With One Voice

Aug 01, 2009
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

Brad Davidson
Once upon a time, brands had two, or perhaps three, agencies disseminating their message. Today, there can be as many as 10, each charged with a different aspect of brand communication (online professional, online consumer, professional promotion, promotional medical education, etc.) Brand managers are faced with an extraordinary challenge managing this abundance of channels, audiences, and messages related to a single brand.

Additionally, the wealth of data available through multiple channels and in multiple formats has led, in the pharmaceutical industry, to a blurring of channels and the audiences we reach through those channels. The result is that brand managers have found it necessary to evolve a new way of marketing in healthcare—a truly unified message strategy that can appeal to multiple audiences with a unified effect.

But of course, the blurring of audiences works two ways. Thanks primarily to the Internet, consumers have access to "doctor-focused" information, ranging from early study results from Phase II trials to professional advertising. Perhaps in response to shorter physician visits—and certainly reflecting the move toward "do it yourself" information gathering—patients are conducting their own research on their health and healthcare options. The notion that "physician messages" are only seen by physicians is a fallacy.

Physicians, for their part, are also exposed to "consumer" messages. Doctors are people too, and they watch the same TV shows, read the same newspapers, listen to the same radio programs, and surf the same Internet sites as patients do. As a result, consumer-directed material can, and often does, end up in the hands of healthcare professionals. This can have far-reaching and unintended consequences for the physician, the patient, and the brand.

Avoid "Information Clutter"

For a brand manager, the consequences of an unaligned brand strategy in this environment range from the inconvenient to the disastrous. For one thing, the "information age" is also the age of "information clutter," and exposing audiences to multiple messages can create confusion. If we have multiple messages, then what, exactly, does the product stand for? Without a simple, consistent value proposition, the brand might get lost in the noise; it may, in fact, be creating noise.

If the patient and physician platforms are misaligned, we may actually be impeding positive dialogue. If a patient is exposed to a "safety and tolerability" message about a drug, and the physician with whom she speaks has been exposed to "efficacy" messages for the same drug, it could be difficult for them to communicate about why that drug is the best therapy.

The most serious problem with independent message strategies is, however, related to the inferred intent of the messages. We often speak to doctors with a professional detachment that patients find alienating; when we speak to patients in a public forum about "asking their doctor," we risk implying to doctors that we are cutting them out of the diagnostic loop. These messages engender the opposite reaction to what we intend, resulting in resentment, or at a minimum, confusion.

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