Marketing to Professionals: Appealing to Doctor's Emotions

Dec 01, 2005

Larry Star
Specialists of the same therapeutic category tend to share similar attitudes about medicine and drug therapies. Infectious disease specialists, for example, want to know the source of an infection, whereas rheumatologists are willing to live with more uncertainty. Cardiologists, who often make life-or-death choices, tend to favor immediate intervention, while neurologists prefer the watch-and-wait approach. Naturally, these attitudes influence their approaches to medicine and their prescribing behaviors. By understanding the characteristics that define each group of specialists, marketers can learn how better to communicate with them—and engage specialists who take a clinical, detached approach to medicine.

Winning Hearts and Minds

To understand what makes specialists tick, marketers must conduct extensive research on these doctors. Borrowing from the disciplines of cognitive psychology and cultural anthropology, marketers can identify the emotional triggers that will evoke feeling and empathy in these specialists. If executed properly, this approach can help marketers craft messages that will overcome a doctor's initial resistance to a new product or concept.

Breaking through a doctor's habit of immediately rejecting a product or concept can be challenging. Sanofi-Aventis set out to overcome this challenge in its campaign geared to oncologists for the drug Taxotere (docetaxel), a treatment option for patients in advanced stages of cancer. Because oncologists tend to be skeptical about prescribing drugs that extend lives of cancer patients by only a few weeks or months, Sanofi-Aventis created an emotionally-charged campaign that highlights the importance of a patient's last moments, which—as the ads suggest—might include the touch of an infant's hand, a walk in the woods, or even a chance to retell a favorite story. With the tagline "Survival data that can lead to moments like this," the campaign turns the familiar shape of the Kaplan-Meier graph, a standard measure of survival duration frequently used by oncologists, into a pathway that leads to snapshots of memorable events. Combining hard science with lump-in-the-throat emotion, the ads demonstrate that some patients do treasure a few more weeks of life.

A Human Touch

Sanofi-Aventis factored in an emotional component to break through to their target audience.
For many years, internists and infectious disease specialists—the doctors who diagnose and treat most cases of HIV—have focused on the cold facts of the disease, such as viral load, immune function, and resistance. But Abbott Laboratories, makers of Kaletra (lopinavir-ritonavir), a protease inhibitor that reduces HIV infection to undetectable levels, took a softer approach. The new Abbott campaign showed doctors that patients can and deserve to lead normal lives, and can enjoy everyday pleasures without the fear of ostracism. The campaign introduces an image of an African-American woman sporting a radiant smile and a hat to match. The ad suggests that because of Kaletra, women like this are still smiling—still enjoying life and wearing their favorite hats.

Both campaigns transcend science by relying on emotion. Such direct appeal may change the mindset of even the most cynical specialists. Whether projecting the joys of normal life or the pleasures of a medically prolonged one, marketing to the "-ologist" requires a balancing act between intellect and intuition. Because doctors are trained to suppress their emotions, it's often a challenge to understand their points of view. Marketers who expand their traditional knowledge of specialists by studying their feelings, motivations, and attitudes, may encourage them to take a more open-minded approach to new drug therapies.

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