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Smart Thinking blog

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

Shoot the messenger: changing behaviours by marketing to the subconscious

How the perception of a message can change depending on who delivers it

shoot the messenger

All healthcare marketing fundamentally concerns changing behaviours – be that increasing patient compliance, encouraging payers to grant formulary access or convincing healthcare professionals (HCPs) to prescribe.

Traditionally, this behaviour shift has been driven by rational, evidence-based campaigns focused on driving a conscious decision to do something differently. However, when we measure success we see that two brands with similar data often perform very differently.

A quote from the book The Hidden Persuaders expresses the problem particularly well:

“I am astonished by how many people in advertising believe we can be persuaded by logic and rational augments to buy one brand in preference to another, even when the two brands are technically identical. The greater the similarity between the products, the less part reason plays in brand selection.”

Many established drivers of subconscious behaviour change exist, a good example being the use of thought leaders to deliver educational messages. We all intuitively know that the weight we give to information is shaped by our perception of the source. This is supported by research showing those considered thought leaders are more effective at delivering training that changes the behaviour of HCPs than highly trained educators, such as teachers or facilitators.

Some of the factors we might consider less when selecting a messenger, but are just as important to the outcome are:

  • Matching the social demographic and standing of the messenger with the audience – a highly esteemed professor may carry less weight with a group of patients than another well-respected patient or celebrity 
  • Feelings for the speaker – people irrationally discard advice given by people they don't like which could be important to consider with regards to advisory boards, sales team selection, or peer-to-peer meetings.

A great practical example of thinking differently about who delivers the message is the 'Get Braids Not Aids' campaign in Zimbabwe (see video below or on YouTube).

This scheme trains hairdressers to discuss condoms with their customers. It's about a peer-to-peer interaction in a setting where people are accustomed to talking about their lifestyle choices. It's effective because people are subconsciously more open to the way the message is delivered, in a way they wouldn't be if it was a government official or a healthcare professional giving the same advice. It's an inspiring, simple idea that has contributed to a reduction in the prevalance of HIV in Zimbabwe from 24 per cent to 14 per cent over 6 years.

Thinking deeply about the way an audience is going to perceive, react to, engage with and value interactions with different healthcare messengers is a key part of ensuring the delivery of meaningful behaviour change. If your communications are not making the impact they should be, then maybe it's time to shoot the messenger.

Article by
Chris Bartley

is Director, Havas Life Medicom

16th August 2013

From: Sales, Marketing

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