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Not Just For Plane or Movie Tickets Anymore: Is Pharma Overlooking Apple’s Passbook?

There is increasing speculation about Apple’s upcoming release of health-related tools like Healthbook, but what about some of their existing mobile offerings like Passbook? Could Passbook be used by pharma brands to engage with customers and patients?  Passbook has been slowly gaining traction and is helping consumers get more comfortable using their smartphones for mobile transactions, whether it is using coupons with purchases, loyalty programs, tickets, or event information. eMarketer estimates the number of smartphone coupon users last year rose by 66%, following a growth rate of more than 100% in both 2010 and 2011. In addition, mobile coupons have shown a 10-to-1 redemption rate over traditional coupons. In fact, many large retailers and companies are now using Passes as a means to acquire, engage with, and successfully retain customers.

So with this continued growth, it seems that pharma companies could benefit from looking at how the technology could easily support a brand’s objectives and also learn from what other companies (non-pharma) are doing to add value for their customers.  We’ll get into that shortly, but first let’s look at some of the features and successes of Passbook to understand its overall potential and specific capabilities.

Simple Passbook Features Facilitate Use—for Brands/Companies and Consumers

Passbook has a small set of core features that enable it to do some pretty simple but interesting things:

  • Accessible:  Users can download a Pass in multiple ways—through apps, links in emails or messages (SMS and MMS), web browsers or websites, and more recently, bar code scanning using the camera on your phone. In addition, companies don’t need to have an App in order to create a Pass.
  • Geo-Location:  Up to 10 locations can automatically trigger interactions with the Pass.  In addition, using it with an iBeacon or other BLE (Bluetooth low energy ) can also trigger proximity-based action.
  • Updates and Push Notification:  Changes to information and other updates can be made on the back end and pushed at any time, keeping content, offers, and information fresh and potentially contextually relevant.
  • Multi-Platform: Not only does it work on Apple products, but it also can be used on Android in Google Wallet and, more recently, on Windows Phone 8.1, meaning it’s not just limited to those with iPhones.

These are a simple set of features, but they suggest some of the ways a Pass can be used to really drive engagement with customers.

(For those of you not at all familiar with Passbook, Apple’s launch video gives a great overview.)

A few examples of Passes—some you may know and some you’d be surprised by:

So what could Passbook mean for Pharma?

Coupon redemption.  Loyalty initiatives. Push notifications. Adherence tools.

These are all things I have heard discussed with brand teams and pharma companies that are looking for ideas on how to better engage customers with their brands in order to deliver repeat refills, brand affinity, and added value compared to competitor offerings.  So what could some ways of using Passes or Passbook offerings look like?

Copay Card: The Obvious Choice

Copay cards typically are physical items. Between either having to print out a card on a printer at home, or remember the card handed to you at the doctor’s office, it’s odd this is still a largely paper transaction. Recently, Cadient performed a copay card program simply through SMS for a pharma brand, and through the program, we saw redemption rates over 40% at the pharmacy, showing mobile access has an impact.
Using a digital savings card seems to have obvious advantages:

  • It’s on their phone, so they cannot forget their card when at the pharmacy
  • Reduces costs, including the costs to print, distribute, and personalize the cards
  • Easy to personalize, track usage, and reengage if noticed that it has not been used


Loyalty Programs: Building a Brand Beyond Clinical Benefit

Transform a copay card into a loyalty card by offering additional benefits and usages for the card.  Using Passbook’s ability to update with information, you can offer:

  • Coupons and discounts to other health and condition-related products they can purchase at pharmacies, associating the brand with managing a condition and not just selling their product
  • Access to online short surveys via their smartphone with reward points toward a lower copay
  • Special one-time offers that automatically appear to consumers on the card based on reaching a certain number or refills in a row


Reminders and Push Alerts: Simple Means of Communicating

Passbook cards can also pop up on the lock screen at specific times of day or in certain locations with customized messages.

  • Connected with a copay card: combined time and geo location aspects of Passes could alert consumers when near or inside their pharmacy that they have a refill due and to use their copay card
  • Based on redemption of the copay card: set up a series of adherence alerts for the first week to help get them started as well as sending upcoming refill reminders
  • Basic med guide information (eg, if the medication needs to be taken with meals)


HCP Speaker Events: Increase Attendance and Event Tracking

Passbook has the potential to work for HCPs as well.  Most drug brands hold local speaker events and meetings.  As part of the registration, brands can offer their invite or reminder as a Pass doctors can include in their Passbook.  This approach would:

  • Include a push reminder the day before and of the event to help with attendance
  • Provide an easy bar code scan entry at the event that captures and enters attendees’ information into CRM or a tracking system. This may cut down on information errors and/or time spent manually filling out forms
  • Use the information side of the Pass for key information about the event, such as address, speaker times, speaker bios, and possibly the sales rep contact information
  • Connect it with an iBeacon and have the Pass automatically pop up when they enter the event space



Overall, as a low cost, versatile, and simple tool that can address multiple pharma brand needs without having to build a platform from scratch, Passbook appears to be one solution that should be part of a brand’s digital strategy.  Not only can it be easily implemented, but also the data that can be captured lends well to overall tracking and performance measurement.

Admittedly, it is still early in the adoption curve for these type of smartphone-based applications. However, by not waiting for mass adoption and starting to provide patients and consumers with options that fit their own way of interacting and engaging with digital content, a brand can insert themselves into and meet the changing and growing needs of a diverse set of consumers.

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Clint Tankersley

Clint Tankersley

Director of Commercial Strategy & Innovation at Cadient Group
As Director of Commercial Strategy and Innovation, Clint Tankersley works hand in hand with clients to develop and integrate innovative solutions applying emerging technology along with current and new digital trends to enhance the brand experience. Prior to joining Cadient Group, Clint spent six years at WebMD, where he was most recently the Director of Product Development in their Innovation Group focusing on Health Information Technology (HIT) industry trends, government programs and mobile health (mHealth) solutions to identify potential strategic partnerships and product integration. In addition to this most recent role, he had also managed commercial platforms and products for Medscape, as part of WebMD, with a specific focus on marketing and engaging healthcare professionals, working directly with many of the top pharmaceutical companies and brands. Outside of WebMD, Clint worked as a consultant to develop and launch a disease management app that supports Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers. Clint graduated from Drew University with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and received his M.B.A from Babson College.

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