The Great Pharma-Physician Disconnect – Can Pharma Marketers Bridge This Gap?

There isn’t a marketer in the world who doesn’t dream of having a complete understanding of his/her customers so as to drive more engagement and attain marketing goals. Marketing Guru, Philip Kotler has identified ‘not fully understanding target customers’ as one of the deadliest marketing sins, second only to ‘not being market focused and customer driven’.

In the healthcare context, pharma companies relentlessly pursue ways to gain deep insights into their most important customer group’s (doctors’) preferences, expectations and specific pain points as only this will help them devise the right communication strategy. The fact that marketing is allotted 19x more funds than research, makes it even more crucial for marketers to delve into physician’s mind and establish a ‘real’ connect.

It is therefore critical that pharma leaders ask themselves these questions:

Has my Marketing Team successfully decoded its Audience? Does it really know What Doctors Want? Is a Better Engagement Approach still Out There?

As pharma’s trusted marketing partner, Docplexus set out to find answers to these queries by administering a common survey to both, pharma professionals and medical practitioners. Over 260 pharma marketers, a majority of whom were mid-level executives, and a cross-section of 1,435 allopathic doctors, took the survey. The following image shows  key excerpts from the findings:

The Great Pharma-Physician Disconnect-V2-01 without HF-01-01

The survey reveals an alarming disparity between pharma’s engagement approach and doctors’ needs. Pharma marketers are committing these top 2 deadly sins mentioned earlier:

  • Their initiatives are neither market focused nor customer driven
  • They have failed to fully understand their target customers

Where Exactly Have Pharma Marketers Gone Wrong?

The survey highlights following lacunae in current pharma marketing practices:

  • Lack of Adaptability – Pharma has not been able to change with changing times. While doctors moved on to digital media long back, most pharma companies have only recently warmed up to the idea, due to which they haven’t been able to gain detailed insights that are possible only through digitization. It is a well-accepted fact that the typical in-person surveys conducted by pharma’s own field force or third party agents do not portray a complete picture about doctors’ preferences. Although mid-level marketers are eager to test digital marketing, top leadership’s lackadaisical attitude leaves them handicapped. 27% of all pharma respondents cited ‘lack of top level commitment’ as the main barrier to digital marketing.
  • Misaligned Digital Marketing – In cases where pharma marketers have gone the digital way, their efforts are in the wrong direction. 44% doctors feel that having drug information readily available on online media will help them make better prescription decisions. Of all online avenues available, an astounding majority (56%) voted for doctor-only networks. Yet, only 12% pharma marketers resort to this channel. A higher number prefers to be on popular social media portals. However, security and misinterpretation of medical discussions are major concerns of doctors due to which they are reluctant to interact on open social networks.
  • Wrong Notion of Engagement – Pharma’s belief about what works with doctors is completely out of sync with reality. Given the changing healthcare ecosystem, today’s doctors expect pharma to deliver highly-scientific information on their drugs. CME courses (44%), journal updates (15%) and KOL lectures (15%) are their most-preferred ways to learn about therapies. However, pharma continues to place incentives at the center of its engagement initiatives, which 50% doctors consider to be the topmost problem in pharma’s current communication approach. 47% pharma respondents strongly believe that MRs are the best way of engaging with doctors but only 4% doctors believe in field force’s ability to help them make the right prescription decisions, with most claiming MRs lack the deep scientific knowledge that they need. In fact, a higher number (16%) prefers to interact more with Medical Affairs personnel than with MRs.

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It is obvious that pharma has a long way to go before it can fully decode its key customers. This seemingly lofty goal can be achieved if marketers embrace the following changes –

Cracking the Engagement Code

  • Think Beyond Field Force – Pharma has always been overly reliant on its sales personnel. While this may have proved effective in the past, it is a recipe for disaster in the current ‘Engagement Economy’, where marketing success heavily depends on giving customers ‘exceptional experiences’ across touchpoints. Today, the digital component in marketing communications assumes higher importance. In fact, most doctors prefer that pharma provides drug information online. Therefore, pharma should strike a balance between online and offline initiatives comprising a varied mix of medical seminars, CME courses, KOL interactions, journal articles and MR meetings.
  • Switch from ‘Selling’ to ‘Enabling’ The Right Prescriptions – The advent of Big Data, demand for Real World Evidence and increase in Specialized Therapies have created a new world for doctors. They now need highly scientific information and expect pharma to provide it. Moreover, with the government close to pulling the plug on traditional, incentive-based marketing, the need for an alternative communication strategy has never been this high. A wise move would be to make scientific knowledge the core of all communication. It is time pharma places its Medical Affairs team at the forefront of most engagement initiatives and leverages its expertise to reach out to physicians.
  • Offer a One-Stop Solution – As doctors get busier by the day, they are on the lookout for a one-stop solution that fulfills all their needs be it updates on new drugs, healthcare policy changes, medico-legal issues or CME courses. This is precisely why pharma’s efforts at engaging them through e-detailing apps have met with failure. Even in cases where pharma companies manage to offer all that doctors desire, concerns about the neutrality and authenticity of information that is being provided, exist. Moreover, it is impractical for doctors to download multiple apps from different drug manufacturers. Therefore a neutral, third-party platform that aggregates all information from the most reliable sources is highly recommended.
  • Be All-Pervasive – Fleeting attention spans of customers, ever-changing external environment and multiple players vying for the same audience, makes it essential for marketers to have an active presence and a customized engagement strategy across touchpoints. Although 63% pharma marketers believe that a multi-channel strategy would fetch the best results, only 20% doctors choose a combination of online and offline routes to learn about drugs. A significant majority (68%) voted only for online resources. While this seems surprising, it actually indicates doctors’ disappointment with pharma’s current multi-channeled strategy. Only when multi-channel engagement is made seamless and effortless, will it grab the physicians’ attention. Top prerequisites of a successful multi-channel marketing strategy are:
    • consistent brand messaging
    • capturing of all consumer activity across channels
    • adapting content to suit each channel
    • focus on adding value rather than selling

           The last one is particularly important as bombarding doctors with ‘salesy’ messages at every touchpoint will, in             fact, drive them away.

  • Understand Mindsets – Real engagement requires insights drawn from not just quantitative data but qualitative analysis. While demographics show who the doctor is, they may not necessarily indicate whether he/she would prescribe a particular drug. On the other hand, psychographics reveals much more about the doctors’ personality, beliefs, habits, tastes, choices and other elements that influence prescription patterns. A tool that provides accurate mindset analysis is a must-have for improving engagement.

Pharma marketers have, for long, been in the dark about doctors’ needs, which has resulted into a huge disconnect between the two. This gap can be bridged through determined efforts to gain ‘real insights’ into the medical community followed by a comprehensive engagement solution that meets every information need.

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Docplexus – Pharma’s Trusted Marketing Partner
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