Category: COVID-19

Insight Capsule #2: ODM “The Psychology of Engagement” 

The Use of Engagement Customization and Personalization is Becoming Increasingly Important—in Fact Essential—in Pharmaceutical Marketing in 2022 and Beyond

Developed by Health Psychologist and ThinkGen Chief Innovation Officer Dr. Richard Vanderveer

The COVID-19 pandemic has served to speed up a trend that was already well underway in terms of the pharmaceutical industry’s promotion of its products to physicians. More specifically, the practice of a marketing team carefully developing a message for their product prior to launch, then relying on pharmaceutical sales representatives (PSRs) to deliver this message repeatedly to physicians, was increasingly being seen by doctors as being both grossly inefficient and annoying.

The coronavirus brought with it mandatory office lockdowns and pharmaceutical companies pulling their PSRs from the field, thus providing doctors with a multi-month opportunity to question their previously accepted habit of welcoming “reminder details” that took up their time while bringing them no new information.

The result? Over the past 18 months of conducting our ongoing On Doctors’ MindsSM (ODM) project, we have learned that physicians have replaced this old habit with new ones. And, rather than being the homogeneous habit of old, different doctors have developed a large variety of new and different habits in terms of their engagement with pharmaceutical companies.

As a result, numerous marketing research studies, as well as reports from leading consultancies dealing with this issue, have argued that “customization” and “personalization” of pharmaceutical companies’ promotional efforts directed at physicians are increasingly necessary. But how should the industry go about delivering on these requirements?

Over the coming months, the weekly series of Insight CapsulesSM drawn from ThinkGen’s ODM project will provide answers to these questions based on an understanding of the “psychology of engagement.” But first, a clarification of terminology:

Customization: In our work, this term refers to the recognition that different physicians have entirely different preferences as to how a pharmaceutical company should be “engaging” them. As will be developed in subsequent Insight CapsulesSM, there is not an infinite variety of such expectations, but rather a manageable set of preferences that can be characterized through Physician Engagement PersonasSM (PEP) Engagements must be customized for the PEP being addressed.

Individualization: Based on the findings of our ODM conversations with physicians, we have come to understand that this term has two important meanings. For a new product launch, for example, we need to understand where a physician with a particular PEP is along the Awareness, Interest, Trial, and Usage spectrum, and adjust our engagement offer accordingly. Also, the physician needs to see the message as being specifically produced for her. A personal email from the doctor’s PSR, as opposed to just an emailed “ad” for the product, is perceived as being of much greater value.

Omnichannel: In 2022, marketing teams have a large variety of media, both push and pull, that they can use to engage a physician. Once an engagement has been customized and individualized, the marketing team must select the most appropriate channel to employ for its delivery. In fact, the selection of a promotional channel can be an important part of the customization and individualization processes.

Subsequent Insight CapsulesSM will explore each of these concepts in far greater detail and provide physician guidance as to how each can be optimized. Meanwhile, for a taste of the types of insights we are gleaning from these conversations, watch this short video clip from one of our ODM conversations.

Want to stay updated on our findings? Subscribe to receive these Insight Capsules in your inbox by clicking here.

Bringing Diversity into Healthcare Media Coverage

Check this out. What you will see is a meta-insight offered by Tonya Russell, the freelance journalist pictured above. Actually, the insight is a two-parter.

Part One. If one is going to be able to write knowledgeably about topics like healthcare diversity and the COVID pandemic, you need to be able to tap into diverse experts. Makes sense, right? Tony Fauci’s perspective can only help us so much here.

Part Two. While many believe that it is difficult to get to such diverse expert resources, there are actually guidelines as to how to get this done rather efficiently. Through the identified URL and others embedded therein, Tonya in fact shows us how to do this based on her own experience.

Bottom Line. Like I said, we have a new insight here. To get a thorough understanding of how diversity impacts the COVID pandemic experience, it is essential to get the perspective of a diverse panel of experts. And you can do just that.

Don’t forget to make it happen!!!

Johnson & Johnson’s Support of Nurses

Check this out. As I hope is true in most of the URL’s that I send you to, there are a lot of interesting points made in today’s piece. One is a phenomenon I have observed over my over 40 years of conducting pharmaceutical marketing research. That is, companies that dedicate themselves to maintaining a longstanding and supportive relationship with a specific group of HCPs get rewarded for their loyalty with loyalty in return.

That is certainly true in the Johnson & Johnson support of RNs. My wife and virtually every other nurse with whom I have spoken is well aware of this support, they all smile when they talk about it, and those nurses involved in purchasing decisions will, whenever possible, go with the J&J product offering.

One of the greatest examples of the impact that this kind of ongoing support can have on customer loyalty and market share was demonstrated by Ortho Pharmaceuticals (a J&J Company) and their relationship with ob/gyns. I spent much of my professional life working on marketing research to position Ortho oral contraceptives. I did this work for over a decade. During this time, I learned that Ortho supported ob/gyns, in many significant ways, from their residency forward. The doctors in this specialty with whom I spoke over the years were well aware of this support. In fact, our segmentation work over found a large segment of physicians who wrote almost exclusively for Ortho oral contraceptives, not because they thought they were better than other brands. Rather, they thought they were at parity with the other products, BUT were manufactured by a company that was loyal to their specialty. 

Work we did during the same time period with pediatricians found that there was a significant segment of that specialty that was loyal to Ross Laboratories because of their support for their specialty, and as a result recommended Ross infant formulas. 

Is such bidirectional specialty loyalty still alive and well in our industry? Where? Does it still look the same? Are the results still as beneficial?

One other key thought I want to point out in this piece is that while I and others spend a lot of time thinking and talking about “physician burnout,” especially during the pandemic, a far greater burnout problem can be found among the nurses who have to take care of these patients, and other tragic cases, on a much more up-close-and-personal basis than do most physicians. This piece reports that 70% of nurses are suffering from anxiety, stress and burnout, with the result that 20% of nurses are leaving the field annually. Not good!

Bottom Line. What we have learned here then is two things. First, that a company that throws its support behind a particular group of HCPs can often reap a significant reward.

And, more specifically, we have learned that nurses, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic need, and well deserve, the kind of loyal support that they have been receiving from J&J for the last 120 years. 

Spend some time today pondering what your company can do with each of these learnings?

COVID and Mental Health

Check this out. You will find a fascinating piece concerning links between viruses, COVID-19 in particular, and mental health. Links? Yup! The really interesting part about these findings is that causality can go in both directions. Those with schizophrenia and mood disorders, for example, were found to suffer more severe cases of COVID-19 than patients without these comorbidities. AND. Going in the other direction, patients who have had COVID-19 or other severe infections have a significant increase in their risk of developing mental illnesses later in life.

Bottom Line. So what the heck is going on here? While understanding is incomplete, it would seem that inflammation might well be the bridge that bidirectionally links infections and mental illnesses. 

Stand back and look at that sentence for a minute and ponder the impact that demonstrating such physiological causality could have on psychiatrists and psychologists working with the “mentally” ill!!!

Starbucks, DC Physicians, and COVID-19

As you all know, I have been carefully studying various approaches to convincing people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. My monthly conversations with physicians in my On Doctors’ MindsSM research project have been revealing that for many doctors, continuing to try to convince their unvaccinated patients to get the shot is now seen as a waste of their time and potentially offensive to some patients.  SO. They have stopped.

Conversations with clergy reveal that while some are willing to make a case from the pulpit for vaccination because they believe it is the moral thing to do, others want to stay clear of the political overtones that have unfortunately come to accompany this issue.

Joe Biden’s attempts, ranging from daily entreaties to controversial mandates, have at this point become old news, court cases, or both.

But here is a new one. Physicians offering to run discussion groups at coffee shops to present the efficacy and safety of the vaccines to groups of people who are not even their patients.  Interesting. Will the casual setting and the cup of Starbucks help to seal the deal? 

Bottom Line. Think about this one for a minute. If we have learned anything about the vaccine-hesitant over the last year, it is that simply talking “science” is unlikely to convince them to get their shots. And that’s true whether the people talking science are scientific experts or even their own physicians.  Why would these physicians, well-intentioned though they might be, be more successful using the same approach?

But wait! There actually is a possibility of a good outcome here. Think about it for another minute. Those people who would be willing to show up for such discussions must have at least a modicum of openness to getting vaccinated. AND. In good old “peer influence group” fashion, a skilled moderator might be able to facilitate these people talking each other into getting vaccinated by exploring and overcoming their shared objections. That might work.

As long as these doctors are smart enough not to just “talk science!!!” 

Mergers, Acquisitions, and COVID-19

Although I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, here is an angle that I had missed. Take six minutes of your time to watch this video by research industry pundit Bob Lederer. What you will learn is that as 2021 comes to an end, the pandemic is causing a significant amount of M&A activity. Established, well-funded marketing research stalwarts and venture capitalists are taking this opportunity to buy up, at discount prices, smaller organizations that were more negatively impacted by the pandemic. Interestingly, while many of these smaller organizations now lack the capital to expand or in some cases even to survive, many of them have technical expertise that can be used to turbocharge their larger counterparts.

Bottom Line. Which, as usual, got me to thinking. And wondering more generally what impact the pandemic has had, and is having, on the structures of other lines of business. Common sense tells me that, as in marketing research, the pandemic has provided well-capitalized organizations in many verticals with an opportunity to buy up weaker competitors at discount prices. 

Is that phenomenon over or, as Bob seems to be intimating in this piece, is it just beginning???

Winning the COVID Vaccine Lottery

Check this out. What you will see is a story from my local newspaper, here on Hilton Head Island, that I think has some fairly wide-reaching implications.

The young lady pictured above, Maddie Frank, is a very lucky Clemson student. More specifically, she is one of 16,000 Clemson students who uploaded their proof of COVID vaccination as part of a vaccine incentive program. A random drawing from that pool of students brought Maddie the grand prize, two semesters free tuition!!! Other prizes included computers, iPads, free meal plans, etc. Prizes were also offered to faculty members who submitted proof of vaccination.

Okay, this may be of interest at Clemson, and even on Hilton Head Island where Maddie went to prep school. But what are the “wide-reaching implications?” Best to answer that question with a question. When was the last time, pre-COVID, that we saw prizes being awarded to people just for taking an important step in protecting their own health? I’m probably missing something here, but I can’t think of any!

Two other related questions. First, what message does this incentive program communicate about the COVID vaccines? My snotty response is that if you have to rely on extrinsic motivators like lottery prizes to coerce people to get vaccinated, you are implicitly saying that the vaccines lack sufficient intrinsic motivators to make them worthwhile to receive. Do we really want to say that? 

Next question. Does the use of lottery prizes and other extrinsic motivators convince vaccine hesitant patients to go out and get the vaccine? I’m guessing that the Clemson student vaccination rate of 60%, pretty average at best, answers that question with an apparent “No”.

Bottom Line. Over the last year, we have seen lotteries, cash and even beer being used to motivate people to get vaccinated. I am thinking that such bribery has had little or no positive effect on the vaccine hesitant and, worse yet, may be setting a bad precedent by creating a situation where in the future, people will have to be extrinsically compensated for doing what is right for their health and the health of those around them. 

Not good!

“Connecting” With the Vaccine Hesitant Patient

Check this out. What you will see is a really well-written piece on how a physician can have a meaningful conversation with a patient who is hesitant to get vaccinated herself, and/or is hesitant about getting her children vaccinated. The message here is a simple one, but it is lost on many of the physicians with whom I have conversations in my On Doctors’ MindsSM project.

The punchline is, while most doctors try to convince such patients of the vaccines’ safety and efficacy by talking “science,” this doctor’s interaction with this patient, over several different occasions, is actually the right way to do it. Sure, the practitioner has to be patient (pun intended) enough to penetrate the diffuse “I’m just going to wait and see” objection that so many patients offer. BUT. This patient’s reason for eventually breaking down and following the doctor’s vaccine recommendation, “You saw me for me,” is genuinely profound. Understanding a patient’s psychological backstory here is essential to communicating at a meaningful level that often, as in this case, has nothing to do with the “science.”

Bottom Line. So what we actually have here is a special case of Salesmanship 101. Listen carefully before you start talking. Patients recognize the hackneyed, and to them irrelevant, science-based standard speech that many doctors have developed about the COVID-19 vaccines, and just tune it out.

There is a general principle here that merits some consideration!

COVID “Treatment” is About to Get Interesting

Check this out. What you will see is a write-up that is interesting in several different ways. First, as the writer tells the story, the interest surrounding Molnupiravir, Merck’s much anticipated therapy for COVID-19, has captured analysts’ focus far more than the overall quarterly performance of the giant drug company. How those two factor will converge in quarters to come will be fascinating to watch.

Second, intervention decisions related to COVID-19 will get more complicated, and thus more interesting, when this product is approved. Sure, frontline for the foreseeable future will remain the vaccines. Molnupiravir’s role would seem fairly straightforward, i.e., in the treatment of compromised patients with mild to moderate disease. BUT. The possibility of using the product for postexposure prophylactic therapy could substantially increase the patient pool. 

And where will the monoclonal antibodies fit in as all of this gels? And what other forms of therapy will become available that will need to find their way into the mix?

Bottom Line. The general take on the situation is that COVID-19 and its variants will be around for a long, long time. Expect that the armamentarium of agents available to prevent and to fight the infection will continue to evolve. And for the developing pathways through that armamentarium to have a substantial impact on the economic fortunes of the companies that develop and market them. 

Let’s Give “Breakthrough Infections” a Break

Check this out. A dollop of common sense here. Words are always important. We have sort of known all along that the specific words we choose to make a point can be our best friends or our worst enemies.  But the COVID-19 pandemic has given this concept new meaning. Think about the word “mandate.” As in “mask mandate” or “vaccine mandate.” In both phrases, the use of the word mandate is (has been made to be?) inflammatory, to put it mildly. Prior to the pandemic, the primary use that I recall of the term “mandate” was when a politician won an election by a large majority and declared that he had received a mandate from the electorate. In the good old days, a mandate was a good thing.

For those of you interested in getting a more erudite view of this topic, you might like to tap into this book. What you will see is a thoughtful review of how words can be crafted in such a way as to take advantage of such behavioral economics principles as biases and heuristics, and in turn can be used to influence desired healthcare attitudes and behaviors.

Now we focus on the point of the article referenced here. The use of the term “breakthrough infections” is unfortunately providing evidence for anti-vaxxers to use in making the point that the “vaccines don’t work.” Unfortunate since, as I have noted before, most people originally interpreted “90%” efficacy as “works for everybody,” responding to the behavioral economics principle of “rounding,” when in fact, it clearly means something very different. And then there are “little details” like the fact that most of the “breakthroughs” are milder cases, with very few hospitalizations or deaths. 

Bottom Line. Is it too late to undo the public health damage being done by these few words? Probably! As a wise teacher once taught me, “Until you say them, you are the master of your words. After you say them, they are the master of you.”

BUT. Hopefully going forward, we can avoid the setting of any more semantic traps which would likely contribute to even more lives being lost to the coronavirus.

AND. More generally, we hopefully will come to understand the emotional impact of words and how to work with them to society’s public health benefit rather than to its detriment.