Taking Advantage of the Science Behind Marketing - Pharmaceutical Executive


Taking Advantage of the Science Behind Marketing

Pharmaceutical Executive

Is More Information Always Better?

The second body of scientific research worth noting was initiated by J. Prochaska, who had been studying the ways in which people change. This research has strong implications for the ways in which people buy, because buying represents change. After all, if you are going to sign a check for half a million dollars for a piece of lab equipment, modify the lab to accommodate the equipment, go through the retraining process, and change your workflow, this purchase does represent a significant commitment to change.

Reaction Stages of Buyers
Prochaska's "Transtheoretical Model," which has been tested in experiments involving tens of thousands of subjects and overseen by many different researchers, shows that people who are committed to change progress through a series of stages. The model outlines six stages, and shows that people at different stages have different needs. For simplicity's sake, I have condensed these stages for presentation purposes; the table shows the needs of buyers as they progress through just some of the stages of the model.

Even in this simplified view, you can see that prospects' needs change dramatically, from unbiased education to inspiration and finally to reassurance.

This progression stands in direct contrast to typical scientific intuition. The discipline of science places a high value on completeness—science strives for total understanding, for the ability to describe a mechanism of action down to the smallest detail. As a result, scientists often want to tell the complete story. "Oh, if we provide every detail, they'll be sure to buy." This leads to Web pages with paragraph upon paragraph of text and trade show booths dense with copy.

But scientific intuition in this case is not supported by scientifically observed buying behavior. Lengthy websites and dense trade show displays are usually not effective because visitors to websites and trade shows are typically (but not exclusively) in the contemplation stage. Buyers at this stage need inspiration. And inspiration is best delivered in short doses—not through long, detailed, complete stories.

Should You Trust Your Instincts?

As the above examples highlight, there's more science to marketing than you might think. Of course, marketers seldom have the luxury of basing their decisions on the same amount of data typically available to pharmaceutical scientists.

But this does not mean that instinct should be your only guide. There are many published experiments that have shed light on general marketing principles and specific marketing tactics. They're worth seeking out. Because when scientific intuition (for example, to tell the complete story) is at odds with the scientific evidence (to progress from education to inspiration to reassurance), you shouldn't trust your gut.

David Chapin is CEO of Forma Life Science Marketing. He can be reached at


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