Convincing your customers that they’re doing it wrong is often an uphill battle. We’re all resistant to change. And when your customer base is comprised of highly educated people who are in positions of authority, this becomes even harder. How do you teach these hard to persuade experts that there’s a better way? You let everyone else teach them – their peers, their public and the institutions they hold most dear.

When Richard Hinson was running Searle Canada in the mid-90’s, he launched a product called Arthrotec – this was a product that combined a powerful anti-inflammatory drug with another compound that protected the user’s stomach, reducing the likelihood of ulcers. The marketing problem here was a typical one: the doctors prescribing the drugs knew there was a problem, but the problem was an old one and changing habits is difficult. But his marketing team’s solution was anything but typical. As a matter of fact, it was dramatic, crowd-sourced and damn clever.

The drug itself did something no other anti-inflammatory competitor could do – it relieved pain from arthritis without running the risk of giving you an ulcer. But doctors are doctors. Just sharing research isn’t enough. “One of the brilliant things the team did was set aside a million dollars for a grant to anyone who could come up with diagnostic procedure or diagnostic device for determining if you had ulceration forming from taking an NSAID (a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug),” Hinson told me. “For us, it was never about developing a diagnostic device… we wanted to publicize the fact that NSAIDs gave you ulcers. We ran full page ads in Canadian newspapers. We had enormous response to this campaign.”  The product became the country’s best selling NSAID.

Key Takeaways:

Who sells better than a peer? Other doctors, medical schools and medical device companies jumped in and contributed their research to this pressing issue in an effort to grab that million dollar grant.

PR is better when it comes from someone other than you. Having lots of industry people actively pursuing the problem you solve builds credibility quickly. This was a crowd-sourced solution before crowd-sourcing was hip.

Enlightened self-interest is a powerful motivating factor.

Look at the power of the assumptive close – of acknowledging that NSAIDs cause ulcers, a known fact but an unpersuasive motivation to act on the part of the doctors involved – combined with a positive, generative appeal to fix the problem and alleviate the pain.

The promotion of the grant and the buzz surrounding the potential solutions were all aimed at one goal: making sure that any consumer who took anti-inflammatory drugs for arthritis knew that the drug they were taking would potentially hurt them.

The million dollar grant idea gives us a blueprint for mobilizing an industry ecosystem around the idea of changing the public’s perception about a problem and a solution. In the process, Searle shifted the public dialog from “if” to “how.”