, and in digging into the data in this particular survey, we saw a 50/50 split between influencers and activated patients. Regardless of their personal “influencer” status, these people are patients first, and their perspectives on who they trust are more critical to analyze than perspectives of those in the general population. They represent the communities brands aim to reach and provide the best insight into the psychology of the patient mind.

According to our research, patient influencers handily win in the battle of trust. Exactly half of the respondents did not or only slightly trusted information shared by lifestyle influencers and only 14% felt that they could mostly or completely trust the information shared by lifestyle influencers in a sponsored ad or post. On the flip side, only 17% of respondents did not trust or only slightly trusted patient influencers. Over half (51%) mostly trusted to completely trust the information shared in a sponsored ad or post.

Lifestyle Influencer versus Patient Influencer Trust Factor Graph

Qualitative insights survey data we collected in the fall of 2020 shows that authenticity plays a big role in this equation. While lifestyle influencers may very well be living with the chronic conditions they discuss, they don’t always have the same level of knowledge and expertise to discuss these conditions as that of a patient influencer who speaks on it daily. Combined with the fact that many macro and mega lifestyle influencers are living above the financial means of the average patient and therfore have access to different and better resources, many patients feel that they just can’t relate.

When it comes to the likelihood that an influencer drives patients to research medications, the QLS results have a similar inverse relationship as the trust factor. Half of the respondents were not at all likely to only slightly likely to research medication that was promoted by a lifestyle influencer, whereas over half were mostly likely to very likely to research a medication promoted by a patient influencer.

Lifestyle Influencer versus Patient Influencer Trust Factor

An interesting curveball in this survey was patient community influence. When asked how likely patients were to research or ask their doctors about health information heard through or promoted by others in their communities, the results were overwhelmingly positive with 64% mostly and very likely. While this organic approach is the most coveted by pharma marketers, it is certainly the most difficult to scale, which is why many brands find the happy medium to be the patient influencer as a larger disseminator of information to their communities.

Influence to action lifestyle influencer versus patient influencer

Receptiveness to Branded Influencer Marketing

So, let’s talk about the approach. We know patients are receptive to health information and medication information shared by patient influencers, but what about the straight-up “brand mention”? How receptive are patients to fully branded ads and marketing messaging?

This was one of the most eye-opening findings from our survey because as it turns out, they are more receptive than many would think. Over half of patients are somewhat receptive and another 29% say they are very receptive to fully branded marketing.

Perhaps the more surprising statistic is found when we look at receptiveness to pharmaceutical partnerships. When asked how receptive they, as patients and influencers, would be to partnering with pharma on marketing and advertising initiatives, the large majority (86%) is somewhat to very receptive.

The most important word to focus on here is the word “partnership”. WEGO Health CEO, Jack Barrette, pointed out in our most recent webinar that patients are receptive to partnerships, but only if those partnerships are a true collaboration. This means honoring the expertise and autonomy of the patient influencer. The trust of their communities and their pride in their authenticity are not factors patient influencers are willing to sacrifice. For example, being told what to post, when, and how to say it might not ring as true to these patients as would a collaborative process of uncovering pain points within their community and communicating their perspective (in their own words) on a medication’s ability to solve those problems.

WEGO Health solicited open-ended answers on this topic because we really want to understand what patients feel makes a good branded partnership. Here is what a few respondents had to say.

Patient Influencer Pharma Partnership

For those on the fence or against these types of partnerships, many responses went back to their fears of medication being a deeply personal decision, one that belongs to the patient and their care team.

At WEGO Health, we understand this is not a simple feat. Having partnered on branded campaigns with pharma, we know the intricacies of the MLR process and the sensitivities of the patient community. Standing in the middle with outstretched arms, we strive to strike the balance so that both sides see the value and reap the benefits.

Execution with Patient Influencers

When a brand is considering a partnership and they have a patient influencer on board, what are the top considerations for the brand to get it right?

Considerations for Branded Patient Influencer Marketing

Breaking these components down, there was an interesting theme that authenticity and transparency trump engagement and influence. In the world of mega influencers, many marketers look at reach as the number one criteria of hiring an influencer for their campaigns. But in the pharmaceutical and healthcare space, this is a very different landscape. Patients find it most critical that the person sharing the information is genuine and real, living with the condition, as opposed to holding stock in their number of followers.

Branded Partnerships Patient Influencers and Pharmaceutical Companies

Patient Influencer Partnership Preferences

Because many pharma brands are accustomed to their celebrity endorsers being exclusive to their brand, they often struggle to understand why patient influencers are reluctant to exclusivity.

To dig in on this topic, we asked our respondents to weigh in. Our research confirms that patient influencers are reluctant to exclusivity, with 1 in 3 respondents answering they would “never” consider exclusivity. Over half, however, are okay with exclusivity, but only for a finite amount of time.

But why? Patients want to remain unbiased. As their conditions change, so often do the therapies that they take. They do not want to be held to agreements that do not allow them to mention, explore or share new medications and therapies that someday they may ultimately end up needing and succeeding with. Patients also like to be able to speak freely, and promoting flat tummy tea doesn’t hold the same weight as a potentially life-changing medication. While they are happy to share their positive experiences with their community, they understand the value in remaining open. Every person has a different body chemistry and each medication or therapy, therefore, is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Patient Influencer Branded Partnerships with Pharma Companies

Lastly, when looking into the future and what 2021 may bring, it wasn’t surprising that the majority of patients are not ready to travel. This survey was conducted in October 2020 when COVID-19 numbers were lower but even then, 3 in 4 respondents said they would not travel until cases decrease or there are proven treatments or a vaccine. But this doesn’t mean that partnerships need to be put on the back burner. Patient influencers are highly skilled at creating authentic content from within the walls of their own homes, as well as working virtually with pharma brands and companies like WEGO Health.

Patient Influencer Example High Engagement

Overall, the takeaways from our landscape research indicate that patients as influencers for brands will help build trust more so than lifestyle influencers, are more likely to increase target patient audience action, and that patients are receptive to branded marketing and ready to partner with pharma to make it happen. If you’d like to explore the power of a patient influencer campaign for your brand, we invite you to reach out to our team and explore the possibilities!

Itching for Empathy

It was a humid, ninety-degree Summer day in Indiana. Coach blows the whistle to end our conditioning training outdoors in the scorching heat. I was playing Division-1 collegiate soccer and those hot day sprints were brutal. As if being sore, tired, hot, and blistered weren’t enough, I had the honor of tacking on eczema, atopic dermatitis, and asthma as the cherries on top. Mandatory ice baths followed daily practice, which I dreaded — not because I minded the freezing cold, but because I was humiliated by the rashes all over my arms and legs.

Atopic dermatitis flare-ups caused my skin to be insanely itchy, dry, and red. Throw in the heat and sweat, and you get the most perfectly uncomfortable burn. Ever felt sandpaper? It’s like that on your skin, then add an itching fire to it. I’ve had AD my entire life, so I’m used to it, but I will never forget those days when I was severely insecure about my skin.

Through my lifelong journey with AD and Asthma, I’ve learned the importance of empathy for the patient from the healthcare industry — especially when it comes to advertising content. Authenticity is key.

More than 40% of consumers say that information found via social media affects the way they deal with their health. I am a part of that 40%.

Just the other week, I saw an ad on Facebook with a beautiful, famous, rashless person smiling comfortably, posing for a treatment option. It’s a stark contrast to the real-life patient experiences I shared above. It’s not reality, it’s not relatable, and it’s an insulting fairytale AD patients can only dream of.

Seeing that made me feel uncomfortable. I don’t always have a break out, but I know this condition isn’t sunshine, rainbows, and glamorous product photoshoots. The reality is that it’s painful, frustrating, and frankly sometimes embarrassing. When asked about that treatment, I don’t recommend it and I tell people how I feel. Not just because of that ad, but it does play a substantial part and certainly didn’t help me favor the brand more than before. A Google image search provides a more honest, authentic look at AD than the ad. That’s the core issue we need to fix — and the solution is empathy and authenticity.

What’s Empathy Got To Do With It?

According to Karla McLarne, author of “The Art of Empathy”, empathy is a “social and emotional skill that helps us feel and understand the emotions, circumstances, intentions, thoughts, and needs of others, such that we can offer sensitive, perceptive, and appropriate communication and support”.

As an AD and asthma patient, I can’t stress enough the importance of the right content messaging. After those brutally hot soccer practices in college, I wanted to put a snowsuit on to hide my flare-ups to refrain from itching. Then imagine I open Instagram and see a happy, rashless, well-known celebrity promoting an AD product — someone I’ve never heard speak about this condition before. Celebs have teams of make-up artists to cover any outbreaks, concierge doctors, and not to mention money most people only dream of. I don’t relate to that ad. It doesn’t make me feel good. It is not authentic. I just don’t trust it.

On the contrary, if I saw an ad that had a patient like me talking about their struggles with AD and how they found a product that works for them — that’s something I can relate to. Something that activates my empathy. Something I can trust. Because I know what that feels like.

Why Do People Connect with Authentic Content?

I originally had the title above as “Why Do Patients Connect with Authentic Content?”, but I caught myself. Throughout my own patient journey and working in the healthcare space on both the sales and patient sides, I have learned how important it is to make sure these two terms are congruent. Patients are people; human beings with human emotions. Whether at the doctor’s office or on social media, people want to be treated as humans, not lab rats or money makers.

Fractl, a content marketing agency, studied 345 of their campaigns and found that emotional, empathetic content drives better results. “Campaigns that received more than 20,000 social shares were eight times more likely to include a strong emotional hook than campaigns that received fewer than 1,000 shares.” The study also found that ads promoting positive feelings are the most successful. Think about it this way – if you’re happy and excited, you tend to want to share that feeling. The feeling resonates, and you want others to feel that, too. This is where empathy comes into play.

According to behavioral scientist, Susan Weiinshneck, Ph.D, all decisions are based on emotions. “You should just assume that all decisions involve emotions. Rather than just making logical arguments to persuade, you are more likely to persuade people to take action if you understand how they are feeling about the decision and feed their feeling.”

For example, if Suzie, a breast cancer patient, feels insecure after having a mastectomy then sees an ad with messaging encouraging her to feel secure and embrace her “new beautiful,” the empathetic messaging resonates and she is more likely to be interested in the product or service.

Why Now?

MM+M reported earlier this year that 42% of healthcare marketers increased social media ad spend targeting consumers. If marketers want a more significant ROI on their increasing budgets, empathetic and authentic messaging is an imperative.

According to the study, How Many Ads Do We See a Day in 2020?, “the average person is now estimated to encounter between 6,000 to 10,000 ads every single day.” That is an insane amount of content.

As if, collectively, our mental health isn’t already in jeopardy as a result of COVID-19, we are also overstimulated with ads competing for our attention and our dollar. From a mental health perspective, empathy in advertising would provide some relief to help with feelings of aloneness. From a strategic standpoint, empathetic advertising is more likely to catch our eyes, impact our decisions, and ultimately earn that dollar.

Jonah Berger, renowned social influence expert and Wharton school professor, has researched this topic in great depth. According to Berger, “In order to stand out, you’ve got to give people unique content, which is difficult to do when most people are turned off by traditional ads.” Emotional marketing and empathy in advertising is demonstrably not the norm and a way for brands to stand out.

How to Emotionally Support Your Content

I wish I had a secret sauce or magical plan to accomplish this, but the answer is relatively simple: care and make it clear. Genuinely care about the target audience. Show empathy in your content. What do they need? How can you help? What can you do for them?

Emotional marketing is the tactic to accomplish this. Hubspot defines emotional marketing as, “marketing and advertising efforts that primarily use emotion to make your audience notice, remember, share, and buy. Emotional marketing typically taps into a singular emotion, like happiness, sadness, anger, or fear, to elicit a consumer response.”

Jonah Berger outlines how emotional marketing works using the acronym STEPPS. STEPPS, broken down at a basic level, looks like this:
Social Currency- as discussed above, if people see things they like, they want to share. They want to look and feel valued and knowledgeable to those around them.
Triggers – the factors reminding patients to think about your product.
Emotion – human decision is driven by emotions, and people “are connected to feelings rather than function”
Public eye – make sure ads are being seen often, and to the right audience
Practical Value – connect emotionally with patients, but also be sure the product is valuable enough to talk about
Stories – humans connect with humans through many outlets, but stories are extraordinarily personal and able to truly connect us with each other and with a product

Remember the experience I shared in the beginning about an ad I saw that rubbed me the wrong way? That is a prime example of where emotional marketing was missed entirely.

So, what does an emotional marketing content piece look like? Let’s look at the 2018 Pharma Choice Professional Campaign Bronze Winner Biolumina and Novartis Pharmaceuticals. Their campaign for Kisqali nailed it.
Social Currency – Everyone wants to feel confident, beautiful and accepted. This ad for a brand for a rare breast cancer condition shows that these women are still beautiful.
Triggers – The unusual personification of chinaware and blue flowers triggers a powerful visual sensory reaction associated with Kisqali.
Emotion – Fragility, hope, and empathy are portrayed.
Public eye – The content placement was spot on.
Practical Value – Talks about “what does she need?” It makes women feel heard and cared for.
Stories – Without literally telling a story, there is still a compelling one here. The woman’s broken pieces are beautiful.

Hats off to you, Kisqali. This is an excellent example of touching on all the STEPPS for emotional advertising.

So where should healthcare marketers start? Working directly with patients to gather insights is the best way to understand their needs. From there, co-creating content with patients ensures the message hits the mark, and it’s also being relayed by an authentic voice that your target consumer trusts and relates to. According to WEGO Health behavioral intent survey data, nearly 9 in 10 patients would ask their doctor about a medication or treatment if they saw another patient talking about it online. For pharma and healthcare marketers, working directly with patients is the best way to ensure both the message and the method of communication will resonate with your brand’s target audience, therefore increasing the likelihood of consumer action.

Scratch the Itch

If you have AD, don’t take that advice literally…because, ouch! But for the rest of us, let’s start incorporating human emotion and empathy into advertising content. Research conducted by the Advertising Research Foundation concluded that “likeability” is the measure most predictive of whether an advertisement will increase a brand’s sales.

We know that emotional resonance increases consumer engagement and the likelihood to share. This implies likeability. When consumers can associate likeable content with a brand, it’s a practice in increasing brand trust, as well. When consumers like and trust a brand, they continue to engage over time. The key is to tap into empathy. Let’s ask patients what they need and with what they connect.

The next time you start thinking about content, marketing, and advertising, remember first to honor that patients are people – people like me who may sometimes be embarrassed by their AD breakouts, people who can’t relate to celebrities, people who feel human emotions just looking for more authenticity in the world.

What Patients Value Most

WEGO Health VP of Business Development, Laurel Netolicky, was recently asked by PM360 to weigh in on what patients value most, especially in the era of COVID-19. Touching on themes such as having a seat at the table to help shape DTC plans, trial design, and being a part of all phases of the product lifecycle, Laurel’s expertise lends some great insights to pharma marketers as we enter brand planning season. Check out this preview below, or click the link below to read the full article on with insights from Laurel and other industry leaders.

“Patients want to see authentic, trustworthy content from pharma companies. For ad campaigns to be successful, they should be built in partnership with real patients. Pharma companies already face an uphill battle being under strict regulatory constraints limiting their creative ability. We hear time and again from the members of our network of patient leaders that a pharma message must be transparent, useful for patients, and emotional to make an impact. The messaging must also be in a language that patients can understand.

In a recent survey, WEGO Health asked more than 300 patients from dozens of health conditions, “What are the top three types of information or support resources from a pharmaceutical company that are most valuable to chronic care patients?” The findings revealed that 98.5% want to learn more about help paying for medications followed by medication management at 82.5%. Yet, when asked how aware patients are of the financial support services provided by pharmaceutical companies, 61% shared that they are either “not at all aware” or “only somewhat aware” of these services.”

Read the full article.

The Patient Perspective: Patient Influencers and The Impact of Authenticity

As any patient will tell you, there’s nothing like out of touch, unsolicited medical advice from companies to get them to slam the door in your face. When you’re sick and you’re trying to decide how to manage it — there’s simply nothing more infuriating than a tone-deaf portrayal of your illness in a commercial or print ad to make you feel alone, misunderstood and unseen.

Just as we demanded that women stop smiling and frolicking in fields during tampon commercials, so too do we demand a realistic representation of patients telling us how to live and cope with different diseases.

Real people, not actors has become a tagline for authenticity in healthcare. As patient consumers, we’ve become conscious of how gratifying it feels to see our stories represented as they are truly experienced. As we become veterans of our diseases, it becomes our duty to light the way for others as they have lit the way for us.

So who do patients want to get their advice from outside the exam room?

Becoming An Advocate of Influence

Like many others, I became an accidental influencer when I started sharing my story through my blog. I was writing about my highs and lows, my hospitalizations, and helplessness as I fumbled my way through a new diagnosis. I talked about the mental olympics it takes to go from being told “this is how you’re going to treat your disease” to taking an active role in planning your treatment with your doctor. I talked about leaving a place of shame and self-consciousness and asserting my voice in the exam room.

I found myself blogging about how if the patient-doctor relationship was a two-way street, we might actually end up where we wanted to go.

Across the internet, my journey was mirrored by cancer patients, autoimmune patients, chronic pain patients–and so many others. It wasn’t long after I started my blog that I was nominated for a WEGO Health Award. A company that celebrated patient leaders and their contributions to awareness, advocacy, and innovation. I found an entire network of patients like me who were utilizing their social platforms to usher in a new era of support for each other.

We were different from the influencers hawking diet supplements and fashion accessories. We were setting the bar for humanizing healthcare and by sharing our reviews, tips, and honest revelations we were creating a new breed of trendsetters: the proactive patient.

In Sickness and in Social Media

When it comes to patient influencers, it’s not the images of airbrushed and toned models showcasing glittery packaging that comes to mind. Patients who follow other patients that they respect and admire are still thinking, I want what it is that they have. It’s just not always as obvious as new kicks or flashy gadgets. How do you showcase quality of life in a 30-second video or a 120 character status?

Often it’s a patient who’s able to say, “I did find support from my doctor when I came to them with my unmanageable symptoms” or “I found the right tools to help me explain to my family and friends how my disease is making life more complicated right now.” Or simply, “I’m not coping well right now, but I’m not ashamed.”

As it turns out, social media really can be the prescriber in how to live realistically with our disease — outside the scope of what our doctors can suggest for us. And I’m not talking about recommendations of literal supplements or diets, but an example of how real diseases progress in the real world. How they touch on our school, work, relationships, sex lives — how they influence our emotions and choices.

There is a bigger story being told in the captions of our fellow patient’s feeds than we have ever seen in the tagline of a magazine ad for our meds.

Social media can give us a matrix of examples for the difficult choices ahead. These stories can help us to understand our symptoms, explore treatment options, and find our footing in a new world of unanticipated personal responsibility.

Yes, we need our medical experts, and we need support, but we also need these influencers as pivotal allies in our journey.

For years they’ve been establishing their presence across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, transcending the role of support group leaders and becoming influencers for their condition.

And now? They’re ready to open their eyes and @’s to collaborations with pharma.

More than Money, Patient Influencers Make Change

It has not been an easy transition for pharma who is often handcuffed by the restraints of highly-regulated industry advertising standards to partner with patients across social media.

Unlike conventional influencers, patient influencers aren’t going to receive coupon codes for their audiences or free samples of medications to try.

The most valuable “get” from their work with pharma?

“A seat at the table,” says WEGO Health Patient Leader Network VP, Julie Croner. “Patient influencers are trying to make the hardships that patients deal with a little easier. If they work side-by-side with pharma, they have the opportunity for their voices, concerns, and ideas to be heard — and to be paid for it.”

Patients who are chosen for influencer opportunities are often paid not only for their social posts, but for their participation in insight groups, one-on-one conversations with pharmaceutical marketing firms, and survey participation.

They bring key concerns from their disease communities to a forum where pharmaceutical companies can make real change.

In return, influencers open their feeds to conversations about new treatment options.

The goal is to give patients the information they need to become advocates for their treatment plans. Influencer campaigns will aim to inspire patient-doctor conversations that have both parties coming to the table with ideas on how to improve quality of life.

This back and forth can spark a proactive patient towards successful treatment and stops them from being prescribed a one-for-all treatment plan.

When asked what action they would take when someone they consider influential shares information from a pharmaceutical company about a specific medication, 87% of consumers said they would ask a healthcare professional about the medication.

Contrary to popular belief, most patient influencers don’t have an ax to grind with pharmaceutical companies. By the time they become the ones to look to, they understand that disease management involves a need for partnerships with prescribers and prescriptions. Medication keeps patients alive and functional, and while no one is a fan of unwanted side-effects or unsuccessful treatment plans — rarely do we fall into the right solution without flexing the muscles of personal medical experimentation.

The Bridge Between Patients and Pharma

So how do patients go from sharing their stories on social to collaborating with pharma goliaths? How do they retain authenticity in their messaging while expanding their personal brands and social audience?

If they were searching for the bridge between the world of patient advocacy and pharmaceutical might, they wouldn’t need to look much further than the community of WEGO Health, a vast network of patient experts, opinion leaders, influencers, and advocates who are given opportunities to collaborate on a professional level with healthcare.

Patients paid attention when the company started recognizing advocates for their contributions through their annual WEGO Health Awards a decade ago. Now the company has grown to support patient leaders in their careers as social influencers by offering free online education, databases of engaged patient leaders to connect and collaborate with, and a gig marketplace where patients can find relevant paid opportunities related to their disease communities.

The company has been a strong proponent for patients getting paid for their contributions to healthcare marketing and will only broker partnerships between patients and pharma companies if the patient makes a profit from their experience and time.

Now, WEGO Health has launched Pharmaceutical Grade Influencer Marketing: a chance for patient leaders to take the next step in helping their dedicated social audiences make smart treatment choices.

The WEGO Health Pharmaceutical Grade Influencer Marketing product offers services that include influencer marketing, social media management, branding, and photo and video production. The company seeks out the top patient influencers across all disease communities and gives them the expert training they need to kick off a successful partnership, including training on adverse events, comment moderation, and content pre-screened by both parties before posting.

With sponsored posts being boosted by WEGO Health’s proprietary algorithm, patients receive a significant boost in views and follows to their social networks — a benefit that will help them reach new audiences and expand their professional careers as influencers.

The Patient Journey Will Always be Real

While other types of social influencers may grapple with the loss of authenticity as they build their personal brands, this is unlikely to be the case for patient leaders. For these social stars, health concerns are chronic and unlikely to be resolved by a high follower count.

We are all brought back to our vulnerabilities when dressed in a hospital gown, when at the mercy of a pre-operative countdown, when staring down two treatment options and looking outside ourselves for support and guidance.

All we have is the roadmaps of patients who have been there before us, and in particular, those who have been brave enough to post to their feeds about how finding their voice brought them closer to the quality of life we all strive for.

WEGO Health Launches Pharmaceutical Grade Influencer Marketing

Trust versus results. Why should brands have to choose?

At WEGO Health, we’re no stranger to partnering with patient influencers. Over the last 13 years, we’ve built the world’s largest network of Patient Leaders.

Patient Leaders are patients or caregivers who are also influencers, advocates, and activists that are transforming healthcare by providing education, empowerment, and support to the communities they lead.

Over the past decade, WEGO Health has been connecting members of our Patient Leader Network with global pharmaceutical companies to provide insight, to co-create genuine content, and to power authentic social media marketing campaigns.

The Influencer Marketing Opportunity – and Pharma’s Challenges

Influencer marketing focuses on collaborating with key leaders to drive brand messages to the larger market. Different from marketing directly to a large group of consumers, influencer marketing engages influencers to get out the word for the brand. Because social proof is an important way for people to trust a brand, companies rely on influencer marketing to increase customer participation and target a new audience.

The State of Influencer Marketing report by Linqia shows that 40% of all marketers ran six or more influencer campaigns in 2019, and 57% say they’re increasing their budgets in 2020. That same study also shows that 43% of marketers plan to spend 11-25% of their marketing budget on influencer marketing.

And in its 2019 Influencer Marketing Survey, MediaKix shows why influencer marketing is growing so fast:

• 80% of marketers find influencer marketing effective.
• 71% of marketers rate the quality of customers and traffic from influencer marketing as better than other marketing sources.
• 89% of marketers say influencer marketing ROI is as good or better than other marketing channels.

But as they have ramped up their understanding of social media marketing, WEGO Health has seen pharmaceutical companies struggle to take their influencer marketing beyond TV-ad celebrities or one-off relationships with only PR value.

That’s why we’ve been testing and fine-tuning what we’re calling Pharmaceutical Grade Influencer MarketingSM – a new business offering for our pharma partners seeking to cultivate strong patient community relationships and drive measurable DTC-scale business results.

We’ve designed our offering to tackle four very real challenges that are holding pharma back.

1. Will influencers work with pharma? The well-documented trust gap between patients and pharma is a chasm to cross when recruiting patient influencers. That gap translates to a lot of time spent cultivating new relationships and setting out terms of engagement that assure influencers of their independence and objectivity. Even the best agencies hired to help need to start from scratch.

2. Is there any hope of getting this through MLR? The second, very much related issue is legal and regulatory – a pharma constant that throws up walls to influencer marketing must-haves like authentic content and real-time interaction between influencers and their followers.

3. Can influencer marketing scale to be a foundational DTC initiative? Trust and regulatory gauntlets have made even the best pharma influencer marketing programs one-offs, with nominal reach. And reams of research shows that nano- and micro-influencers – those with the smallest followings – are many times more likely to generate real engagement with their followers than macro- and celebrity influencers.

4. What can marketers expect for real business results? Make no mistake, trusting relationships with influencers and their communities are invaluable – and core to WEGO Health’s mission. But influencer marketing won’t flourish without a clear connection between investment and business results – results that can be assessed alongside other investments, like visitors to a brand web site or patients who engaged with key content.

“Influencer marketing for pharmaceuticals and serious diseases is completely different. Patient influencers are not for sale at any price, and it’s been a long process for pharma to build trust one influencer at a time,” says Richelle Horn, Sr. Director of Marketing, WEGO Health. “This trust barrier has pigeon-holed influencer marketing as a feel-good initiative – not a scalable, accountable digital marketing program.”

Pharmaceutical Grade Influencer Marketing

At WEGO Health, we’ve committed to evolve influencer marketing by offering scalable, authentic influencer marketing to our pharmaceutical partners as our core social media program. We believe that no pharma marketer nor agency should have to choose between building trust among patient communities and producing results – influencer marketing can achieve both when executed correctly.

“We start with our member network of over 100,000 patient influencers to quickly find the right group of collaborators. We’ll co-create content crafted to meet the authentic needs of the patient community as well as pharma business and regulatory requirements,” says WEGO Health Chief Client Officer, Kristen Hartman. “But the real excitement is in how we can scale reach using our proprietary audiences – how we can engage the most impactful micro-influencers and still touch millions. The combination allows us to deliver DTC-scale influencer marketing in a performance model with solid guarantees.”

We know from behavioral intent research that patients listen to other patients. When specific medication information is shared by an influencer on behalf of a pharmaceutical company, 87% of patients are likely to ask their healthcare professional about the information.

And with something as personal as healthcare, that trust and engagement is critical.

Fueling the Mission

We’re excited about the additional opportunities that this will bring to our vast network of members who are dedicated to transforming the healthcare industry.

Our 13 years of experience have taught us that Patient Leaders want a seat at the table with companies that are trying to reach them. In recent research conducted by WEGO Health, we found that not only did Patient Leaders want to partner with the pharmaceutical industry, but influencer marketing was one of the top three desired partnership opportunities.

In fact, another recent survey with WEGO Health & the Digital Health Coalition showed that Patient Leaders actually recommended that pharmaceutical marketers spend more on patient influencer marketing over more traditional forms of advertising such as display and search.

“Patient Leaders don’t just want to hear from pharma companies, they want to be a part of the message. Influencer marketing allows them to make pharma’s communication more authentic, while it amplifies their voice and fuels their mission,” says Julie Croner, VP of Patient Leader Network.

The value a Patient Leader brings to their community has never been greater in this era of uncertainty. WEGO Health aims to leverage that value to address the needs of the pharma industry and to encourage and facilitate a patient-centric future where pharma can rebuild the trust of the patients they serve.

Top Questions from Pharma Marketers for Patient Leaders 2020: The COVID-19 Edition

“Unprecedented times.” Without further explanation, the reference is clear.

2020 isn’t halfway through and already we’re living in a different world than that of 2019. Marketing plans haven’t just been disrupted, they’ve been overturned, just as all of our lives have. What patients and their communities were concerned about a mere five months ago has radically shifted, leaving many brands unsure of how to best support them while navigating the rough waters of a new world.

To help address this, the WEGO Health team held an invitation-only virtual lunch and learn in April for our valued pharmaceutical partners to help uncover tangible tips for companies to improve the patient experience amidst a global pandemic. A selection of submitted questions was answered by a panel of four patient opinion leaders representing a wide range of acute, chronic, and rare conditions.

The panel covered a range of topics from involving patients at every opportunity and speaking in patient-friendly terms, to the desire for patient support programs, patient fears of drug shortages, and lack of information about the pandemic’s effect on their condition. In just 60 minutes, we had only scratched the surface of the patient experience conversation, leaving many

lingering questions from our industry partners unanswered.

We knew there would be value in conducting a quantitative follow-up survey to our Patient Leader Network ensuring all questions were addressed. The survey was a massive undertaking, fielding over 300 responses across 100 health conditions. As we dug deeper into the industry questions, we uncovered both practical and tactical advice from Patient Leaders.

More than manufacturing: Patients find the most value in financial support and disease management resources

When asking Patient Leaders what types of information and support resources they find most valuable, nearly 2 in 3 patients (63%) count financial support among the top three. With unemployment rates at their highest since the Great Depression, patients need help paying for medications now more than ever — and they also need to be made aware when programs like this already exist.

Coming in second and third, more than half of patients find high value in medication and disease management. Living within the walls of this industry, we know that many of these resources already exist, but we see pharma struggle to communicate their availability to patients. What is the ROI tied to an adherence or support program? From patients’ perspectives, it is a worthy investment and one that can drive engagement for your brand, as well.

Ignorance is not bliss: Patients are largely unaware that financial support services are available to them

Companies spend countless hours and resources developing financial support programs that more than 6 in 10 patients are “not at all” to only “somewhat” aware exist. Patient Leaders on the cutting edge of their conditions report that only 39% of patients within their condition communities are “aware” to “extremely aware” of these programs. As one of the top three most valuable resources, there’s a huge information gap between treatment manufacturers and patients here. How can you bridge that gap? If your company or brand has a financial support program for patients, ensure you also have a plan to market it. If not, consider the benefits of providing this for your consumers and the rapport it can build between your brand and patient communities.

When it comes to virtual solutions, get connected

The world has slowly but surely been shifting to a more virtual model, and COVID-19 has no doubt accelerated that shift. In light of the pandemic, there are a number of virtual solutions pharma can provide that patients are eager to embrace.

Nearly 3 in 4 patients would like to see pharma companies get involved in telehealth adoption. WEGO Health has seen big pharma companies forging partnerships with telehealth over the past several years, and COVID-19 is simply the accelerator that patients needed to inspire adoption.

Well over half of patients would like to see more detailed information around COVID-19 on pharmaceutical company websites. These are not the obligatory COVID-19 messages that patients are getting from retail brands and restaurants ad infinitum, but rather high-science and educational information surrounding the impact that the disease may have on their conditions and their medications. We know that science takes time, and information like this may not exist or may require in-depth, long-term research to ensure validity. But, even a simple message that it’s being addressed can make all the difference in the world.

It can be done, and in some cases, it has been done — and quite well at that. We’ve seen this type of unbiased, non-brand related content living on corporate websites and being shared on LinkedIn amongst industry colleagues, but there is a missed opportunity to share this information with the patients that can benefit from it the most. Information needs to be shared at scale, not suppressed within the organic news-feeds of our industry walls.

The other virtual solution we’ve seen taking shape prior to, and now accelerated by, COVID-19 is consumer educational webinars. Patient Leaders would like to participate in these events, not just for the knowledge it can bring them, but also for the knowledge they can, therefore, share with their communities. We know from patient behavioral intent research that when a healthcare influencer shares information about a condition or therapy, 9 out of 10 patients who follow them will ask an HCP about the information.

Half a glass

While digital spend is increasing in the pharmaceutical industry, how likely are patients to visit treatment websites on their own?

The answer could be either encouraging or discouraging, depending on whether you are a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty type of person. We prefer the glass-half-full approach, where just over half (52%) of Patient Leaders say they would be extremely likely or somewhat likely to visit a treatment website.

This provides a great opportunity for pharma to deliver an engaging and informative customer experience on-site and is a strong indicator that consumer digital marketing has never been more important. The opportunity for pharma to capture the other 48% exists in awareness and discovery platforms like social media, influencer marketing, search, and display.

The pharmaceutical report card

Our industry partners wanted to know — real talk — what grade Patient Leaders would give their companies on their efforts to be patient-centric.

Another “glass-half-full” or “glass-half-empty” answer in that 38% gave them a C – a passing grade, and while we are making progress, there’s plenty of opportunity for growth.

Only 7% of patients would give pharma an A grade. It’s a discouraging number that we all can agree we’d like to, and arguably need to, improve. When asked the open-ended question on what pharma could do to earn an A grade, Patient Leaders replied with a few resounding themes:

• Include patients at every opportunity (from research to marketing planning)
• Include ‘real’ patients across the board – patients want to hear from other patients. Authenticity goes a long way.
• Support for families and caregivers
• Communication of support programs
• Speak our language

Partner with patients as the experts they are

Lastly, our industry partners wanted to know how Patient Leaders would most prefer to partner with them. While answers varied, patients gravitated toward the opportunity to join an advisory board, be a part of the brand messaging/campaigns, and share information online via influencer marketing opportunities — all things that are achievable in the here and now.

The pharmaceutical industry has a unique opportunity in 2020 to earn the trust of patients by providing expert information, quality resources and support, and aligning with patients in a true partnership to advance beyond the status quo pre-COVID-19.

We encourage you to access the full report here and to speak to our team to learn more about how WEGO Health connects Patient Leaders with our pharmaceutical partners, providing patient insights, content creation, and digital marketing solutions to activate patients.

8 Tips for Regulatory Submissions

It’s MLR day. The review will either go incredibly smoothly, or it will be painful. Based on the 53 comments on the piece that you slotted for a 30-minute review, we’re leaning towards the latter. On top of it all, the piece features an actual patient, and reviews on patient content can be difficult to navigate. At this point, our advice is to get yourself a large coffee and get ready for rebuttal. Promotional pieces featuring real patient stories shouldn’t be scary. The good news is, after reading this, you’ll be better prepared for your next submission and review.

When it comes to getting custom patient content approved, the WEGO Health team has done it all. From unbranded videos to microsites to completely branded social media ads, we consider ourselves experts at receiving that blessed email with the subject reading, “Approved for Distribution.”

With over 13 years of MLR experience and thousands of patient content pieces approved, we’ve learned a few tricks of the trade that help keep programs moving through the regulatory process as smoothly and quickly as possible. Picture a non-scripted patient video going through review and receiving zero comments. Yes, it’s as beautiful as it sounds. And yes, we’ve done it. Quite a few times.

You can do it as well, and below are the top tips for getting patient-centered materials approved by regulatory.

When in doubt, “concept” it out. Before beginning a new program that features patients, it’s always best to kick-off the program with a concept review. This will help you to learn the questions or concerns that your review team will have. You should leave a concept review with a green light from all parties involved to proceed with the program, along with clear guidelines and instructions that will ensure your first formal submission is properly formatted. A concept review ensures that the regulatory team truly understands the program and won’t have any conceptual questions when you submit your formal pieces.

Examples can be your best friend. If you can share examples of a finished product to get MLR to fully grasp your program, do it. Whether it’s internal examples or examples from other companies or brands, regulatory teams like to know they aren’t alone in what they are reviewing and approving, and that similar content has been approved. However, if you’ve sat through any reviews where examples are reviewed, you may hear, “I don’t care about these examples and what other teams are doing.” At that point, abort the example mission and carry on.
Essential asset gathering is key. Incorporate high-resolution logo images, follow company style guides, and leverage social media templates to ensure that submissions are following the latest guidelines.

Don’t recreate the wheel. Regulatory teams are more comfortable reviewing content that is in a format that they are familiar with. If you’re trying to get promotional copy approved, see if there are templates that have been approved in the past that you can use when creating your submission document.

Embrace the annotation station. In all submission documents, if you’re trying to depict actions users can take on a piece, like clicking to play a video or hitting “share” to send to a friend, and those actions for users to take are not annotated, the piece will be kicked back to you. For example, if you’re trying to get promotional copy approved and have an example of an in-feed ad, clicks, likes, shares, and/or comments must be annotated to inform reviewers what actions can be taken. When in doubt, provide extra images and/or video to use as demos to explain available actions as thoroughly as possible.
Have offline discussions with an MLR team lead. Getting ready to submit a new piece from a new program for review? If so, one tactic we’ve worked with clients on is to try and schedule a call with the regulatory lead to walk through the format of the document. A lot of times they can point out potential red flags prior to a submission, which can help save your review timeline. This is also an opportunity to refresh their memories of the program, especially if the concept review was weeks or months ago.

Understand the patient relationship. When working with patients, it’s crucial that you understand every aspect of the relationship with the patient. For example, is the patient being compensated for their time? How much are they being compensated? Have they signed a contract and if so, who owns the contract? These questions typically arise during a review or concept review, so be prepared to answer the questions.

Vetting of patient content, or else! In addition to understanding the patient relationship, complete vetting on the patient’s social media channels. You want to ensure that this patient isn’t online talking about inappropriate topics, or posting, “I hate [INSERT YOUR CLIENT’S BRAND HERE]”. The last thing you want is to submit a patient profile for review and have someone from regulatory click on their Instagram feed to see borderline pornography. Save yourself some embarrassment, and do not skip any vetting.

Partnering with patients is no longer a nice to have, it’s a need to have. Brand teams need not let their fear of a complicated MLR process prevent them from creating user-generated authentic content that best resonates with their community. By following these tips, can you bring compelling content to life and not lose credibility with your MLR team.