How to Wow the Docs

Mar 31, 2008

Michael Shaw
Pharmaceutical marketers spend enormous amounts of time and effort defining product positioning and building brand characteristics. But, given the fact that pharmaceutical products are marketed to physicians, should we not devote similar time and effort developing the science brand?

Charles Goetz
Educational research has shown that the visual sense accounts for up to 90 percent of how we acquire information, a finding that is certainly not lost on advertisers. But while physicians have many characteristics in common with other consumers, they are a distinct subpopulation with a unique perspective and a specific way of processing information that is shaped by decades of scientific training and experience. The language of science is part of the social anthropology of physicians. In order to communicate effectively with physicians, one should consider how they process information, view body processes, and envision pharmacologic principles.

Physicians are trained to view human physiology as a complex but inherently logical system of homeostatic balance that is far more intricate, sophisticated, and elegant than even the most elaborate computer system. A fundamental rule of nature is that body processes contain complex "yin and yang" systems of balance. Given their training, physicians anticipate this form of relationship when learning about new ideas in physiology and pharmacology. Novel ideas make intuitive sense to physicians when presented through the perspective of homeostasis and evolutionary drive. The most effective science branding takes advantage of this view of nature and presents ideas in a way that is consistent with the physician's view of how the body works.

In the top illustration, the diagram of arachidonic acid has a bobby pin–like structure. The shape was immediately recognizable to many physicians and became a foundational element in the designs. The bottom image displays rudimentary sketches for what eventually became fully realized, beautiful animations.
This principle of using ideas that are familiar to physicians can be applied to almost every product area and can help to create a clear, concise, and sustainable impression. Just as lexicon development is part of launch preparation, a similar process can also be applied to the process of building your science brand.

The Challenge

Professional marketers must use technology and visual design to make the science come alive for physicians. The market preparation prior to the introduction of the first COX-2 inhibitor was a good example of how visual design can be used to make complex ideas simple, clear, and intuitive. COX-2 is an inflammatory enzyme that produces prostaglandins that cause pain and swelling.

The idea for developing a COX-2 inhibitor was based upon the discovery that the COX enzyme has two different forms, COX-1 and COX-2. Because this was new science at the time, an enormous amount of education had to be accomplished well in advance of product launch. The science was based upon arachidonic acid metabolism, a topic that is about as unexciting as they come.

Essentially, marketers needed to create professional promotional materials that said, "COX-1 is important for normal health. COX-2 produces inflammatory prostaglandins that cause pain and inflammation. Aspirin and NSAIDs block both the good and bad COX enzymes. COX-2 inhibitors spare the normal enzymes while blocking the inflammatory enzymes."