Moving Beyond Claims-Based Messaging

Jun 01, 2010


Mike Mabey
There are many questions about the role of sales detailing these days. The main one, however, is "What can be done to improve the impact and effectiveness of sales representatives and the messages they deliver to physicians?" Physicians are trained to base their prescribing decisions on quantitative results of drug trials, along with their own clinical experience. They are generally rational beings, and therefore only rely on information that is fact-based (i.e., quantitative).

The message development process within many pharmaceutical companies has evolved to fulfill this expectation. Beginning with claims development, head-to-head trials, and the constant presence of a regulatory committee, claims-based messaging has become the default position of most message development processes. Acceptance of this conventional wisdom leads to sales reps focusing almost exclusively on claims-based messages. And generally the same claims are presented to all physician segments.

Physicians, like everyone else, make emotional decisions about which brands to prescribe, and then back up their decisions with evidence that is claims-based and/or clinical. As such, a message that incorporates both claims-based and emotional characteristics should be a more powerful advocate for a brand than a strictly claims-based message.

Emotional Message Development

Following the conventional wisdom, multiple pharmaceutical companies send sales reps to the same physicians with a list of impersonal facts and statistics, often trying to create minor distinctions between very similar drugs in the same category. The claims are all valid, but that's not the only factor physicians consider when differentiating among products.

In order for pharmaceutical companies to grow market share, they must communicate claims data that matters to physicians, combined with information about how that data will actually help them and benefit their patients. Effective messaging links specific claims with the appropriate emotional benefits, creating a much more effective conversation between the physician and the sales rep—and ultimately between the physician and his or her patients.

A message development study completed by CMI in December 2009 shows that messages combining data-driven claims with emotional characteristics and benefits create a more powerful statement for a brand. In addition, these types of messages allow for better targeting of physician segments. The challenge lies in developing communications that are both claims-based and resonate emotionally—in other words, messages that appeal to the physician's head and heart.

Luckily, the introduction of benefits-based messaging to the overall physician messaging process does not require a wholesale change in approach. It's entirely possible and practical to integrate benefits messages into a larger program. When this is done effectively, the brand will have a more holistic and potentially more compelling communications plan.

In this recently completed message development project, the pharmaceutical company—like most of its contemporaries—had historically focused on facilitating sales rep/physician conversations by using only claims-based messages. While the messages were sometimes crafted to appeal to distinct physician segments, the same fundamental claim was presented across all segments.

However, this particular company saw an opportunity to improve professional communications for their product by implementing a four-step message research–development process that would yield companion benefits statements to support their predetermined collection of claims statements.

There were two major goals: test head-to-head trial claims and develop messages that would resonate emotionally as well as rationally.