Pfizer + relationship expert = RA connection?

A week before Valentine's day, Pfizer partnered with relationship expert, author and television personality Logan Levkoff to re-launch its www.arthritis.com website. Pfizer explained it "has heard from some members of the RA [rheumatoid arthritis] community that [relationships and intimacy] can be particularly challenging…and that information hasn’t been widely available for this community until now."

For her part, Levkoff said people with chronic illnesses, such as RA, "may face intimacy and relationship hurdles due to fatigue, joint pain or poor self-image, to name a few." Her aim, she said, is to "help provide insight on dealing with tough issues including self-love, dating and communicating with partners."

Broadly speaking, the pharmaceutical giant's arthritis portfolio is anchored by JAK inhibitor Xeljanz (tofacitinib citrate), which brought in just under $1 billion in sales in 2016. Pfizer described its website as a place where people living with chronic illness "can find inspiration, lifestyle advice, tools and disease information." The big pharma further promised to "roll out new resources" on the site focusing on "under-addressed topics" that it declined to specify.

Making an ‘emotional connection’

"We’re seeing more and more of this. It used to be called cause marketing," said Heidi Grunkemeyer, vice president/account director for Swanson Russell, an Omaha-based healthcare marketing firm. "I think it’s a way for a brand to make an emotional connection with their audience....People want more than just to purchase a brand. They want to have a relationship with that brand."

Grunkemeyer, who did not work with Pfizer on the campaign, said it's clear that Pfizer did its research, knows who is using their arthritis drugs and what these individuals’ so-called "pain points" are. If Pfizer actually is providing information that people aren’t getting anywhere else, they will return and re-engage with the company’s website, which could promote brand loyalty, she noted.

"Every brand wants to make that connection with their target audience," she said. "So they invest a lot of time and money in these relationships."

According to the Arthritis Foundation, about 1.5 million Americans have RA, and three times as many women as men are affected by the systemic inflammatory disease. RA also tends to strike women at a younger age than it does men and affects women differently.

Pfizer’s arthritis website offers two women as experts: one offering financial advice and Levkoff, who has posted nearly a dozen articles on such topics as self love, dating and family planning.

"I would think [Pfizer’s] research also would tell them that 70% of adults go online looking for health-related information – and first they go to Google," Grunkemeyer said.

Empowering the targeted audience

Pfizer is offering an empowering message, said Grunkemeyer. "They don’t want to talk about things not being possible, because that would turn this audience off," she said.

Grunkemeyer praised Pfizer for earnings consumer trust by using credentials for its experts: Levkoff’s Ph.D. is highlighted, while Alexa von Tobel, the financial expert, is promoted as a New York Times best-selling author and the founder and CEO of a financial planning company.

"So much [of what] you’re doing in marketing is knowing your audience," Grunkemeyer said. "Maybe they found people would relate better to women; maybe most…want to go to a female doctor, a female expert." Typically, women make healthcare decisions for their households and handle the information-gathering, she added.

In the end, Pfizer’s broad approach likely will be effective, Grunkemeyer believes. "I think people are looking for more than a pharmaceutical or a drug. They’re really looking for information that helps them live their lives to the fullest, and that’s what Pfizer is doing with this site."

Filed Under: Marketing Corporate News
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