Mobile Marketing Special Feature Part 3: Still a case for apps

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David Kopp

In the initial excitement over the possibilities of mobile marketing, pharma rushed to create its own apps. And then these apps languished.

IQVIA reported in 2015 that there were more than 165,000 health apps available in the Apple and Android stores. However, without any guidance from physicians about which apps to use, the number and variety of mHealth apps available present an overwhelming amount of options for consumers. Patients wind up choosing the most popular apps or trying several apps to determine the best app for their particular situation. As a result, just 36 apps accounted for nearly half of all downloads, while 40 percent of apps have fewer than 5,000 downloads.

For healthcare marketers, there is still a value in apps, according to Healthline CEO David Kopp. Part of the problem is that the first generation of apps simply replicated a desktop experience on mobile devices. Then came the “mobile first” mindset of design, and companies such as Healthline changed the way it created products for users, by delivering purpose-built mobile experiences.

However, mobile health apps have been slower to develop “because in general when people get sick or they want to get healthy, they go to Google and then Google sends them to mobile-first websites,” Kopp told Med Ad News.

But for patients with chronic conditions, “you have the ability to build very purpose-built tools and capabilities and experiences that go right at the heart of an issue.”

“One of the things that we realized three or four years ago, is that one of the biggest needs of somebody that is diagnosed with a condition is to feel less alone,” Kopp says. “And I am not talking about the physical loneliness, I am talking about the isolation that comes with your perspective on your life and the world you live in. Being different than those people who you are physically with. When you have a diagnosis like MS, most of the people who you interact with don’t have MS. They see the world differently, and that creates a feeling of isolation, even if you’re well-supported by friends and family.”

Mobile web experiences or web experiences that just regurgitate information are not the best way to address that need, according to Kopp.

Healthline has two apps for patients with chronic conditions: MS Buddy, for people with multiple sclerosis, and Breast Cancer Healthline.

“What we built in Breast Cancer Healthline and MS Buddy were very specific mobile experiences designed to help a user with that feeling of isolation, to connect them to other people who share their experience, on a variety of different fronts,” Kopp says. “You can only do that in a mobile app-type experience because the mobile app is with you all the time, it offers a kind of privacy that the social networks don’t offer you. It’s one thing to read content about MS on the web or on Facebook, it’s very different to communicate one-to-one to people. And theoretically you can communicate with people one to one on Facebook, it’s really just not the right place for a private conversation and an intimate conversation.”

For pharma marketers, apps like MS Buddy and Breast Cancer Healthline offer intimacy. “And we’ve been really lucky in that we’ve had good experiences with pharmaceutical companies who have sponsored our apps and have benefited from the proximity of that kind of intimate experience,” Kopp told Med Ad News.

Many competing apps tend to be symptom checkers, which just recycle what can be found on a website.

“If you think about the way a user uses a symptom checker, when you get a cough or cold or your child is sick, you don’t go to the app store to download an app, you type your symptoms into Google,” Kopp says. “It is something fundamentally that doesn’t belong in the app store as it belongs on the web.”

These apps belong to “App 1.0 in healthcare,” and this approach to app building led to lots of apps that “just languish because they are fundamentally tools that belong on the web, not in an app.”

Healthline is building apps that belong to the “App 2.0 for healthcare” generation.

“It’s focused, it’s private, it’s mobile, it’s with a user throughout their journey,” Kopp says. “Our apps are really about communication, they don’t belong on a website as much as they belong on a phone, because that is a device that people turn to when they want to communicate. And we’ve had great success with those apps being very vital, the communities are very vital and there’s a lot of communication back and forth between members and those users actually recruit and bring people into the app store to join the community. And that’s how we make sure that app continues to grow.”

Healthline’s app users are not really communicating with each other about health issues, according to Kopp.

“That wasn’t our goal when we created this app, and as it turns out, it’s not the primary topic around which people communicate,” he says. “Our insight was that because having a chronic condition can be isolating, and it’s isolating in that your perspective on life is different than the people you interact with day to day in the real world, in the physical world, is that the ability to connect with people who share your perspective is very core, and not surprisingly when you start from that standpoint, what we found was that people are communicating about life. They’re into communicating about parenting issues as someone with a chronic condition. Or, ‘How do I communicate to my spouse about my perspective on things?’”

One of MS Buddy early users talked about how she’s sitting in bed with her husband and “just furiously communicating” with other people with MS, Kopp says.

“When she first discovered the app, I think she told us she sat there until 2 in the morning communicating with people because it was wonderful to find not just a community of people who share her perspective, but one-to-one relationships really to feel connected to people,” he told Med Ad News.

Healthline has continued to support that feeling of community and connectivity by adding features that allow more discovery around life issues. “We’ve added some groups capability where you have topics to talk about, but also the ability to find folks who share your perspective on the world and who you can kind of connect with,” Kopp says. “We used to provide connections based on only medical characteristics – how long you’ve been diagnosed, what drugs you’re taking, and basic demographics of age and gender and things like that. But now we allow people to generally connect one on one to any people that they follow in a group, or see in a group who they feel has a perspective that would be valuable.”

Apps like MS Buddy and Breast Cancer Healthline provide a halo effect to brands, Kopp says.

“We will continue to see a specialization in the tools and capabilities that users want,” he says. “And I think leading marketers will recognize the ability to provide that value beyond treatment and to associate their brand with a more holistic perspective of the user, we certainly believe will continue.”


Mobile Marketing Special Feature Part 1: Growing voice for mobile

Mobile Marketing Special Feature Part 2: Getting pharma into new mobile tech