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With radio, billboard, TV, and digital advertisements being left in the dust, additional engagement from influencer communities are more likely to be reach patients.
Believe it or not, it’s 2020, and social media health influencers are becoming the difference between meeting clinical development timelines or falling behind competition studies. This influencer story is not just about how you reach more patients with your budget (which it does and it’s awesome), it’s about the types of patients you reach via influencers, as their communities come with engagement that far exceeds the likes of traditional media. Radio, billboard, TV, and even digital ads like Facebook, banner, and cost per click are being left in the dust. Study coordinators don’t have the time. This additional engagement from influencer communities translates in a big way. When patients are more likely to be reached and engaged in the process, study coordinators are able to make more time for them, resulting in a beautiful growing snowball of successful outcomes for studies that make it happen.
Outside of clinical development, influencer marketing is changing the way people connect or receive information globally. It’s already an enormous market (est. $15B+) growing way beyond just runner up Bachelorettes and Love Islanders. Within the influencer market are thousands of health advocates with the power to transform the way we look at clinical research data. These health influencers have the attention, trust and devotion from niche communities-in many cases, the specific communities that can catalyze research countless indications.
It’s all easier said than done from a researcher’s perspective. Sponsors and investigator sites have plenty of project risks and fires to put out on the daily prior to putting any thought into patient recruitment sophistication. The challenge often becomes context switching-from a clinical operations mindset to a focus on new types of outreach, and then often back as project challenges arise. It’s the job of Leapcure and other outreach service providers to be able to adapt to changing project needs while helping balance recruitment priorities. Working with advocacy or influencers is not an endeavor of checking the proverbial box-it requires attention to the holistic workflow with inputs from influencers, campaign data, the patient voice, and the study team. Even if you’re able to launch influencer campaigns, it often takes more than just one or two strong influencers with the way clinical research works. If an influencer isn’t in the regions where your sites are or if your influencer campaigns send patients to sites that aren’t engaged, your data on the viability of that individual influencer will be limited. If you’re working with an influencer with less reach, but better regional engagement where your referrals are, it might be a better source to focus on for future retargeting. You’ll often have to work through a level of variance in site engagement depending on the timing patients are reachable and when they have the capacity beyond any of their existing responsibilities.
It’s somewhat commonly known that advocacy and influencer approaches are basically a dependency for successful rare and ultra-rare disease research. The emerging view is that this infrastructure for broad health influencer and advocacy outreach should be enabled from the moment you’re initiating sites. Leapcure actually recommends this be put in place as many as six months prior to final protocol approval-allowing influencer campaigns to generate real-world data-which is comprised of patient outcomes data, patient reachability, patient engagement, patient sentiment, among others-for protocol design and site selection. In any case, the traditional model of waiting until you need outreach, burning through expensive forms of traditional and digital media, and leaving partnership reach to just a few marquee advocacy names are becoming things of the past.
For those less familiar, influencers by definition are individuals that have a digital voice within niche online communities. Many consumer brands have come to rely on them for access to their potential customers, and in a similar way, clinical operations teams have the ability to incorporate health influencers into their advocacy group strategies too. In the context of clinical trials, research can benefit from the influencers’ deeper understanding of the patient community. Influencers knowledge of their community is as important in the relationship as their actual campaigns. In the majority of cases, the relationship between influencers and their community is a two-way street. Influencers are keenly aware of the preferences of their community, their opinions, their interests, and have earned their trust. Collaborating with influencers can therefore facilitate access to a highly targeted community from a behavior and interest perspective. Alternatively, to common thinking, helping these influencers vet your research opportunity helps them to unlock a level of trust in promoting your initiative too, which often transfers to the trust of their communities.
Influencer marketing is more of an incremental innovation in the clinical trial space. In some industries disruptive innovation is more sought after. However, being in clinical research, for Leapcure’s evolution we’ve faced this tradeoff honestly. At the end of the day, we’ve moved further in the direction as a company toward the incremental innovations that we know will impact lives. By focusing on enabling broad influencer marketing rather than models such as virtual/mobile, we know we’re getting patients to better outcomes each and every year. The prudent use of health influencers can speed up learning about the patient population and drive a more adaptive recruitment approach, where feedback allows for improvement in campaign strategies and retargeting along the way. We’re seeing immediate impact as study teams can quickly see influencer and advocacy marketing approaches as central to their recruitment/timeline requirements. For example, on average, influencer and advocacy marketing approaches will contribute to 50% of referral acquisition cost reduction and improvement of referral to enrollment rates of 15:1 vs. 50:1 for typical standalone digital. This is study dependent, but the key to this is generating site engagement with advocacy/influencer patients. More reachability/patient accuracy/patient retention leads to more time invested from site coordinators.
Fortunately, resourcing for health influencer campaigns is essentially the same burden as doubling down on broad advocacy efforts. Health influencers can be introduced to the traditional patient advocacy group strategy and certainly can dovetail any advocacy outreach material approvals and will mesh well because influencers and advocacy can often be connectors to each other for the study team. Health influencers are being incorporated into the primary focuses of recruitment strategies because they are a growing marketing segment. Particularly in noisy or competitive landscapes, health influencers provide a differentiator that sets your patient advocacy apart from the many competing voices.
Note, however, that advocacy and influencer partnerships are not just another variation on digital marketing. Patients from influencer partnered advocacy are self-selecting your study and are more motivated to participate in research.
Successful utilization of health influencers in your outreach strategy typically requires the following three steps.
In almost every case, incorporating health influencers and advocacy in recruitment strategies will improve enrollment value, often by improving the referral acquisition cost and always by reducing the referred-to-enrolled rate. The ROI on health influencer partnerships can often be good. For example, Leapcure’s use of health influencers and patient advocacy yields an average cost savings of $1 million per project. In 2020, there is an incredible amount of opportunity still left for study teams to explore broader influencer and advocacy outreach. Health influencer communities are growing in quantity and size year after year as patient communities find better ways to organize around their needs.
Zach Gobst is the Founder and CEO of Leapcure.