Creating a Patient-Centred Marketing Campaign for an Insulin Needle

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Creating a Patient-Centred Marketing Campaign for an Insulin Needle

Giving Diabetes Stigma the Middle Finger

A few years ago, I took a job with a medical marketing agency. My very first brief was to increase sales of a particular pen needle for type 2 diabetes (T2D).

Only caveat, I had to make it patient centered. What was that? I didn’t know but I was going to find out.

What followed was one of the most instructive experiences that changed my career forever. Here are a few things I can share about my process.

Start with the situation analysis

The brief was to shift a certain number of pen needles, the sharp insulin syringes people with insulin resistance or T2D often have to use.

I always start with some desk research. It’s called a situation analysis and simply defines a problem and a goal.

Where are you now? Who is around you (the competition)? Where do you want to be (how many units do you want to sell)?

The situation analysis also shows you how to be different and better.

After a quick market overview and competitor analysis, and learned I was promoting one of the best ones. Fantastic, we had stats at our disposal! People said it felt so comfortable to inject, they often couldn’t feel it at all.

But something else disturbed me. Research done by Diabetes Australia found a massive problem with stigma.

More than 80 per cent of people with diabetes report feeling blamed or shamed by people because they live with the condition. Feeling or experiencing stigma has an impact on self-care, physical health, emotional well-being and quality of life.

Medical writing is usually neutral. It is to avoid any sense of judgment or stigma. That’s a good thing. But there is neutral skewed positive, and neutral skewed negative. Everything I read seemed so paternalistic. Patronizing, frankly.

Now I have some lived experience so I know how crappy being a patient with a chronic condition can be. You can be treated like you have a combination of criminality and idiocy.

So I wanted to do something different with this campaign. I wanted to turn the tables. I wanted to find out who the end user was, how they saw themselves, and showcase how awesome they were. I wanted the ‘voice-of customer’ quite literally.

The websites and brochures for people newly diagnosed gave instructions. There was an edge of fear. The educators were unsmiling and stern-looking.

The copy was so clinical and sterile you could smell the disinfectant.

What does patient-centered mean?

Studies have shown that engaging patients improves the quality of care.

Patient-centered communication has been the gold standard in providing patient care for several years. It came about when the costs of health care skyrocketed in the United States, without any improvement in health outcomes.

Patient-centered communication extends to writing, as well as clinical care.

From the disturbing data around stigmatising type 2 diabetes, we felt that the end users would not engage with us without trust and empathy.

Speak to the person, not the patient

I prefer the term ‘person-centered’ because patients are people, after all.

This is how I do it. Ask yourself, how would you feel if that was for you? If you had that illness or condition?

The Essentials

Is it easy to understand? 

Good medical writing should be easy to understand for any reading level.

Even doctors like simple, clear sentences. Keep sentences short and simple. Pharmacists, diabetes educators, doctors, all of them are extremely busy. Keep it clear and succinct.

Is it engaging?

Medical writing is usually neutral so as not to convey judgment or stigma. That’s a good thing. But there is neutral skewing negative and neutral skewing positive. 

How does it make you feel?

Can you smell the disinfectant?

Being neutral shouldn’t mean pouring bleach over every word. We need to remember that our reader is a human being. We should talk like one too.

It’s good to be casual.

Use storytelling to bring the person to the centre

Storytelling is a portal into the person’s world.

We create curiosity without risk. Storytelling makes it easy for the reader to engage with us. It’s the bridge that helps build empathy, credibility, and trust.


Life Doesn’t Stop for Diabetes

The team secured a small budget. The client knew you had to spend money to slot into a new market.

We ran a competition through Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Tell us in 30 words or fewer ‘What’s the most amazing thing you have ever done?’

life doesn't stop for diabetes campaign ad

The responses that came in were surprisingly good.

  • Several had been skydiving.
  • One person had performed on stage at Albert Hall in front of the Queen.
  • Another had made a movie in an Indian slum.

Every single person had a story to tell. We just had to ask what it was.

Campaign Elements

We used a combination of owned, earned, and paid media.

The agency incentivised responses to the competition with a prize of another experience voucher.

We used (with permission) the stories for Instagram and Facebook. If they didn’t supply a photo, I found some quality stock. No one looked stereotypical. Everyone looked unique. I made sure that every word was a direct quote from a person with type 2 diabetes. That way, the reader plunged right into the stories. The campaign hashtag was at the end of the person’s answer. #lifedoesntstop4diabetes

Everything was linked to the campaign landing page. A CRM with automation was used to nurture contacts with an email sequence. There was specific copywriting for different segments including clinical professionals.

The data had provided the creative insight. The execution made it from the point of view of the customer.

Results and Reflections

Maybe I was exploiting them. But it felt like I was doing a tiny bit of good.

The results were incredible. A huge volume of samples were sent, sales increased far beyond the campaign goal.

I know for sure it was unique, different from anything else running in the category at the time. It felt like the conversation I wish someone ‘treating’ me had had with me 20 years ago.

Or at least I was helping others ‘show ‘the middle finger’ to stigmatising stereotypes.

And that felt good. Like I was using marketing for good.