Brand teams have always been faced with the challenge of trying to find the most effective ways of educating physicians on
the merits of their products. Today, this challenge is made even more difficult as pharmaceutical marketers are caught between
the dynamics of changing prescriber preferences and constrained budgets.
Over the last decade, the role of peer influence in shaping prescriber opinions and in driving behavior has been a keenly
studied dynamic. One surprising component to emerge is the importance of informal influence and support networks that provide
accessible and trusted information to doctors in everyday practice.
As peer-led meetings become a more important part of doctors' information sources, marketers need to understand how influential
peers fit into an overall communications mix, and how best to leverage peer influencers in mounting effective local meetings
To do this requires an understanding of both doctor preferences for information and also doctor use of key opinion leaders
(KOLs) and local influencers. As an example, the following takes a look at prescriber preferences (among a group of oncologists)
and opinion leader impact. To do this, we employ a series of study-sets that explore the way detailing, meetings, and media
come together with KOLs and local peer influencers.
New Options, New Preferences
Recently, oncologists (who received sales calls on a regular basis) were asked to discuss their preferred sources of information.
In addition to the traditional choices, the study included newer sources of information such as online journals and medical
information sites. The doctors' responses were broken down into the following charts based on which sources they use and which
sources are most preferred. (A caveat: The participating prescribers were largely oncologists, along with some hematologists,
radiation treatment specialists, and urologists. Since they all work in a fairly advanced and rapidly changing specialty,
it would not be appropriate to generalize and assign their information preferences to other doctors such as PCPs).
Figure 1 lists the sources of information based on how often each source was mentioned. This illustrates how many doctors
are using an information source on a regular basis. After print journals and manufacturers' representatives (which includes
scientific liaisons), the next most common sources of information are the grouping for conferences, peers, and local meetings.
This illustrates the prevalence of local, accessible sources of information as critical inputs to a doctor's decision-making
Figure 1: Mentions of Information Sources
What is somewhat surprising is that KOLs (interpreted as being academics or researchers) and international conferences are
cited less often as a source of information.
Who the KOLs are
Doctors can come in contact with local peer information sources in a variety of different ways. For example, in the peers'
» a local thought leader leading dinner meetings or grand rounds;
» a speaker at manufacturer-sponsored events;
» in consultation with trust-ed local experts on patient cases; and
» in practice with co-workers in informal discussions
Figure 2 looks at how doctors rank the value of each information source used. Listed are how often an information source was
rated first or second by a doctor.
Figure 2: Mentions of Source Ranked One or Two
By looking at doctors' top choices of information, we see that journals emerge clearly as the most preferred source for this
group. Local and national meetings are closely ranked in second place and, while moving down in preference, peer information
sources still rank significantly higher than KOLs and international meetings.