Discomfort drives change. But by the same token, change creates discomfort.
The tension between these two paradoxical concepts lies at the core of healthcare marketing planning and communication. And as healthcare marketers, our ability to leverage the comfort/discomfort paradox appropriately defines our ultimate success in the marketplace. This is especially true of challenger brands, who need to make their competitive value instantly clear by making direct hits on an emotional level.
Allure of comfort
We human beings are hardwired to find and sustain comfort: comfort food, comfort zones, and old favorites. We are loyal to the tried and true. We move to and try to stay in our place of comfort.
Yet our job as marketers is to change customers’ perceptions, preferences, and behaviors towards our products or services. Our job is to make people uncomfortable enough to change their current behavior. Their comfort is not in our best interest. Left to their own devices, our target customers would choose to stay in their comfort zones, which means they wouldn’t use or even try the product or service we’re offering.
Discomfort, unmet needs, and challenger brands
Obviously, not all product categories are populated by fiercely loyal patrons who cling to their comfort zones like intrepid Chicago Cubs fans. Many categories of consumer products have users loyal only to the next coupon or sample. In our industry, the challenge of changing customer preferences is made more intense by the seriousness of the healthcare professional’s responsibilities. Changing preferences for toothpaste carries a significantly lower risk than changing preferences for chemotherapy alternatives, diagnostic techniques, or surgical protocols. There’s got to be a very compelling reason to consider changing.
If we want to convince a physician to change prescribing behavior, we must first convince him or her that there is something lacking with the way things are currently done. We must stir the pot a bit to create discomfort with the current brand, brands, or processes that can only be rectified by changing to our brand. We must move them to the point of discomfort that creates urgency to change, where not changing is simply unacceptable.
This process is especially true when developing plans for challenger brands that don’t have the big budgets. Challenger brands need to think differently from market leaders. They need to offer new criteria for choice. For challenger brands, a clear path to leveraging your target customer’s discomfort is critical to success.
Enter Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. You remember: it’s that pyramid-shaped chart (like the government’s original food chart that told us we couldn’t eat Frito’s and cheesecake with every meal). The idea is that our most basic of needs (like breathing, eating, and drinking) must be satisfied before we can attain higher levels of needs (like self-esteem, respect by others, morality, or creativity). Applied correctly, it defines the key areas of comfort and discomfort for our species.
Our job is to engage an HCP in a conversation about a product or service and point out issues that may: diminish confidence in the status quo; limit problem-solving; or make patients less satisfied with the outcomes achieved. If we can demonstrate how our product or service can help the HCP perform better, find a clinical issue that might make them doubt their current preferences, or isolate a patient type that might better benefit from a different product, we can use this discomfort to drive change.
Let’s see how this thinking plays out in terms of a process. We often characterize marketing as a process that moves prospects from awareness, to interest, to desire, and finally to action (AIDA). With challenger brands viewing the process (and our job as marketers) as moving customers from their comfort zone to a point of discomfort, then into a new comfort zone that includes our product or service, this multiplies the impact of the marketing plan.
Some call it disruption. Some call it creating a tipping point in the customer’s beliefs. But it’s all based on creating discomfort, then moving the customer to a new comfort level. This creates a more productive framework to evaluate challenges, develop strategies, and formulate the marketing mix. The process consists of five stages:
Stage 1. The customer is in his or her comfort zone with the product currently used.
Create discomfort—open a dialogue to make the status quo less secure.
Stage 2. The customer becomes engaged and neutral/mildly open to discussion or consideration.
Create discomfort—clearly define unmet needs with current product.
Stage 3. The customer becomes uncomfortable with the current practice and is open to considering new solutions. Create a new comfort zone—align your product’s strengths and values with your customer’s needs.
Stage 4. The customer moves to a new comfort zone with your product.
Strengthen the comfort zone—make the change as easy as possible and reward the new choice.
Stage 5. The customer settles into the new comfort zone as competition begins to attack.
Strengthen the new comfort zone—defend the comfort zone with expanded support and value.
Finding unmet needs
Behind the process is an assessment of the underlying comfort and discomfort drivers, somewhat akin to an ATU study. This begins with key questions about the physician and his or her practice.
How comfortable are your target customers? »» How long have they been using the product or service?
»» What’s the risk involved in the use or treatment?
»» How well do they understand the disease or drug category?
(For example, a PCP may be the initial treater for a specialty disease and would not have in-depth experience.)
»» How difficult is it to administer or use the product?
How and when do they use the product(s) you plan to displace?
»» At what stage of the disease?
»» On which type or profile of patients?
»» Which treatments do they use and when?
Do they recognize specific unmet needs?
Is their attitude open or closed?
»» Age of physician
»» Department or individual formulary?
»» Do they practice at a teaching or community hospital?
»» Are they the decision maker?
Armed with the details of your customers’ basic attitudes, trial, and use drivers and a well-structured process, moving them from their comfort zone to yours can help convert a challenger brand into a significant contender.
Al Topin is President of Topin & Associates, and a member of Pharm Exec’s Editorial Advisory Board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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