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Unbranded or Branded? That is the Question!

Unbranded disease education is valuable to healthcare audiences and doesn’t demand fair balance, giving you much more flexibility as a pharma marketer—but making a connection to your treatment can be tenuous.

Conversely, branded efficacy and safety information are vital for physicians and helpful to patients when making an Rx decision—but they limit what’s possible in channels where space is limited, and when user-generated content makes compliance difficult.

Deciding between unbranded and branded campaigns, and how much to invest in each for optimal results, is therefore one of your most significant choices. This week I analyze the options, and offer useful recommendations.

Option 1: Unbranded Campaigns

Providing Disease Education
Unbranded campaigns are well-positioned for drugs prior to FDA approval. Patient, caregiver, and HCP segments are educated about the disease state, building the implicit need for the upcoming treatment option before any claims can be made.

Post-approval, disease education makes sense from a patient journey perspective: Patients search symptoms online, seeking contextually relevant info. From there, they’re directed to talk to their doctor after which branded content becomes relevant.

A multichannel chronic angina educational campaign provides a best-in-class example. Gilead’s Speak From the Heart creates an immersive unbranded website experience, driven by a broad media campaign including social media.

With assets from a chronic angina checklist to videos featuring real sufferers, the campaign empowers patients to take action, then offers important questions to ask their cardiologist – ultimately leading to treatment conversations on the brand.

Building Patient Communities
Unbranded efforts are optimal for communicating with patients in social channels where space limitations, sharing functionality, and open commenting make regulatory compliance difficult, and often impossible. But you need the right approach.

Unlike other channels, social creates an intrinsic sense of community and can help potential patients feel comfortable asking questions and voicing their concerns in a friendly, credible, and empathetic peer-to-peer environment.

Creating an unbranded social page on Facebook, for example, helps bring these conversations to your own door. Compared to Instagram and Twitter, Facebook better enables control, and helps ensure reputation management and compliance.

A best-in-class social example is Pfizer and the American Lung Association Facebook page “Quitter’s Circle”. The multichannel campaign creates a safe space that offers empowerment resources, personal videos, and practical advice and next steps.

By first building engagement and trust with content and community, the brand encourages smokers to seek solutions—one of which might be the sponsoring brand that can help them quit. The relationship is genuine, contextual, and symbiotic.

Option 2: Branded Rx Campaigns

Branded content helps educate and empower HCPs to determine the right treatment for the right patient at the right time. By nature, these campaigns make claims, so full FDA/OPDP regulatory compliance is required. Fair balance is mandatory.

The good news is pharma marketers have never had such a broad and powerful swath of options. Digital is optimally suited to target, engage, and convert an increasingly nuanced, hard-to-reach audience at every touch point along the treatment journey.

The challenging news is that ensuring compliance demands highly specialized, proven expertise in FDA guidance. Make sure that you work with an experience media partner that understands the rules and knows how to flourish within these strict boundaries.

Owning Search
Whether your product has newly launched or is close to losing its exclusively, search should be prioritized as a top channel for branded Rx campaigns. After all, physicians actively research conditions and treatments; your brand is an answer to their queries.

The first page of Google results captures the highest click traffic, so your media partner needs to get your paid ads visible and impactful. Informed and creative bidding will get you the most impressions per dollar. Hold your experts accountable.

Buyer beware! Character limits in search ads make any kind of claim impossible. That means mention of drug name precludes indication. Finding creative ways to still convey relevance and action is both art and science, and demands proven chops.

Paid search, furthermore, serves as a valuable brand messaging lab to optimize new ad copy. Since results can be reported in real time, you can tweak content with an eye for maximizing click-throughs to your branded properties. Experiment and optimize.

Smart Websites websites that transparently and compellingly tell the whole story – from efficacy and clinical trials to safety and side effects – reinforce search results and help move HCPs and patients from awareness to engagement to prescription and support.

A good example is Not only user-friendly, the site immediately provides special value to patients by showcasing savings information. The zip code-driven Pharmacy Finder on the main menu drives specific action toward prescribing.

Zoloft Card

By offering a product sample to an HCP audience or ways to save on your product to patients, a branded site contextually encourages immediate action with your brand. Digital is dynamic, and pharma sites are now all about interactive customer service.

Powering-Up the Point of Care: EHR
According to the 2017 Taking the Pulse, a survey of 2,784 online physicians, physicians overwhelming prefer to access information pertaining to product dosing, treatment guidelines, and patient education materials inside the Electronic Health Record system.

Pharma websites remain the online hub for all things branded—but advertising within the EHR contextualizes messaging in the exact moment and space where prescribing decisions are made. Immediacy brings your brand high-impact relevance — and results.

Branded or Unbranded? That is NOT the question! Instead, a strategically driven and data-optimized combination of disease education and claims will best reach, engage, and convert your patient, caregiver, and HCP audiences.

Knowing how to choose and where best to commit resources and money is key. Is your media partner actively considering and substantiating these decisions? Media mix modeling isn’t only about channels, but content, too. Marc is eager to help!

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