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Is Your Marketing Healthy? How Sanofi Uses Influence to Improve Lives

Feb 26, 2014

Patrick lives and breathes music. His dream job is to be a Music Supervisor for a major production studio in Hollywood. Currently in his mid-twenties, Patrick manages a concert venue north of Chicago. He also identifies himself as a Type 1 diabetic, which means his body fails to naturally produce insulin.

Patrick describes his life as a diabetic as “stable, healthy and organized.” Throughout high school and college it was rare for him to find anyone else who had diabetes and faced the same challenges he did. Knowing the disease affects over 800,000 people in the U.S., a major frustration for him was the absence of a “community” to engage with and support his lifestyle as impacted by the disease. In the social age we live in, Patrick found an answer when he discovered the DX blog in mid-2013.

The DX: The Diabetes Experience” is a blog run by Sanofi, the Pharmaceutical giant, which they describe as “…committed to providing news, information and tips on how to live a healthier lifestyle as we strive to be a preferred partner delivering innovative and integrated solutions for people living with and impacted by diabetes.” The DX blog relies on influencers and thought leaders from all different backgrounds to help educate the community on various topics, challenges, and advice related to diabetes. Patrick describes it as his ‘Central Hub’ for Diabetes; “they create content that helps me understand healthy eating, fitness and general lifestyle best practices.”

Sanofi - The DX - Diabetes Experience

Michele Polz, the Associate Vice President of Patient Insights and Analytics for U.S. Diabetes at Sanofi and one of the creators of the DX blog concept, explains that the idea behind the DX blog emerged after they launched Sanofi’s first Data Design Diabetes open innovation challenge, which allowed them to interact with the diabetes community in a new way. From there, a new thought emerged: What if our franchise homepage was a conversation? What if we curated high quality content from the online community of people living with diabetes – the experts facing the challenge of managing a life with diabetes? The potential result was tremendous: “…this idea could really help 26.5 million + people living with diabetes, and all that love them.”

The goal was to start a conversation about life first, and then life with diabetes. Sanofi wanted to participate in the conversation, not lead it or dominate it. By discovering the experts leading the online conversations around how to manage a life with diabetes and by building impactful, content-based relationships with these influencers, the Sanofi team created a blog that focused on topics that real people like Patrick care about rather than marketing copy.

At Traackr we describe this approach as brands becoming an organic member of the communities they serve. Through the DX project, Sanofi manages to capture what marketing is becoming for an enterprise: the expression of a brand through its brand values (not products) by community actors. Here is what corporate marketers can learn from Sanofi’s example:

1. Have a legitimate purpose

In order to succeed in the age of social, brands have to become a part of the broader conversation, taking place on the core issues they address rather than the products they sell. By offering a 'hub', as Patrick calls it, for diabetics to learn about healthy lifestyle, Sanofi positions itself as being a part of improving diabetics' quality of life and connects to the causes and phenomena that truly resonate with their audience.

2. Set the stage and step aside

For the community to thrive and for the DX project to resonate in a real and honest way, Sanofi needed to set the stage and step aside. This means letting individuals take center stage, focusing on people over brand or offerings, and empowering both the influencers and the patients to lead the conversation, without dictating how.

3. Tailor to your market

Sanofi launched the DX blog at a time when data-capturing devices and technology-driven approaches were the hot trend in healthcare, not the social web.  By focusing on patients’ real needs and by enabling those who have the motivation to share their expertise and influence to help improve the lives of others living with the disease, the Sanofi DX project is a great example of taking a disruptive path toward providing thought leadership for medical purpose.

Special thanks to Susan Brooks, Senior Director, Laura Kolodjeski, Director, Patient Insights, and Michele Polz, AVP Patient Analytics and Insights at Sanofi for all the information and insights they provided that made this post possible.