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.
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
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.
Influence Network Mapping
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.
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.
How Physicians Make Decisions
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.