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Influencer Marketing for Pharmaceuticals: Effective Patient Influencers

Influencer Marketing for Pharmaceuticals: Effective Patient Influencers

Influencer Marketing – now there’s a term that wasn’t around “back in the day” when many were just starting out. So, what exactly is Influencer Marketing?

As seen on Huffington Post, Influencer Marketing “is simply the action of promoting and selling products or services through people (influencers) who have the capacity to have an effect on the character of a brand.” That is, indeed, a very simplistic way of putting it. But, while the term “Influencer Marketing” is relatively new, the concept is not and has been evolving with the times.

Turning specifically to influencer marketing for pharmaceuticals, let’s narrow the focus to how healthcare and pharmaceutical companies partner with Patient Influencers. In his article, Perspectives on Influencer Marketing in Healthcare, Matt Breese explains that “patients are, by nature, influencers. A mother influences her family’s healthcare decisions. A cancer survivor’s poignant story influences other cancer patients. A patient with a positive hospital experience influences friends and neighbors.”

Patient Influencers do often play a role in the decision-making process of fellow patients. You might ask why someone would trust a fellow patient over a representative of the healthcare or pharmaceutical industry. As Fabrizio Perrone spells out for us in his article, Influencer Marketing & the Healthcare Industry:

People look for a familiar tone that presents facts and other types of information in an authentic manner, especially when it comes to healthcare as it is a sensitive area in their lives.

Enter P2P [peer-to-peer] influencers and subject matter experts. People want to be engaged and educated by these two within the healthcare and medical communities. P2P influencers share their practical experiences in a way that makes them an appealing resource for their followers. Subject matter experts deliver complex medical information to consumers in a way that is easily understood and related to.


Influencer Marketing of the Past

Before the advent of modern day social media, those who were recognized as “Influencers” were often well-paid, high-profile individuals such as athletes, celebrities, and politicians. One of the most well-known early promoters of disease or condition awareness was Senator Bob Dole. In 1998, he was involved in a campaign focused on erectile dysfunction awareness. This campaign based on influencer marketing for pharmaceuticals was sponsored by Pfizer, the maker of Viagra, and is one that brought awareness of erectile dysfunction to the masses.

The Katie Couric Effect

Another example of celebrity-fueled condition awareness occurred when Katie Couric underwent a colonoscopy after her husband’s death from colon cancer. According to Drugwatch, “In what researchers coined ‘The Katie Couric Effect,’ colonoscopy rates jumped 20 percent across the U.S. in the following months.”

This article goes on to add that “Couric’s promotion didn’t appear to be funded by a company, and few would question her motives in raising awareness for the disease that caused her husband’s death. In fact, most celebrities probably care very much about the causes they’re raising awareness for.”


Influencer Marketing Today

Fast forward to today’s Influencers and you’ll see a much different face. Specifically, in healthcare, Influencers today are often “regular people.” They’re not celebrities in the traditional sense of the word; however, in some cases, they are considered rock stars within the healthcare community.

Some are directly affected by a disease or are being treated with a specific product for an ailment, while others have gained so much knowledge about a condition area that they have risen to the level of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs).

The common thread is that all have an ever-increasing community of followers who value their opinion.



The rise of the Social Influencer – image source

According to a 2016 article by David Zaritsky:

“A recent report from McKinsey revealed that customers are twice as likely to switch to a new brand because of an everyday person’s recommendation rather than a celebrity’s endorsement. That is why more and more brands are turning to influencer marketing, in which bloggers, vloggers, or advocates who have a lot of pull within their communities are being approached by brands with information – not money.”


Attributes of Highly Effective Patient Influencers

Just because someone has experience in a condition area or with a pharmaceutical product, it does not necessarily mean they’d be an effective Influencer for a marketing campaign. The best suited Patient Influencers possess certain attributes that add credibility to the information they share and strengthen their overall effectiveness.


Six attributes to look for include:

  1. Authenticity

First, an effective Patient Influencer needs to display authenticity. Katie Hall nails it in her article, The Importance of Authenticity in Influencer Marketing, writing that:

“Anyone can get paid to promote a company; but following an influencer means you want his or her honest opinion on topics relevant to a certain industry.”

This is partly why we have heard time and time again from the Patient Leaders and Influencers within the WEGO Health network that they would rather see “real” patients in advertisements versus actors who are unaffected by the condition area portrayed. A lack of sincere authenticity will very quickly turn off a potential consumer. Diabetes Patient Influencer, Sysy, shares with us why real patients are much more effective than actors in advertisements.

“It’s a real person, a relatable human being who is talking about their suffering being relieved and it’s just so much more believable. But also for a certain population that’s more sensitive…it’s less insulting for them. I hear a lot about that, how people don’t want to be insulted because it’s healthcare and it’s so personal, so when the company makes the effort to find this person and get them to share…doing that buys a lot of trust whereas with an actor, it just gets an eye roll reaction.”

  1. Experience or knowledge

Authenticity goes hand in hand with experience or knowledge. It takes direct experience or a high degree of acquired knowledge for an Influencer to be able to formulate an authentic, educated opinion that is sought by his or her followers. “Fake it until you make it” is a mantra that will get you nowhere, especially where patient health is concerned.

  1. Relevance

Content relevance is very important when embarking on an Influencer Marketing campaign. While you may have high regard for a Patient Influencer who is an expert on Epilepsy, that individual’s expertise would not necessarily be relevant for a campaign focusing on Prostate Cancer. It’s important that the topic be relevant to the Influencer’s area of expertise. Without relevance, their community members have very little reason to engage in the discussion and ultimately take action.

  1. Adaptability

A successful Patient Influencer also has a level of adaptability to maintain their own relevance in today’s constantly evolving social media trends. Patient Influencers who adapt to the latest channels used by their target audiences will be the ones whose community of followers continues to grow exponentially.

Equally as important is a willingness from pharmaceutical companies to adapt their campaigns to the Patient Influencer’s style and type of community.

In influencer marketing for pharmaceuticals, many Patient Influencers will request to have input in the creative development of the content that will go out to their followers. Although the information is coming from the company, it needs to be in the Patient Influencer’s “voice.” This collaboration results in a more well-received campaign.

In his article, Influencer Marketing – Picking your Brand Heroes, Sebastian Sallovitz urges us to:

“Consider for a moment Nielsen’s findings that 84% of consumers trust peer-recommendations above anything else, and McKinsey and Deloitte’s conclusions that marketing-inspired word-of-mouth generates more than twice the sales of traditional paid advertising and a 37% higher retention rate.”

This alone speaks volumes to the impact that Influencers can have on a targeted population.

  1. Resonance

According to Dictionary.com, one definition of resonance is “the prolongation of sound by reflection; reverberation.” In the case of influencer marketing for pharmaceuticals, resonance takes on a similar meaning by substituting “prolongation of sound by reflection” with “connection by continued engagement.” The ability of a Patient Influencer’s message to resonate with a community of followers is crucial to one of the tenets of traditional relationship marketing.

If something truly resonates with me, or is a meaningful message that I can completely relate to and want to hear more of, then I will in time feel a connection to the source of that statement.

By association, if that message is coming from a company through an Influencer whom I hold in high regard, then I tend to also feel a level of connection to that company. We’ve all heard of “guilt by association.”

We could call this “connection by association.” And, isn’t that the result that marketers want – a connection with those who can benefit them in one way or another?

  1. Reach or scope of influence

The reach or scope of influence held by a Patient Influencer is significant. However, here we need to take it to a deeper level. On the surface, the number of followers can be deceiving when calculating potential engagement. One Influencer might have a community of 500 followers, but could be much more beneficial to the marketer than a similar Influencer with 5,000 followers.

How can that be possible? Doesn’t size matter?

Consider this:

  • Influencer A has 500 followers. Of those 500 followers, 300 of them are actively engaged in the community and have daily interactions with the Influencer.
  • Influencer B has 5,000 followers. However, of those 5,000 followers, only 100 of them are actively engaged in the community and would say that the Influencer interacts with them daily.

Mavrck’s article, What is Social Influence?, explains:

“An influencer’s resonance is largely related to their engaged reach – the percentage of their social media following that actually resonate with the influencer’s posts, i.e. engage with the material – and often entirely unrelated to their full reach.”

Going further into the example of Influencer A and Influencer B, the 300 actively engaged followers of Influencer A could, and probably would, share the information they find relevant and appropriate with friends or family members. Ditto with the 100 actively engaged followers of Influencer B.

This is how the potential reach grows exponentially.


So, Let’s Recap

Influencer marketing for pharmaceuticals has evolved from endorsements by well-paid, high-profile individuals to that of Influencers with real-world experience or knowledge about a condition area or product and share their thoughts and opinions on various social media channels.

The best Patient Influencers for your Marketing campaign will:

  1. Exude authenticity
  2. Have personal experience or expert-level knowledge
  3. Possess expertise that is relevant to your campaign focus
  4. Adapt to social media trends, and work with you to ensure that the campaign’s voice is consistent with their existing content
  5. Be effective in resonating with their community of followers
  6. Maintain an ever-increasing, engaged community

Now is the time to reach out to these leaders within their communities. They speak for the patient and, in partnering with them, they can also speak for you.

How will you include influencer marketing for pharmaceuticals into your campaigns?

From volunteering with a foundation that provides funds for cancer research, to working in a doctor’s office, to working for many years in pharma, and now with WEGO Health, Sue has spent the better part of her adult life in an industry for which she has a passion. As Insights Manager with WEGO Health, Sue connects with our network of Patient Leaders to bring the voice of the patient to our partners in the healthcare industry. When she’s not working, Sue enjoys reading, writing, photography, and getting on the mic at the occasional Karaoke outing.

2 thoughts on “Influencer Marketing for Pharmaceuticals: Effective Patient Influencers

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