Category: Pharmaceutical marketing and marketing research

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.

Fewer Physician Visits By PSRs Post-Pandemic?

As you will see in these survey results from FirstWord, that is the desired scenario for about half of the 100 doctors they polled. Throughout the six months of reporting on the results of my On Doctors’ MindsSM conversations, that about lines up with what I have been finding. As we predicted back in November of 2020, many doctors are looking forward hopefully for a return of the “old normal.” BUT. About half of all physicians we have talked to, and especially many specialists, have learned over the course of the pandemic to “do without” PSRs, readily getting  the answers and information they need in their practices from other sources. 

While you are looking at these results, check out the data concerning virtual details. Here, 57% of doctors reported that they find them to be equally or more “effective” than personal PSR visits. BUT. In my conversations with physicians, the majority of doctors are avoiding these virtual visits like the plague (Sorry!) due to difficulties in scheduling and the extra time required. Translated, perhaps the virtual details that are happening are “effective,” but most of my discussants, and I believe most physicians more generally, are not letting them happen.

Bottom Line. Throughout our study of the effects of the pandemic on office-based physicians, we have been telling our pharmaceutical clients that they had best be prepared to increase their physician micromarketing sophistication as the pandemic winds down. Doctors are differing widely in their preferred mode of communicating with pharmaceutical companies. One size definitely doesn’t fit all here, and we need to be ready to respond to these differing physician preferences. 

Physician Wellbeing

Check this out. What you will see is the sign up for a lecture on the topic of “physician wellbeing” given by the University of Pennsylvania psychiatrist pictured above. As a long-time student of physician burnout and suicide, I find it gratifying to see the words “physician wellbeing” used together.  

This piece starts out with an important quotation:

“Physicians came into the COVID-19 pandemic on the heels of an epidemic of burnout and discontent.”

Amen. And as the 10 conversations I have been having every month with physicians for my On Doctors’ MindsSM project have convinced me, the pandemic has made the preexisting problems worse by an order of magnitude. Uncertainty. Health Risk. Stress. Change. All of these have been the story of physician life through 2020 and into 2021.  

BUT. As this presentation points out, there are actually interventions that can be employed to restore and to protect physician wellbeing.  

Bottom Line. Clearly this obscure little Grand Rounds lecture is not going to solve the current crisis in physician wellbeing. A lot more muscle has to be put to the accomplishing of this goal. Or even making a dent in the problem

But what can we do? I’m guessing that rather than beating doctors about the head with “reminder details,” we in the pharmaceutical industry might do a lot more to enhance our relationships with physicians, and to foster their loyalty, if we put our considerable resources to work building up physician wellbeing rather than actually being potential contributors to its degradation!

An Introduction To “Habit Marketing”

For the last couple of years, my colleagues at ThinkGen and I have been working on a major paradigm shift for pharmaceutical marketers and marketing researchers. A shift that takes them from a focus on “influencing prescribing decisions” and has them refocus on “developing physician habits.” Why? Because most physician prescribing is habitual, rather than being the result of a carefully thought out prescribing decision process for treating each patient. Realizing this fundamentally changes the way marketers market and researchers research.

BUT. Not everybody in the pharma vertical has had the habit marketing epiphany. In an effort to spread the word, my colleague Audrey Wu and I have developed a 45 minute webinar presentation that describes the nuts and bolts of the why’s and how’s of habit marketing. I know that this is a big-time commitment but trust me. Once you realize the importance of habits, both preexisting and new, to understanding marketing, you will never think about selling your company’s products the same way again.  

Bottom Line.  Here’s the presentation.  Give it a whirl!

Caveats Concerning Behavioral Economics

Check this out.  What you will find is a very well-reasoned and important piece penned by Koen Smets, the “organization development adviser” pictured here.  

As you know, Behavioral Economics has become a really big thing within the hallowed halls of many pharmaceutical companies. Consultants pushing BE principles have been scoring especially big with marketing and marketing research departments, many of whom have come to believe that these principles will help them to understand their customers better and to market to them more effectively.

No doubt, Behavioral Economics constitutes an important step beyond classical economics in understanding how people make decisions. BUT, as Koen sagely points out, we must interpret its principles with great care. For example, among the many misinterpretations he debunks is the belief that many people hold that BE principles like biases and heuristics, cause people to do things. Or explain their behavior. Rubbish. Think about it. How would that actually work? It wouldn’t. Biases and heuristics are just labels for behavior that people exhibit.

Smets also debunks the perception that there are a multitude of Behavioral Economics interventions, “nudges,” that individually have huge impacts on human behavior. He points out that if this were actually true, it would be like having an aquarium filled with piranhas. The behavioral nudges would cancel each other out, just as the piranhas would busy themselves eating each other.  

One of the most surprising and bothersome “debunkings” pertains to some of the “experiments” that have been conducted to support the principles of Behavioral Economics. Hundreds of them! Reported across all the books that make up the BE literature. Only problem, Smets points out, is that typically small sample sizes were utilized, the researchers were biased to interpret the results in a particular way, AND attempts at replicating the results of many of these studies have failed. Miserably.  

As I read this article, I was also impressed with the fact that BE deals only with “one off” decisions. It does not deal with longer terms, habitual behavior. This is sort of unfortunate, since habitual behavior actually makes up the majority of what we do every day.

Oh, and “Just one more thing” as Detective Columbo used to say. But it is an important thing. Reading this piece reminded me that ALL of the Behavioral Economic books have a very negative view of human behavior. We’re irrational, lazy, selfish and misguided. We bring to our behavior all kinds of “biases” and try to sleaze in our decision making by using “heuristics.” Somehow, Behavioral Economists seem to believe that there is an absolute standard against which our behavior should be judged, and up against which we are failing. Miserably. I am voting “no” on that belief!

Bottom Line. Sometimes I tell you to simply skim one of the URL’s that I refer you to. Not this time. There is a lot of important information in this article. Read it. Think about it. Behavioral Economics has made major steps to take us beyond Classical Economics and its “rational man” model of human behavior. HOWEVER. Its contributions are often wildly misunderstood and overestimated! 

What Do Millennials Want in Healthcare?

Millennials You will want to download this white paper. Why the heck wouldn’t you???  It is free, well done and offers important insights both general and specific. In the former category, it helps us to understand that “For Millennials, health is no longer just “the absence of illness”- it is a proactive pursuit for wellness that encompasses mental health, nutrition, sleeping habits, and exercise.” In the latter category, it shares with us details like 68% of Boomers consider doctors as their best source of information, only 41% of Millennials feel this way! Bottom Line. There are important shifts in the psychology of healthcare that are going to unfold in 2017. Very nice of Gray to give us these insights into some of them! But what will you do with these insights???

Remember “Pharmaceutical Marketing?”

Harvoni The way it used to be. When we would work for months to come up with a product’s “positioning.” And when “sales reps” would duke it out for physician attention and favor? And leave samples? Not any more, folks. This recent article provides further support for a point I have made previously. Especially in high priced “specialty” pharmaceuticals, the war is now won or lost not through traditional marketing efforts, but through the striking of exclusive deals. Bottom Line. Over a year ago, my old friend Kim Slocum asked me an interesting question. If the pharmaceutical marketplace is to be driven largely by deals, he pondered, what would happen to traditional commercial activities like marketing, marketing research and sales? Actually he knew the answer and shared it with me. They will cease to exist!

Refuge Of The Destitute???

Just when I think I have seen everything!

I just finished reading an article that suggests that Pharmaceutical Sales Representatives (PSR’s) should make “house calls” on patients.  Really? Has it finally gotten to the point where “no see” doctors and established treatment protocols are causing the potential reallocation of “feet on the street” to the end user???

Understandably, the article calls into question the potential return on investment (ROI) of such a deployment.  But how about HIPAA?  Or ethics?

The article suggests that rather than trying to “sell” to the patient,  home (or virtual) visits should be aimed at “service.”  Trouble is, if the visit doesn’t sell more drug, where is the ROI?  And why are they using PSR’s?

By the way, how would Accountable Care Organizations, insurers and others responsible for cost containment feel about this?  Three guesses!

Mercifully, the article includes the result of a survey that asked for pharmaceutical marketers’ reactions.  They didn’t like it.

Diagnostically, the article had no comments appended at the time of this writing. Apparently, everyone that read it was left speechless.

I wasn’t. This is an inefficient and scurrilous way to redeploy $200,000 a year PSR’s. This idea needs to be stopped before it gains any headway!

For entertainment value only, check it out (speaking of intrusive marketing, you will have to click to close the advertisement that pops up) at:

Is It Rational To Be Irrational… Or Irrational To Be Rational???

Many blog readers will mercifully be too young to remember the bygone days of pharmaceutical marketing and marketing research when “emotional drivers” were all the rage.  My marketing research colleagues from that era will remember with horror concepts like “brand personality” and “projective techniques.”  I would cringe when a client would insist that I add a question like, “If this drug were an animal, what animal would it be?” to a topical guide.   I would cringe even more under the quizzical gaze of a physician to whom I had just posed this nonsense question during the course of an individual depth interview.

While such questions have hopefully been put to rest once and for all, the spirit in which they were employed is still alive and well in some circles.  “Neuromarketing” is a concept I hear being discussed with some gravity, and I recently saw a presentation at a pharmaceutical marketing research conference that focused on the interpretation of facial expressions as indicators of emotional reactions to marketing messages.

Go to:

There you will see Roger Dooley hold forth on his notion that the reason that so much marketing research “sucks” is that it is too rational.  Roger, who not coincidentally earns a living in neuromarketing, makes the age old point that most consumer behavior is the result of unconscious emotional drivers, leaving any marketing research that asks people why they do things doomed to fail.

Here’s the catch!  While pharmaceutical marketing and marketing research have often “borrowed with pride” from our consumer colleagues who are often way ahead of us, 2012 is not the time for us to be borrowing such loosey-goosey lines of reasoning. Follow the emerging discussion!  The Affordable Care Act, Accountable Care Organizations, Evidence-Based Medicine and other pragmatic forces are taking the voodoo out of healthcare marketing.  I don’t hear many of my colleagues in the newly emerged marketing/research area of “Access” referring to unconscious psychological drivers.

Bottom line.  For the foreseeable future, pharmaceutical marketing and marketing research are about the rational.  Select your marketing programs and marketing research methodologies accordingly.