How Novartis Built a Stronger Brand in MS Therapy


By Jerry Allocca, Founder and CEO of Connected Culture, Inc.

Novartis, one of the world’s most prominent pharmaceutical companies, has a long, established history of successful marketing campaigns. Many of their consumer brands are household names: Benefiber, Ex-Lax, Excedrin and Keri Skin Care. They also market a long list of prescription pharmaceuticals and are known as a global leader in eye care and generic products. Among the many strengths of Novartis is their ability to leverage multiple marketing channels to reach target audiences and increase awareness of certain brands. This is certainly the case for their drug Gilenya, developed to treat symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

Gilenya is the trade name for fingolimod, an immunomodulating drug that reduces the rate of MS relapses. First synthesized in 1992, the drug was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2010 as the first oral disease-modifying drug to reduce relapses and delay disability progression in patients with relapsing forms of MS. Today, Gilenya generates more than $3.1 billion in annual sales for Novartis and is ranked second for sales in its top 20 pharmaceutical products.


For many years, pharmaceutical companies, including Novartis, primarily focused on print advertising, in-office collateral and branded identity items to increase physician and patient awareness. While having strong ad campaigns and a consistent collection of printed assets remain important, they now are only two components in an increasingly complex matrix of marketing channels and digital initiatives required to stay competitive.

In the challenging field of healthcare marketing, patients now are bombarded by messages across on-line and offline channels. In other words, it’s no simple feat to break through the noise and deliver a message that resonates and propels potential users of the drugs to take the next step in their journey. Today, the most effective way to build a healthcare industry brand is to take an omnichannel approach to marketing that is driven by a clear goal of creating a consistently powerful and unified brand message across every channel.


For most pharmaceutical and healthcare companies, it takes a proverbial village to manage the multiple marketing channels now in play. This typically involves cross-departmental effort and the talents of strategists, project managers, content producers, technical teams, legal experts and analysts. With so many cogs in the marketing wheel, it can be very easy to slip into generating siloed marketing campaigns that at best aren’t congruent and at worst downright contradictory. In the case of Novartis’ campaigns for Gilenya, they use multiple social media channels, along with a dedicated website, patient forums and in-office brochures, along with other marketing tools. This requires ongoing management and analysis to maximize return on investment (ROI).


While Novartis is an expert in providing a consistent message, not every company is as skilled at the art of omnichannel marketing. Inconsistent, multichannel marketing is one of the most difficult challenges facing today’s leading healthcare brands. With sprawling websites, a growing number of social media channels, email campaigns, libraries of patient-facing content and more, it’s no wonder that messages often aren’t consistent and connected. Yet, this is what is needed to reach patients today and build brand loyalty that generates consistent revenue that supports ongoing research and development. The bar has been set high, and healthcare provider and patient expectations are only going to rise as new marketing channels continue to be introduced. The healthcare companies that can build logical, compelling journeys based on consistent, omnichannel marketing efforts have a distinct competitive advantage over those that continue to create disparate marketing campaigns.


This leads to an important question. What is the best way to make the vital shift from providing siloed multichannel marketing to delivering seamless, omnichannel marketing? This is the challenge facing every healthcare brand. It starts with making the commitment to shape every facet of marketing to guide the patient or healthcare provider on a consistent, well-thought-out journey. While this can seem like an overwhelming goal to achieve, it can be accomplished with the right set of strategies and tools.


Marketing has become incredibly data-driven thanks to the countless digital solutions that provide real-time analytics that can guide business decisions. Yet, most healthcare companies are still analyzing data from each channel individually. Although, it’s important to understand the return on investment of each channel, there also needs to be a universal source of truth to gain a true omnichannel perspective. With digital channels, the line between service and marketing has been blurred. CRM and automation solutions, such as Salesforce and MS Dynamics 365, are now being integrated with contact center systems and marketing and sales operations to understand customer journeys that are likely to begin on a website and continue via a mix of digital and voice channels. Even channels that were considered to be focused solely on service, such as IVR systems, need to be considered in a broader marketing perspective because of the melding of marketing and service. Thus, it’s important to look at the big data picture, as well as drilling down into specifics of each channel.


By capturing data from every interaction across every channel, Novartis and others with omnichannel capabilities can understand and continuously track key journey patterns. Through customer journey mapping, messages can be refined and marketing campaigns can be fine-tuned for optimal success. Key points within journeys can also be identified where there are opportunities for cross-selling, up-selling or disseminating beneficial information. Advancements in big data and predictive intelligence are enabling this to happen on a scale that has never been possible before. For example, Salesforce is now using predictive intelligence to automatically personalize content by observing behaviors on websites, in emails and on mobile channels. Using continuous machine learning algorithms, the right content can be predicted and distributed on the right channel to increase clicks, time on site, conversions and more.

With this information, journeys can also be optimized for value. Data may indicate that patients seek information about a medication on a website but drop off if online chat isn’t available. A solution would be to provide a pop-up window on the most trafficked pages that directs patients to other communication channels or to a self-service knowledge center that provides answers to common questions. Another example would be a printed piece of collateral encouraging a patient to check out an online forum for more information and support. The key is identifying the most common journeys and ensuring that each step is optimized for the patient’s success.

This may mean modifying or even eliminating channels and touch-points where there are frequent drop-offs. The key is keeping the conversation going in a beneficial way.


With this deeper level of understanding of consumer actions and decisions, Novartis and others are creating richer profiles in which to build targeted campaigns. For each primary journey type, they are considering what messaging and type of content will resonate with patients while always staying consistent and on target across channels.


While there is still tremendous value in the doctor patient relationship, the conversation on the topic of a patient’s healthcare is now being held on many more communication channels. A patient may reach out with a question about a medication via a Facebook visitor post. If they want additional information, they will appreciate the ability to get answers via instant message or to be able to call directly from a branded Facebook page. New social media platforms also are likely to be added to the mix. It’s important to be able to reach those patients who are using them.

There are also new technologies, such as chatbots and virtual assistants, which can find information and interact with patients via a chat interface. While not every patient may feel comfortable with this channel of communication, younger generations that have grown up around technology may prefer their speed and convenience.

An important part of omnichannel marketing is being able to identify the channels that are currently being used and those that are gaining or lagging in popularity. With this information, you can not only help build better patient journeys, you can also determine where to invest resources for more targeted and personalized marketing.


There is not one standard formula for building an omnichannel strategy. Particularly in the healthcare industry, what will work for one can be downright detrimental to another. For pharmaceutical leader Novartis, promoting Gilenya on select channels has been successful, and they continue to evolve the brand by adding new ways to communicate with patients. Today, Gilenya is used by nearly 30,000 MS patients in the United States. And, Novartis has identified their responsibility to provide informative content, as well as marketing-driven messaging, for those with multiple sclerosis and their loved ones.

With omnichannel marketing, messaging and brand identity can be amplified by reaching consumers across channels. While this approach takes much more diligence in terms of ensuring consistency and clarity, it can deliver more powerful results and ultimately greater returns.

Jerry Allocca

Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Connected Culture, Inc.

Jerry is the founder and chief executive officer of Connected Culture, Inc. ( In those roles, and as a nationally recognized authority on digital media, Jerry leads an award-winning team of internet specialists focused on helping clients, primarily marketing directors, develop attention-getting and revenue-generating digital marketing programs. He is also an author, teacher, trainer and frequent industry speaker on a range of social media and internet-related topics.

Jerry wrote “CONNECTED CULTURE: The Art of Communicating with the Digital Generation” (, a digital marketing playbook, as well as a series of free, plain-English e-books, ranging from “The Marketing Director’s Guide to Facebook Marketing Profitability” to “Why Aren’t We on Page 1 of Google?” Since 2012, he also has been a digital marketing instructor at Hofstra University Continuing Education. He is active in numerous charities, non-profit organizations, business groups and trade associations, including the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), the Public Relations Professionals of Long Island (PRPLI), and The Direct Marketing Association of Long Island (DMALI.) In 2015, he was awarded IABC-LI’s “Communicator of the Year” award.


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