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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.

Insight Capsule #1: ODM “The Psychology of Engagement”

–Calibrating Promotional Spend–

Many of our clients are uncertain how to calibrate their promotional spend in the new, personalized / omnichannel paradigm of pharmaceutical promotion.

Discussions held with many of our client partners prior to the beginning of our first quarter 2022 conversations with physicians revealed substantial amounts of confusion and concern about the future of pharmaceutical promotion under a new and developing paradigm. For example, one practical issue on clients’ minds is what plans they should be making for the return of in-person promotion when the future impact of COVID variants remains uncertain.

Additionally, clients aren’t sure which Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) they should be chasing. Surveys have found that while most physicians still favor in-person detailing, a sizable minority prefer virtual details or a hybrid combination. Should physician “preference” be the driving factor here? Are we trying to optimize the increasingly popular concept of “CX” (customer experience), or maybe even trying to develop “customer loyalty?” Does customer loyalty even exist in pharmaceutical marketing, and what does it buy you? Clients are bandying about terminology like “corporate image” and “share of mind.” Where do they fit in? Clearly, clarity on these and related issues needs to be achieved for a company to get full value out of the new promotional paradigm. 

Upcoming Insight Capsules will begin to clarify physicians’ thinking on these important issues. 

Some Important Changes in My Work for 2022

As January becomes February of 2022, I want to advise you of a few important changes that I will be making in my focus for the balance of the year. 

First, you will note that beginning immediately, I will be discontinuing the scheduled production of three blogs a week to which I have been adhering for the past several years. How come? Simple! Conversations with my readers have clearly indicated to me that they want to pay a gratifyingly significant amount of attention to thinking about my work. In 2022, with many of our readers still trying to cope with working virtually, they report that they just don’t have the time to deal with the kinds of background issues, e.g., physician burnout, on which I have been focused. 

Historically, I have sent you to URLs that deal with issues that impact upon our customer bases of physicians and patients. The range of topics, many of which have been suggested by our readers, has been extremely broad. As 2022 progresses, however, I am seeing one theme pop up time and time again in trade publications, webinars, etc. This theme is well represented in a recent quote, where the author opines that:

  • “Amidst an increasingly competitive landscape, biopharma companies, when interacting with oncologists, need to individualize the experience, according to consulting company Accenture.
  • Oncologists tend to want a hybrid of virtual and in-person delivery of services, though oncologists tended to favor group meetings for many services.”

The theme represented here is an extremely important one. Version 1.0 of ThinkGen’s On Doctors’ MindsSM project, conducted over the course of 2021 to understand the impact of the pandemic on office-based physicians, revealed that COVID-19 had accelerated a trend already long in the making. Quite simply, doctors had run out of patience with traditional promotion, i.e., pharmaceutical companies repeatedly telling them things about products that they already know and/or don’t care about. When the pandemic basically closed offices to visits by PSRs and introduced “virtual detailing” to the promotional mix, physicians called into question the allocation of their valuable time to marketing encounters. 

By way of industry response, we now increasingly hear discussions about “omnichannel” marketing.  A mélange of personal contacts with PSRs and virtual visits, group meetings, interactions with medical science liaisons, as well as “push” and “pull” digital media and the realization that “print is not dead.”

BUT. How does all of this get orchestrated and evaluated? Does the pharmaceutical industry adopt the “Customer Experience Management” philosophy and practices which have long been well accepted in most other verticals? Do we resurrect the work I did years ago at Physician Micromarketing, Inc., where I taught the pharmaceutical industry how to use Individual Physician Level Prescribing Data as the basis for promotional “Targeting, Tailoring and Tactical Implementation?” Are there meaningful psychological segments of physicians that can be identified that will help us in the individualization process? And what impact do variables like “customer satisfaction” and “loyalty” have on prescribing behavior? 

As one rheumatologist who participated in our ODM project last year so profoundly commented, “The job of the pharmaceutical representative is to help me to help my patients.” Marketing efforts aimed at achieving that goal look very different from the old “reach X frequency, product features, and benefits” approach that has long been the standard in pharmaceutical marketing.

Bottom Line. It is clear that pharmaceutical marketing, and with it, market research, is starting to go through the most fundamental changes that I have witnessed during my 50 years in this business. Thus, for the balance of 2022, I will be turning my attention exclusively to helping ThinkGen’s clients understand and respond to these changes.  I am beginning this process by launching, over the course of the next couple of weeks, ODM v2.0, a follow-up to the conversations that I had with physicians about the pandemic in 2021. Here, my open-ended “conversations” with physicians will focus on gaining the answers to the questions identified above, with the final goal being an understanding of the psychology of physician promotion in 2022 and beyond, thus leading to meaningful individualization. As I did in V1.0, along the way I will be distributing to our clients curated video clips of my conversations with physicians, as well as “RBV Insight Modules” and Executive Summaries to share our findings. 

I’m looking forward to this new direction. I hope you will join me on the journey. As with ODM v1.0, ThinkGen is conducting this project pro bono, without cost to our clients, because we believe that it is essential that they, and we, gain these insights.

To receive our ODM v2.0 content, please provide your information here.

Racing for Health Equity, One Disease Entity at a Time

Check this out. What you will see is a PSA by Common, in conjunction with Bristol Myers Squibb, aimed squarely at raising lung cancer consciousness among people of color. Like so many diseases, lung cancer weighs especially heavily on minorities in three ways. First, many of their habitual behaviors, e.g., disproportionately high incidence of smoking, contribute to developing lung cancer. Second, numerous factors make Blacks shy away from screening opportunities. Both lack of trust and lack of access are operative here. And last but not least, it is unfortunately clear that the medical system still discriminates against African Americans in the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer.

I’ve made this point before but let me make it here, one more time. There are two very different approaches to racing for health equity. One might be thought of as “top-down,” generally increasing the access of minority patients to HCP’s, drugs, etc.  OR. We can do it “bottom-up,” i.e., focusing on improving awareness, diagnosis and treatment for the disadvantaged treatment-area-by-treatment area, as BMS is doing here.

Bottom Line. It has been fascinating for me to watch equity programs being developed by healthcare manufacturers. While some, like the Johnson and Johnson “Race to Health Equity” program we have talked about before are very much top-down, most companies are taking the bottom-up approach, understandably focusing on treatment areas where they have a stake because of their product lines. 

I am guessing that in the interest of those whose needs we are trying to meet, the best approach will likely be a hybrid of top-down and bottom-up programs. But how do we blend these two types of initiatives? Who coordinates them? Who funds them?

All good questions! And all of them need to be answered if we are ever to make the much-needed progress toward the health equity goal!!!

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!

Tackling Racial Disparity in Cancer Care

Check this out. What you will see is a necessarily long article on a complicated topic. Article after article I perused in the last week speaks to different aspects of racial inequality encountered in healthcare. I read one by a Black ER doctor describing the myriad different kinds of racism he faces daily in his job. Another article cried out for racial bias reduction training in medical schools. Etc. Etc.

But this article grabbed me because of its specificity to the treatment of cancer patients. This piece doesn’t talk about undoing prejudice that is deeply rooted in history. Not exactly a quick fix. Nope! It talks about the importance of attaining a singular pragmatic endpoint, completion of therapy, and the benefits of interventions like providing patients, like the woman pictured above, with transportation to get to the therapy site, and nurse navigators and computer systems being employed to help in the effort. 

Bottom Line. Over the past several years that I have been examining paths toward racial equity in healthcare, I have become increasingly impressed with pragmatic interventions like this that can make a real difference and do it now! Sure, there are loftier goals, like eliminating racial prejudice. But think about it this way. Which is the more certain path, with quicker benefits? Eliminating racism to eliminate healthcare disparity or reducing healthcare disparity and having the effects of that pragmatic shift start to whittle away at prejudicial attitudes? 

As this article clearly points out, option B is going to start to save cancer patients’ lives far more quickly. Let’s learn from studies like this one, which identified practical barriers getting in the way of health equity in cancer care, and start to eliminate them! Now!!!

Buffy the Asthma Slayer

In our previous post, we talked about the need for pharma to be increasingly creative in its “visual storytelling” if it expects to get its message across to jaded consumers in this Zoom fatigued, hyper video streaming world. So here is a great example.

What you see here is Teva going all out to communicate appropriate use of its “smart” asthma inhaler that allows the collection of “objective” data, in an effort to eliminate the overuse, underuse, and misuse of inhalers which is apparently very prevalent among asthma patients. Start with hiring Sarah Michelle Gellar, who last time around was seen slaying mythical creatures. (Remember Buffy the Vampire Slayer???)

Add in a talking pink inhaler, roll it all up into a compelling (quick, clear, accurate) storyline, and away you go. 

Bottom Line. Good stuff! Like I said in the last post, the production elegance is now as important as the message. Spend a minute watching the video, and you will see that this visual story clears that hurdle handily.

Storytelling in a Zoom Fatigued World

Check this out. What you will see is a piece on how pharma needs to work extra hard in 2021 to capture attention. Much of our population suffers from pandemic-induced Zoom fatigue. Virtually everyone is awash in streaming media from hundreds of sources. The result? The bar for attention-grabbing has been raised significantly. What to do? Get over using simple graphics and move on to emotion-grabbing “visual storytelling.” Sophisticated cinematography. Speed, clarity, accuracy. These are all boxes that must increasingly be checked if we are to grab our increasingly sophisticated customers’ attention. As this piece points out, the elegance with which a spot is shot is now as important as the strategy underlying the message. 

Bottom Line. BUT. This is not just art for art’s sake. Powerful renditions, it is argued here, draw people into the story, raise emotions, let the viewer experience what the people in the story they are watching are experiencing. 

Gone are the days of “Pop Pop Fizz Fizz, oh what a relief it is” being all you needed to sell Alka Seltzer. 

Long gone! 

Please Listen to Me!!!

In my most recent On Doctors’ MindsSM Executive Summary, I surprised some of our subscribers by reporting out that in the COVID-related conversations that I had with office-based physicians in September, most of them told me that while a majority of their patients had already been fully vaccinated for COVID, they had basically stopped trying to convince the remainder of their patients to get their shots. Why? Because, the doctors explained, after a year of preaching the gospel, they felt that continuing to try to convince holdouts was, quite simply, a waste of their time. 

But check this out. What you will see is a doctor’s recounting of a conversation in which he tries to convince an unvaccinated couple to get their shots. You will see that the doctor is not only wasting time here, but getting “hurt more than I care to admit.” How? By having the patients include this physician, by implication, as a perpetrator of the great COVID/VAX scam that they believe is being perpetrated in America.

Bottom Line. Read this doctor’s post carefully. Think about it. Digest it. If you were this physician, how many more traumatic encounters like this would it take to shut down your vaccine evangelizing?

I’m guessing not too many! 

Is a Pandemic About “War” or “Natural Disaster???”

The answer actually matters. Check this out. Here we have a blogging cardiologist arguing that we should not be making the mistake of dealing with COVID as if we are in a war with the coronavirus. Wars give governments pervasive powers and often turn citizens against each other. Rather, we should deal with the pandemic as a natural disaster. Something that we expect citizens to ban together to deal with, rather than fragmenting into factions. And the government to focus on helping the citizenry, rather than issuing mandates.

Bottom Line. Interesting. Metaphors can have very important and pervasive psychological consequences. See how we have been (mis!)-handling COVID-19 for reference!