3 ways to take your marketing to the street

Learning from the retail health movement

This is the ninth blog post in a twelve part series that transforms ideas from the marketing world at large into practical plans for pharmaceutical marketing in the time of health care reform.

Sometimes all you have to do to come up with an innovative idea is to watch what your customers are doing. And increasingly, payers and hospitals are hitting the streets to both sell and deliver services.  Consider the following examples:

  • Western Maryland Health Systems is a hospital system whose goal is to try to keep patients out of the hospital. According to a New York Times article, the hospital has “opened a diabetes clinic, a wound center and a behavioral health clinic all outside the hospital walls. They have hired people to go out into the community for follow up with discharged older, sicker patients. Primary care practices have been added in some neighborhoods.” All of these outside adventures are driving down costs and improving the quality of care.
  • Major payers are experimenting with retail. United Healthcare has sold Medicare plans through “pop-up” retail stores, and at retail community centers. Aetna has a presence in Costco stores. And Florida Blue has 11 retail stores “where people can shop for coverage, ask a question about a claim or see a nurse to check their blood pressure.”
  • Retail drug stores are expanding into medical care at a rapid pace. CVS plans to have 1,000 MinuteClinics by 2016. Duane Reade has doctors practicing out of their New York City Stores. According to a 2009 study by the Rand Corporation, retail clinics are able to offer equivalent care at costs of up to 30% less for three common conditions when compared to physician offices, urgent care centers and emergency departments.

The core idea behind these innovations is enabling easier access to products and services. But with any innovation, risk is involved. It is certainly more secure to offer health services in a hospital prepared for any unlikely emergency. Economic bravery is also involved in renting out space additional space when the current physical space could be more easily utilized. But payers and hospital systems have taken the leap to make their services more convenient to their customers.

What can pharmaceutical marketers do to make their products, services and information more readily available to patients and caregivers? Here are some thought starters for exporting your marketing to the street:

  1. Explore partnership opportunities with health care retailers. Can you partner with a payer to offer services or information in their retail outposts? For example, partnering with Florida Blue on a smoking cessation or diabetes care initiative? Could you offer a “white-labeled” version of your compliance program with an in-person component at MinuteClinic?
  2. Create your own  “pop-up” presence. Using the store within a store concept, could you raise awareness about the need vaccinate against HPV in retailers that cater to teens and 20-somethings? Many stores such as the Lush cosmetic stores have a social activism bent that would lend itself to health promotion. Or if your business has a seasonal aspect to it, you could take over a storefront for a limited time on your own.
  3. Partner with a relevant advocacy group on a retail presence. While visiting the United Kingdom, I was struck by the number of advocacy groups with retail presences, primarily thrift shops such as Arthritis Research UK Shops that dot the English countryside. There is even a Charity Retail Association.  There is so much more than fundraising that can be done in a retail space.

Certainly, some risks would be involved in taking pharmaceutical marketing to the street. Traditional delivery of messaging (print, video, audio etc), is highly controlled. In-person messaging certainly has the potential for more variation. But relating in person has the benefit of more immediacy and convenience for the patient. And making the trade-off to the benefit of the patient is what patient focused marketing is all about.

Check back on Tuesday for the tenth post in the twelve part series5 lessons in reinvention from Encyclopedia Britannica. In this post I explore how the approach this 244-year old company used to transform into a digital educational giant can be applied to shake-up the pharma business model.

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