Ram Kumar Mishra
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Six months after the pharma giant Merck KGaA reformulated and distributed a vital hormone replacement drug, thousands of affected French patients rallied together to sign a petition and have the change reversed. What began as a public outcry on social media quickly escalated with the French government intervening and driving Merck to put the old formula back on the shelves. By then, Merck had already invested €32 million in the transition while preparing the new drug for a global rollout. Even as scientists try to unravel why the reformulation has led to such reactions, it is felt that consumer expectations could have been handled better. As Le Monde puts it, the situation possibly worsened with the company and doctors failing to properly communicate this change to patients, which, in turn, may have led patients to panic and attribute a nocebo effect to the new formulation.

Incidents like these have historically put pharmaceutical companies in negative light and brand reputation is unlikely to improve unless they begin thinking like a consumer. In the US alone, where 33% consumers research prescriptions, medications, and treatment decisions on social media, what they discover and discuss impacts brand perceptions and, eventually, treatment decisions. For pharmas, these channels stand out as unprecedented sources of information on consumer sentiments.

Cure for Contextual Blindness

Customers today are increasingly connected, informed and empowered. Understanding your brand’s perception can not only serve as diagnostic tool for cause correction of marketing strategies, but can also help in setting the course for planned outreach programs.

Drawing insights from customers can help improve products and drive positive brand advocacy. However, the online buzz surrounding a brand may seem like white noise. Analytics can parse customer posts at a granular level to segment customer sentiments contextually. Advanced social media analytics can provide real-time critical insights about brand perception not only during product launch, but it can also could help manufacturers to improve their products over entire life-cycle.

The pharma sector’s drug pricing policies are often hotly debated, and social media analytics can be leveraged to understand customer sentiments surrounding the cost of a specific drug. Last year when Mylan revised the EpiPen price from nearly USD 100 to USD 500, it drew national criticism around the price increase. Mylan later added several programs to supplement the costs of EpiPens. Leveraging social listening tools about changing brand sentiment can thus provide timely actionable insights. In addition, insights gathered through contextual analysis of patient outcome in clinical trials can be used to inform low cost drug formulations.

Data-driven Best Practices

Apart from understanding the customer’s perception of a pharma brand based on pricing choices, companies can tap into the same set of social channels to not just listen in, but also open dialogue with the customer. Insights gleaned from these conversations will allow pharma companies to design holistic programs and campaigns aimed at improving compliance, identify patient influencers, and raising awareness about the probable side effects and benefits of a certain drug.

With increasing focus on marketing accountability, the importance of accessing product sentiments is now clearer than ever. By leveraging a combination of advanced analytics and active social listening, you can understand the patient sentiment more clearly, and can take actionable insights in near real time. What’s more, you may be able to uncover opportunities hidden in plain sight that can give you an edge over competition.

Are you using social media analytics to listen in on your customers’ sentiments and improve your product? Do let us know in the comments section below.


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