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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Can science be branded and sold?

It may take a sharp mind and intellect to create compelling attributes around a product’s novel insight but leveraging the science can serve you well… 

Every healthcare agency knows how to translate a stack of clinical studies into a headline, a happy patient image and a list of product claims. A savvy agency moves beyond this basic skill set to become a strategic thinker. But only a handful of the most insightful agencies understand that the real business of medical communications is creating opportunity – for clients, for brands, for healthcare professionals and for patients.

Where is opportunity to be found? In healthcare marketing, opportunity is most typically born when a new product pops out of the pipeline and finds its way into the hospital, clinic and physician's office. But (for good reason) those who practise medicine tend to be conservative in nature and in no hurry to rethink their clinical behaviours.

So, no matter how compelling a product is in the mind of its developer, successful adoption is unlikely to occur by simply putting it on the market. To affect clinical behaviour, one needs to provide a fresh set of eyes through which the physician can view a scenario he or she has seen perhaps hundreds or even thousands of times before. The opportunity, in other words, is not simply found; it must be created.

Exploring the science
One credible approach to transforming natural physician scepticism into opportunity is to look to the pivotal technologies, physiologic mechanisms or scientific concepts that distinguish a therapeutic product from its competitors. Science-based ideas appeal to physicians because medicine itself is science based. And exploring these ideas in an intelligent way communicates respect for the occupation, and for the level of training and critical thinking healthcare professionals bring to the table.

Talking to doctors about key scientific concepts, though, involves more than just illustrating a mechanism of action. It is a strategic and disciplined process that starts with an insight – for example, an unmet (or even unrecognised) medical need, an advance in treatment, an outmoded attitude or belief, or even a novel hypothesis that has yet to attain general acceptance – and works to bring it into sharper focus. The aim is not to pressure or mislead, but to stimulate critical thinking, reevaluation, and dialogue – to motivate rather than to manipulate.

Packaging the science
The scientific ideas used to engage one's constituents, of course, are not chosen at random. Any marketers worth their salt seek meaningful and credible points of difference for their brands. Equally important, science is not meant to be digested raw. It needs thoughtful interpretation and refinement. It must be packaged into a form that's accessible, compelling and distinctive. In other words, it must be “branded” in such a way that it becomes an inextricable and proprietary link to the product it describes, and works to increase the real and perceived value of that product in the mind of the target customer.

Leveraging the science
In experienced hands, branded science can play a critical role in translating differentiating product attributes into lasting behavioural change that accelerates adoption. It can be especially useful under certain circumstances – for example, in addressing the following objectives:

  • To introduce a novel approach to managing a disease or a new use for an existing therapy
  • To raise awareness of a medical need – whether established or as yet unrecognised
  • To define a credible reason to believe in, and anticipate, an agent still in clinical development
  • To strengthen a product's value proposition, especially when it is novel or highly specialised
  • To sharpen appreciation of a product's differentiating features, or 'ownable space' in the marketplace

Whatever stage of the product lifecycle — prelaunch, launch, or post launch — communications techniques that leverage differentiating scientific concepts to effectively engage the medical community are key components of a smart marketing campaign. Can science be branded and sold? It can — and it should.

Article by
David Knechtel

client services director, Europe at Kane & Finkel Healthcare Communications and can be reached at

27th February 2012


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