The Road Less Traveled
Actelion Pharmaceuticals Ltd. has taken the road less traveled before. It all started when the founders of this independent biopharmaceutical company left Roche to pursue therapeutic applications for several molecules they had discovered. Pharmaceutical giant Roche had opted not to continue the research because of limited market demand. A decade later, Actelion has built a thriving, multinational organization on discovering, developing and marketing drugs for unmet medical needs. Case in point: The company’s flagship drug, Tracleer, treats pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), a complex disease historically overlooked by pharmaceutical firms and physicians alike.
PAH has been under diagnosed due to a lack of awareness, explains Martin Grossman, PAH group marketing director. It was precisely this challenge that prompted Actelion to launch a customer loyalty program in October 2006 called Sure Steps, which focuses on increasing recognition and improving patient persistency by addressing the confusion surrounding PAH as well as the dearth of support for sufferers. In keeping with Actelion’s maverick background, the resulting campaign diverged from “mainstream” loyalty marketing tactics, eschewing points and rewards for shared experiences, empathy and relationships built on trust.
The Starting Point
Laying the foundation for Actelion’s first-ever customer loyalty program was no easy task. Before the launch of Sure Steps, Tracleer’s marketing efforts had concentrated almost exclusively on prescribers. “There was a packet of materials that was sent out [to customers] on occasion, and some mailers that shipped with the drug,” Grossman explains. “But it wasn’t consistent … [and] it wasn’t based specifically on understanding patient needs.”
After deciding to change its course, Actelion sought the expertise of Montgomeryville, Pa.-based Roska Healthcare Advertising, a direct marketing agency with decades of experience in the pharmaceutical arena. The two companies began conducting exhaustive research, speaking with patients and patient groups as well as advisory boards. In the process, a common theme emerged.