Trends Shift in Sample Packaging

Sophisticated sample kits play a crucial role in delivering a consistent and customer-centric brand experience.
Catalent's child-resistant and senior-friendly packaging targets medication adherence: HingePak compliance delivery system, PillCalendar daily-dose delivery system, and RxBarrier+ compliance delivery system.

Drug companies are moving toward more innovative sample packages with a value-added approach as face time with physicians declines and nonpersonal sampling rises as selling strategy. Marketers are gravitating away from the traditional merchandising model for samples and are creating sophisticated starter kits to establish a customer-centric experience, improve patient compliance, and increase brand loyalty.

Therapeutic segments fueling the growth of comprehensive sample packages are chronic disease maintenance therapy and the complex specialty products arena. Packages comprising disease information, coupons, vouchers, redemptive cash cards, and patient education materials are replacing overly large sample packages designed solely to increase a brand’s visibility in sample closets.

Sample packages and patient starter packages are the initial point of contact between a patient and a prescribed drug. Experts say more than half of all noncompliance can be traced to one of two factors; forgetfulness or lack of product education. Given a patient’s propensity not to fill a script, a sample provides the link between a physician’s diagnosis and patient self-initiative.

“The sample jumpstarts the patient compliance behavior to get them over those initial apprehensions of the medication therapy,” says Daryl J. Madeira, director of marketing, Alcan Global Pharmaceutical Packaging, Contract Packaging.

Pharmagistics has seen the rise of sophisticated sample packaging comprising patient/caregiver support and education materials, coupons, and vouchers to encourage patients to fill their first prescription, and the integration of calendar information into blister packaging to facilitate patient adherence and compliance. Pharmagistics is the sample accountability and distribution group within Publicis Strategic Solutions Group.

“In many brands—especially those that have administration or other patient compliance challenges—we’re seeing a fairly significant investment in user-friendly sample packaging designed to optimize safety, patient adherence/compliance, retention, and brand loyalty,” says Rick Keefer, president and CEO, Publicis Strategic Solutions Group.

Ad agency experts believe anything placed inside packaging is an attempt to ensure that the patient fills the prescription. In addition, couponing is a new trend. Coupons in samples enable marketers to track who actually fills a prescription. “[Marketers] are not just trying to deliver the product, they are trying to deliver a branded experience,” says Vince Parry, president, Y Brand/inVentiv Health. “So in some ways, a sample can be linked to a prescription that then gets a patient inside a communications loop where they can be encouraged to take their medication and opt into programs.”

Opportunities in sample package design are the development of starter packs, the inclusion of business reply cards, the inclusion of vouchers to be applied to prescriptions and copay fees, and patient education and compliance materials. InVentiv Health’s patient outcomes company Adheris helps develop relationships with the patients by sending letters encouraging them to refill a prescription and directs them to online sites to continue conversations with the patients.

Branding experts believe there is a strong direct relationship between the brand and sample packaging. Clients feel that sample packaging needs to reinforce the brand with the same graphic images and messaging. Sample packages have primary hallmarks like a logo or icon or secondary hallmarks like elements derived from the logo or color palette.

Y Brand worked on GlaxoSmithKline’s inhaled asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease drug Advair. The Advair package is designed to provide a unique customer experience with a solid purple color resembling the Advair color. Products for multiple sclerosis, such as Biogen Idec Inc.’s Avonex, or inhaled insulins are heavily branded and heavily designed to deliver a certain kind of brand experience because the device is part of that experience.

These types of products require an earlier relationship between advertising agencies and packaging vendors to ensure a positive brand experience, Parry explains. For example, the brand experience for Avonex focuses on a higher quality of life.

“The quality of life is better because they don’t have to inject themselves everyday and remind themselves that they have multiple sclerosis,” he says. “The needle only comes out when it hits the skin so the patient has a greater quality of injecting experience that matches the brand experience that they put their advertising and promotional branding dollars into.”

Pharma Tech Industries (Royston, GA), a contract manufacturer and packager of powder products, has partnered with its own marketing agency to innovate. For example, the company worked with an outside marketing agency to develop ideas for a particular mold for a bottle design in an effort to compete for business with other bottle molders.

“More big pharmaceutical companies are relying on their vendors to provide them with ideas for innovation,” says Edward T. Noland Jr., director, business development, Pharma Tech Industries. “I think it was definitely beneficial that we did that, and it can make you stand out.”

Pharmaceutical clients aim to deliver a consistent customer-centric experience, linking samples with other marketing components like commercials or branded Web sites. Another increasing trend is the consolidation of packaging design with one supplier rather than multiple suppliers.

Pharmaceutical marketers recognize that the more these touch points are dispersed among various vendors, the greater the likelihood that there will be inconsistencies. As a result, pharmaceutical companies are unifying those different touch points with fewer companies to ensure greater consistency.

“They’re starting to buy the packaging design from the companies that also do their branding, brand hallmarks, and brand books to ensure that the branding looks the same and the brand experience is delivered in a unified context on every touch point,” Parry says. “We’ve seen an increase in packaging assignments over the last two years.”

Clients are extremely cost conscious, says John LaHaye, vice president, business development, packaging services, Catalent Pharma Solutions (Somerset, NJ). This is especially true within the existing economy. Clients are looking to use their budgets more effectively.

“While we have seen the volume of samples going down, our specialty compliance, child-resistant, and adult-friendly packaging business has seen a significant increase as did other businesses involved in doing sample management, sample accountability programs, direct-to-physician shipment programs,” LaHaye says.

LaHaye adds that clients are moving away from simple bottles and toward more sophisticated cards or blister cards. “We have proprietary packaging at Catalent that will improve patient adherence, patient compliance, and child resistance ratings,” LaHaye says. “Those are the sorts of programs that we see in the marketplace being done by large pharmaceutical companies.”

Howell Packaging (Elmira, NY) offers howell.CR.III, an economical way to capture a blistered dose of product into a compliance-prompting package that is child resistant and senior friendly. In addition, educational features can be incorporated to make the initial contact point between the patient and physician an opportunity to establish details about the patients medical diagnosis, how the medication works, and why it is important to take the medication as directed.

Samples are used a training tool to educate about a disease state and regimen, rather than as a freebee to bridge the time between the physician’s office and the pharmacy. The demand of samples and starter-packs, however, will probably be dictated by healthcare costs and pharmaceutical company profits.

“With shrinking money available for free offerings like this, it is likely that the overall units will decline in coming years,” Madeira says.

Advertising agencies are starting to have an immediate effect on how packaging is administered. As a result, packaging industry experts believe more collaborative efforts between packaging suppliers, advertising agencies, and pharmaceutical companies are needed.

“Packaging suppliers can be an extremely valuable asset early in the development of programs in collaboration with pharmaceutical product management, agency account executives, and creative directors,” says Joe Lally, sales manager, packaging for pharmaceuticals, Howell Packaging.

The physician sample or the starter kit is the most direct consumer advertising medium, some packaging experts say. A physician sample provides patients with something tangible that can be carried around and reused on a daily basis.

Sample packaging designs are incorporating more images of people, said to be a warmer approach to packaging. This graphic trend is in contrast to the traditional sterile-looking sample package.

“It speaks to that first-time experience, you’re kind of seeing the softer side of packaging,” says Justin Schroeder, director, marketing and business development, Anderson Packaging Inc. (Rockford, IL). “Anytime you can decode peoples fears and preconceived perceptions about taking medication in general, it gets people to identify with the brand.”


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