With a Little Help from their Peers

Sep 01, 2010

Pharma marketers need to take a cue from Paddi Lund, a dentist in Brisbane, Australia. Lund doubled his profits by letting go of half his patients—the ones he didn't like, according to marketing guru Seth Godin. The secret? Lund required his remaining patients (non-complainers who paid on time) to supply him with three new patient referrals. His theory? Good customers know good customers. And friends take the advice of friends.

"Even those deaf to the bragging cries of the marketplace will listen to a friend," says Lund.

The same holds true for prescribing physicians. According to extensive studies, informal influence in the form of peers and support networks are the sources prescribing doctors in everyday practice turn to for accessible and trusted information about drugs.

And the trend is increasing, says Jerry Maynor, in his data-filled story "Where Prescribing Oncologists Go for Their Information, and Why". Additionally, as local peer influences take the place of traditional channels as a way for doctors to receive product information, says Maynor, so does the need for accessible experts who can interpret the information and help put it in the context of patient treatment.

For pharma marketers, this means understanding doctor preferences, fitting peer influencers into their communications marketing mix, and designing effective peer-led meetings.

"There is no substitute for a small group of people listening to a doctor talk about how to treat a disease. And there is no substitute for the commercial support required to run such programs," says Jessica Wapner, a medical writer and researcher in a recent article in Slate, in which she lauds the small, peer-led meeting and argues against increasing regulatory scrutiny of pharmaceutical promotion and gifts to practitioners.

And so, just how are physician meetings doing in general? SDI, a healthcare analytic organization that has been tracking them since the early 1990s, supplies Pharm Exec with a report "Tracking Meetings in Troubled Times". They find that indeed the vast majority of events (86 percent) are small group or small rep meetings. They include a limited number of physicians (generally fewer than 10), a facilitator or sales representative to lead the meeting, and they take place in person. And while meetings in general remain a key marketing practice for the industry, the gift disclosure legislation is having an impact on physician attendance.

Online meetings, however, are showing signs of dramatic growth—a 65 percent increase over the last five years. Merck especially has been adventurous in its use of technology. – Marylyn Donahue, Special Reports Editor

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