Pharma gets social: social mobile app helps Pfizer engage consumers in Israel

Daniel Ghinn

Creation Healthcare

Social mobile app connects Pfizer with the right patients in the right place!

There are no other emerging digital channels that capture the tension between opportunity and challenge for pharmaceutical companies in the way that mobile does today.

On the one hand, a device in the hand of consumers that is more intimate, more personal, and has more potential for engaging with the right message in the right place than any other channel, on the other, a potential regulatory, technological and legal minefield.

It is perhaps not surprising then that, to date, few pharma-developed mobile apps have hit the headlines, or reached the top download lists.

Pfizer’s ‘Public Restroom’ iPhone app targets consumers in Israel

Figure 1: Pfizer’s ‘public restroom’ iPhone app targets consumers in Israel

Some would question the return on investment of mobile. Can mobile apps really provide anything more than a gimmick? Can pharma really provide tools that stakeholders will want to use, whilst at the same time achieving relevant engagement? Will such engagement achieve tangible outcomes for the business?

“…few pharma-developed mobile apps have hit the headlines, or reached the top download lists”

Pfizer’s app hits Apple’s Top-25

One answer to these questions is from Pfizer in Israel, who deployed a smartphone app in September 2011 that reached Apple App Store’s coveted “Top 25” most-downloaded list in just two weeks, after being downloaded over 15,000 times. Direct engagement with patients via the app followed, with over 1,000 calls made to a Pfizer patient helpline.

What’s the secret to Pfizer’s success with the app? Tali Rosin, public affairs and policy manager with Pfizer Israel, told me that the success started with a great app people wanted to use.

“It was one of those miraculous moments when the goods spoke for themselves,” she said. “Journalists loved the app, and in no time at all it was all over the place… It got heavy coverage in the newspapers – digital, but print too – and even morning shows and other ‘soft news’ TV programmes.”

Finding a public toilet where there is none

The app has been designed to engage consumers and raise their awareness of overactive bladder syndrome. Available in Hebrew language only, for the local market in Israel, the ‘public restrooms‘ iPhone app uses location-based services to guide users to the nearest public restroom. This is an especially useful tool in a country where there are in fact no public toilets.

“There are no Public Toilets in Israel, a fact that amplifies the challenge to OAB [overactive bladder] patients and women in general,” Ms Rosin said. “So we launched a GPS app that locates the nearest toilet – restaurants included!”

“The ‘public restrooms’ iPhone app uses location-based services to guide users to the nearest public restroom”

Location based services locate the nearest public toilet in Tel Aviv

Figure 2: Location-based services locate the nearest public toilet in Tel Aviv

Social power

If public toilets are difficult to locate in Israel, it might also be difficult for Pfizer to develop and maintain the quality of data on individual facilities. Here’s where the social power of smartphones has been put to good effect: users can add toilets not already in the app’s database, and can also grade toilets they visit for criteria such as cleanliness, availability of toilet tissue, or whether they needed to ask for a key.

To complete the functionality, the app even provides a daily news bulletin, automatically fed using RSS.

Calls to action

The success of disease awareness initiatives is dependent on engagement with well-targeted consumers at the right time and place. Users are provided with information about overactive bladder syndrome and the opportunity to call a Pfizer-sponsored helpline from within the app. “Our helpline got over a thousand calls,” Ms Rosin told me.

“The success of disease awareness initiatives is dependent on engagement with well-targeted consumers at the right time and place”

Did the campaign have a measurable impact on the bottom line? Yes it did, with a rise in product sales, according to Ms Rosin.

The option to call Pfizer’s Overactive Bladder Syndrome helpline is integrated into the app

Figure: 3: The option to call Pfizer’s overactive bladder syndrome helpline is integrated into the app, resulting in over 1,000 calls from users

Does pharma get social?

There are few good examples to date of pharma engaging through social mobile channels and achieving direct business results. Here’s one that does just that, and in a market some would consider ‘emerging’.

While it remains to be seen whether the app itself will maintain its popularity in the long term, I believe the concepts of good consumer engagement that Pfizer have implemented here will be reused again and again.

About the author:

Daniel Ghinn is CEO of Creation Healthcare, an independent global consultancy helping pharmaceutical companies to make informed decisions about digital engagement in a regulated environment. He can be reached by email at daniel.ghinn@creationhealthcare.com or by Twitter @EngagementStrat

What successful disease awareness initiatives have you noted?