Marketing to Professionals: Under the Influence

Marketers should target the doctors who affect change in the medical community.
Mar 01, 2006

Susan Dorfman
Doctors don't respond well to the traditional sales and marketing push. But, they do respond well to each other. In fact, there are doctors who wield tremendous power of persuasion over their peers. These doctors have earned the respect and attention of other prescribers and have been recognized for their expertise and knowledge of innovative, emerging therapies. But more important, they are likely to try, adopt, and advocate for new products.

Jerry Maynor
From a marketing standpoint, these doctors represent the top tier of the physician hierarchy—the ultimate key opinion leaders. While pharma has traditionally used a top-down marketing approach to target physicians, in which national key opinion leaders influence regional ones and so on, a new marketing approach focuses on leveraging local leaders to affect change. Even at the local level, these key opinion leaders have the power to effectively spread word of a new product and influence the clinical decisions of their prescribing peers.

Marketers can identify and categorize these local leaders into social and technical networks. The social network includes doctors, mainly specialists, who interact socially, exchange patient stories, and value anecdotal data about a product. The technical network comprises doctors who serve as formal, technical resources and product educators for other doctors. While both networks appeal to different kinds of physicians, they each hold the power to influence the prescribing behavior of their peers.

Social Network

Influence Network Mapping
In the social network, prescribers typically place a higher degree of trust in the judgment of their physician friends than in direct communications from drug companies. These influencers also play an important role in initiating the adoption and use of certain medicines. As they begin to use medicines extensively and communicate their uses to other prescribers, they encourage others—including generalists—to try certain medicines. As a result, use of the medication can expand beyond the target patient population (those with severe symptoms) to a broader group of patients who can also benefit from the treatment.

This network also helps doctors weed through the many medications and treatment options. To better understand the safety and efficacy of available treatment options, prescribers often rely on the help of their physician friends. During the personal time they spend together, these physicians discuss conditions, medication options, and patient reactions. Often, they make prescription decisions based on these informal conversations.

Technical Network

How Physicians Make Decisions
These doctors influence others by providing technical advice on guidelines concerning a specific clinical topic. Because some doctors feel uncomfortable prescribing a drug without the support of a trusted peer, they turn to these technical influencers to get honest and well-researched answers about a product. Without this educational resource, these doctors may otherwise become slow adopters of the drug, or worse, non-users. While doctors' attitudes toward a certain product may depend on their personal risk-aversion profile, they tend to be open to hearing new information from a credible and well-respected source.

In both networks, doctors exhibit a high level of influence and connectivity, as their impact often extends beyond prescribers in their specialty. They can influence generalists too, through their referral and consulting relationships. They don't have to be high prescribers—but they must be well connected in the medical community. Most importantly, they must like the products they prescribe, as doctors won't recommend products they dislike.

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