Eisai Co’s consumer-centric pharmaceutical website

If you live or work in Japan, or have visited the country, you will know it is a nation of contrasts. This is as true when it comes to online healthcare communication as anywhere else.

On the one hand, much of Japan’s healthcare communication is highly conservative. Yet in the midst of this, some Japanese pharmaceutical companies are becoming world leaders in developing patient-focused corporate websites.

Whilst the corporate websites of many pharmaceutical companies outside of Japan are primarily focused on content for investors and media, Eisai Co, Japan’s fifth-largest pharmaceutical company, has developed a highly consumer-centric website. In a regulated environment, direct-to-consumer marketing by pharmaceutical companies can be a sensitive subject, but for Hiroshi Kaihatsu, Manager, Business Strategy & Planning at Eisai, focusing on the consumer was essential.

“We must use the right words and terminology for consumers”, said Mr Kaihatsu at Marketing Excellence Japan 2010 last month. “This is not the same language we use for physicians.”

For Mr Kaihatsu and his team, the key to this was the development of an imaginary ‘persona’ around whom the website could be built. Following an extensive consumer research process, the persona was defined as an ‘ordinary’ lady; a healthy mother, the key family influencer. Her father has senile dementia; her mother has osteoporosis. She is fashionable, teaches flower arranging, and is 46 years old.

Eisai’s research process explored the magazines the persona reads, and the way she uses the Internet. Consumer interviews revealed that she checks the Internet for health information, although she is not a specialist in medical terminology. She likes to use the Internet to find out things she wants to know. Her favourite search engine, according to Eisai’s Japanese consumer research, is Yahoo!.

Eisai’s consumer persona features prominently on the website home page

Eisai’s consumer persona features prominently on the website home page

The result of Eisai’s persona development is http://eisai.jp, featuring images of the persona around whom the website has been designed and a unique ‘Wellness Finder’ which was inspired by Amazon to direct consumers to relevant content based on their website activity.

Whilst the whole website experience has been designed with the consumer in mind, the home page’s Wellness Finder is a particularly innovative health information tool using consumer-centric language. On first appearing, the tool suggests a range of health-related terms such as ‘pain’, ‘stomach’, ‘pain’, ‘shoulder’, ‘fatigue’ or ‘osteoporosis’.

Eisai’s unique Wellness Finder tool

Eisai’s unique Wellness Finder tool

When a consumer clicks on a term, a series of related words is displayed. So for example, clicking on a term such as ‘pain’ updates the Wellness Finder to show words that will help narrow down a search for information, such as ‘neck’, ‘throat’, ‘stomach’. A further click on ‘stomach’ narrows down suggestions further and offers terms including ‘nausea’.

The Wellness Finder constructs relevant search terms through a simple process

The Wellness Finder constructs relevant search terms through a simple process

With each click, the selected search term is added to a search query to return relevant information from the Eisai website.

Placing the Wellness Finder health information tool at the centre of user functionality has resulted in a website that is able to provide relevant health information to consumers easily and intuitively.

Eisai’s Wellness Finder’s provides relevant content based on simple user selections

Eisai’s Wellness Finder’s provides relevant content based on simple user selections

What can others learn from Eisai’s website and Mr Kaihatsu’s experience? Getting the right information in a relevant way to consumers is a challenge that many pharmaceutical companies have yet to overcome. For Eisai, there was certainly a lot of work to achieve the new consumer-focused website. The work of mining and indexing the extensive content using specialist tools, and planning and designing the user experience around the persona, were only possible because of a culture that focuses on serving the consumer. As Mr Kaihatsu put it when describing Eisai’s 365-days-a-year call centre operation:

“Our call centre operates 365 days a year. Why? Because our patients don’t have a holiday from being a patient.”

Whilst Eisai’s corporate website does not cater for every health stakeholder – it is in fact just one of thirty websites operated by Eisai in Japan, including a search-based clinical website for doctors – its place at http://eisai.jp reflects the value placed by Eisai on putting the patient at the heart of its online communications.

If you would like to develop a strategy for engaging consumers in a relevant way about health matters, Creation Healthcare can help. Contact us in Tokyo or London to find out how.

Daniel Ghinn

Daniel Ghinn is Editor of Healthcare Engagement Strategy and CEO of Creation Healthcare, the online market research consultancy for healthcare. He is a prolific writer and speaker on emerging trends healthcare engagement in the digital age.