Informing, recruiting and retaining patients, HCPs and sites for a clinical trial is, in essence, a challenge perfectly suited to the disciplines of branding and marketing as it involves establishing a compelling and unique identity for the trial and engaging with suitable target audiences to achieve a desired behavior. That said, given the regulated nature of clinical research, there are limitations on branding and marketing that must be observed. Our purpose here is to share best practices for clinical trial branding and advertising based on our first-hand experience.
Really understand the target audiences for your trial
Before you develop a branding and marketing strategy for your clinical trial, understand who you are trying to recruit—i.e., learn what their concerns and motivations are and what challenges they confront as part of the disease state your asset seeks to address. For patients, that includes assessing the language they use to discuss their condition; the limitations their condition places on their lifestyle; the impact of the disease on their relationships with family, friends and colleagues; their emotional state from diagnosis through treatment; how they perceive existing treatments for their condition; where and how they get information and the sources they trust most. This information will be critical in developing a compelling trial brand and messaging down the road.
For HCPs and sites, understand how your trial will fit in with what else they have going on and determine what will be motivating about participating in your trial while causing them the least amount of disruption or additional effort.
Assess the competitive landscape
Branding and marketing never happen in isolation and there is always competition for your target audiences—if not directly against competing trials then against other messages that are attempting to connect with those same audiences. Apropos this, it is important to analyze the messaging competitors are using to reach out to your target audiences, both in terms of content and channels used. We recommend looking at the consistency of messaging across channels, the tonality of the messages, the jargon/lingo/phraseology, as well as the symbols, colors and graphics used. Look for opportunities to stand out in style, substance and channel.
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Develop a compelling and differentiated brand strategy
Before engaging in the development of a trial name, identity and communications materials, it is critical to develop a brand strategy for the trial based on the learnings from the previous activities. At a minimum this strategy should include a value proposition for each target audience of your trial and a common set of brand pillars—i.e., the perceptions you are seeking to instill among the target audience(s) for your trial brand. These strategic elements will ensure your downstream communications efforts are consistently “on strategy” (visually and verbally) and will, therefore, maximize impact and minimize any self-inflicted confusion.
Create branded communications pieces that adhere to FDA/EMA and other regulatory guidelines
FDA and EMA guidelines specify that communications should not use phrases like “new” or “novel” treatment/medication/drug without identifying it as “investigational” so as not to imply that the treatment is FDA/EMA approved. Similarly, no claims must be made suggesting the investigational treatment is safe or effective or superior to existing treatments—either implicitly or explicitly. However, trial participation benefits may be mentioned. While free medical treatment and payment for participation may be mentioned, they may not be emphasized or overtly promoted verbally or graphically. A good rule of thumb here is to be honest, straightforward and informative but not promotional. This will help you not only to avoid running afoul of external regulatory bodies like the FDA and EMA, it will also make it more likely your own Institutional Review Board (IRB) will approve your communications.
Be cognizant of your company’s brand standards
Most, if not all, corporations have defined branding standards and it is important those are followed to prevent rejection, or worse, retraction of communications. Examples of how brand standards may affect trial brands and advertising include the company’s policy on whether graphical logos are allowed for trials and whether the corporate brand can, should or must be used in association with the trial brand in communications.
Develop communications materials that work with your target audience(s) and your channels
Making clinical science approachable to consumers can be difficult. Assessing how your target patients and/or their caregivers talk about the condition will help you craft your messages. Be cognizant of the reading level of the average person (usually 7th or 8th grade level). That should be your yardstick in making high science accessible to laypeople. You can use tools like WriteClearly or Hemingway Editor to assist you here.
Before you create individual communications pieces and submit them to media platforms, make sure you understand the criteria, specs, restrictions and policies of these platforms. Advertising on Facebook is different than advertising in Nature, and you want to be sure you have conforming ads for your channels before seeking IRB approval.
Embrace the full scope of communication channels to reach different audiences
The ability to engage specific audiences has never been better, or easier, than with today’s technology, tools and techniques. Clinical trials by their very nature need to be diverse and all-encompassing to ensure a balanced and accurate read-out of global treatment benefits and potential challenges. However, not all continents, countries, cities, neighborhoods or households have the same access to, or use, the same media channels to stay informed. This can be an obstacle for trial engagement, participation and retention but it can also be viewed as an opportunity to hone the approach to a specific patient population. Research can indicate whether social media channels, print and/or TV or a doctor’s waiting room notice board is the best location to focus your efforts on and in turn, to ensure you are in contact with the most relevant patients. Patient advocacy groups, like disease-specific foundations, are invariably an important channel for reaching potential trial participants.
Following these practices will make your clinical trial branding and advertising more successful and efficient—and much less painful.
For help with your clinical trial branding and patient enrollment needs, the Six Degrees team is ready to assist. Contact us now for support with your clinical trial.