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Peter Shankman and Pharma Experts Weigh In: How “Niceness” Can Help Your Brand

PR Summit blog post 2 quoteThis guest blog post is written by Dave Hochman. Dave is the owner of the Red Bank, NJ-based DJH Marketing Communications, Inc. For more information, go to, email [email protected] or follow Dave on Twitter @davehochman. 

One of the first day’s speakers at Exl Pharma’s 11th Public Relations & Communications Summit at Sanofi US in July was Peter Shankman, a PR industry pundit and the author of such books as “Zombie Loyalists: Using Great Service to Create Rabid Fans”and “Nice Companies Finish First.”

Peter’s talk, “Ain’t No Customer Like a Zombie Customer!” was all about how to create Zombie Loyalists, which he describes as “fervent fans that help companies massively increase their customer base, brand awareness, and, most importantly, revenue.” One of his quotes on branding and loyalty that stood out was “everything you do on social media must be branded to you…or else someone with a bigger audience will come along and steal it.”

Peter also delved into the concept of what he termed “corporate niceness” and talked about how those brands that build a business culture of optimism/friendliness and a make a concerted effort to provide great customer service are the ones to emulate in the modern social media-driven age of transparency and access.

Peter’s fast-paced and funny delivery made for a very entertaining session, and I thought brand loyalty and corporate niceness were pretty interesting concepts to tackle at a pharmaceutical industry conference.

I queried Peter and a few other speakers as to really just how feasible is it for pharma to try to create what he described as “zombie brand loyalists”…when not only does every medicine end up going generic anyways, patients with acute conditions will only use it as long as they need it?

As Daniel J. McIntyre, SVP of Corporate Affairs at Biogen, stated, “responsible marketers of pharmaceuticals should not want blind use of their own therapies.” He continued: “most serious conditions are highly heterogeneous and patients and physicians should be looking for the right drug for the right patient at a given time in the cycle of the illness being treated and the real experiences in life.”

Wendy Lund, CEO of GCI Health, stated, “In treating chronic conditions, the goal for the healthcare provider is to work with the patient to find a therapy that best meets the patient’s needs. However, a patient will remain loyal to that therapy only as long as the benefits outweigh the risks and cost or insurance coverage isn’t an impediment.”

When I followed up with Peter after his session, he told me that there was “no question” that brand loyalty can — and in many cases should — be nurtured and extended beyond patent expiration, that it doesn’t need to be complicated, and that it was in the best interests of pharmaceutical marketers to look at brands in other industries such as consumer products and services categories for ideas and fresh thinking.

Another one of Peter’s concepts I wanted to discuss further was the idea of brand “niceness.” For an industry based on data and scientific knowledge, does niceness have any significant place, and if patients are getting medicine that saves their lives, isn’t everything else sort of irrelevant? Peter replied that “when the marketing and sales people have that niceness culture imbued in their actions, it WILL trickle down to the patient…it’s all about presenting right ‘bedside manner’ and while that it may not be immediately quantifiably beneficial, it certainly won’t hurt patient outcomes.”

“Healthcare has to be about more than deployment of technology to fix medical problems; the human element is key to well-being and patients should be able to count on those providing services to view them as people and consider their interests,” Daniel McIntyre added. “This is critical not only for quality of life today, but also will become important as societies face end-of-life decisions.”

Interested in Learning More? Attend the 12th Public Relations & Communications Summit.

The 12th Public Relations & Communications Summit will take place July 18-19, 2016. Join ExL Pharma and more than 150 of pharma’s leading communication and PR professionals to discuss leveraging digital channels to expand reach, telling impactful stories, and developing consistent campaigns for your organization or brand. Register now to attend, or sign up to receive more information as we develop our program.

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