In this 3-part series, I explore the “tried and true” bag of tricks that marketers rely on; the role the physician plays in changing a behavior; and an emerging relationship-driven era in pharma marketing. I invite you to explore with me by commenting or contacting me.

For pharmaceutical marketers, the quintessential moment of truth is when the doctor’s pen scribbles on the prescription pad — and then hands the script to the patient. So much energy and effort goes into learning, researching, studying, and understanding why a physician ultimately chooses the drug therapy they prescribe. What exactly plays into that moment, those nanoseconds when the physician determines a course of treatment? Is it compelling, new clinical data or the latest, greatest drug with promising claims? Is it which insurance plan will reimburse the medication? Trusted reliance on something that worked well in the past? Or is it simply a congenial sales rep who just visited the office?

At Core-Create, we’ve dedicated more than 20 years to thinking about that very moment — when pen meets paper. What amazes me is how many pharma marketers today are still using the same old bag of tricks when it comes to marketing a new brand. It’s not that these tried and true methods are necessarily bad. It’s just that they may not always be as effective for your brand.

“My data is better than your data”

Hear me clearly: better clinical data is not always the motivating factor that influences a physician to choose one medication over another. Nor is simply packaging your clinical data in a shiny new sales aid. In some cases, it’s actually impossible to create meaningful data differences within the same class. Several popular classes of prescription and OTC drugs are faced with this exact dilemma: NSAIDS, oral contraceptives, erectile dysfunction drugs, statins, and H2 blockers. A prescribing physician will swear by the efficacy of one drug over the other, but in reality, the comparative data in the drug class isn’t that compelling. So, why is your doctor prescribing what she or he is prescribing?

When we want answers to this question we all go directly to our customers. Physicians’ answers, however, are often altruistic because they feel it would not be appropriate to answer any other way than to say, “I go with what’s most effective, of course!” They may also be afraid to tell us “the baby is ugly.” But honestly, those of us in this business know that there is never really enough convincing data; there is always something to be challenged during the detail.

Their lips are moving but can we hear what they’re saying?

Another old trick pharma marketers spend an absolute fortune on is speakers’ bureaus. With increasingly restrictive regulatory guidelines, however, physicians can’t say very much during their presentations anymore. So where is the value if you can’t even get your basic brand message across? Perhaps the reluctance to move away from this approach is because marketers find comfort in what’s tried and true — even if it’s less effective.

The real key to getting pen to paper is getting physicians to change their behavior. I’ll share my insights about that next time.