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Challenging 'rules of thumb'

A decision support matrix can help eliminate bias in medical communications planning

Challenging 'rules of thumb'With promotional expenditure being refocused and redistributed across a number of communications disciplines, now more than ever there is a need to ensure efficient use of external and internal resources in the communications planning process to make sure our objectives are reached. What can we do to guarantee our communication planning and decision-making addresses these issues?

As cross-functional brand teams have expanded to include members from outside traditional marketing functions (ie, medical and clinical affairs, regulatory and market access experts), the perspectives, inputs, aspirations and recommendations for the medical communications plan could benefit from a process where: individual bias is challenged; cross-functional review and analysis is part of the process; and consensus is reached on strategic intent and the tactical mix to support execution.

The process of performance assessment is done quantitatively and qualitatively where attitudes, perceptions, share of voice and hard sales data (including market share) are reviewed. By taking a further step back and assessing the current status of the brand's characteristics, attributes and equity, a number of key insights can be identified that shape tactical considerations.

The MCDSM (Medical Communications Decision Support Matrix) is a framework that supports the review of existing brand attributes and characteristics. The assessment is completed by working through a series of self-review questions aligned to each of the six domains: life cycle status, published data, opinion leader advocacy, positioning and messaging, scientific and medical education, and market access and value demonstration. A weighted score is applied to each domain through the selection of a 'best fit' response. The scores are then applied to a spider-gram for plotting.


The MCDSM as a desktop application 

The MCDSM as a desktop application



Visualising weighted scores
A spider-gram will show the assessment according to the scores provided. The challenge and indeed opportunity within a group dynamic is that individual perspectives and potential bias are diluted by the need to agree on an overall score for each question. By plotting the weighted score, various formations are generated which provide an overview of current activity and equity of the brand. This will include aspects such as KOL advocacy status and clinical evidence.


Pre-launch/early phase scenario

Mature/established product scenario

 Pre-launch/early phase scenario

Mature/established product scenario 



Supporting decision making
Formations that are more centrally aligned indicate where a relative weakness may exist, providing opportunities for expansion and development through strategic focus. An example being a product in an early phase of its life cycle, the domain of market access and value demonstration may not be as established, suggesting that a greater emphasis could be placed on tactical support to increase value demonstration.

Armed with a current assessment, how should a brand team decide on the tactical mix? From market building to market shaping, there are many tried and tested channels for medical education and scientific communications, but how can you make sure that you have the optimal mix and are not simply doing what's always been done or mirroring your competitors?

By evaluating the results of the spider-gram you can determine where there are opportunities to develop a communications plan that can leverage established attributes, while introducing tactics that further strengthen and develop brand attributes. By transposing the spider-gram over the medical communications tactical quadrants – value demonstration, evidence generation, evidence activation and opinion leader engagement – the brand team is able to identify specific tactics that belong to each 'box' for inclusion into the medical communications plan.

Reviewing a brand's performance and equity status utilising the MCDSM won't make the decisions for you – neither will it write your communication plan. The framework will however ensure that 'rules of thumb' are challenged and potential biases limited through consensus and participation in the planning process.

Carlyle Ware

The Author

Carlyle Ware is the director of medical communications for Complete Medical Group, based in Basel, Switzerland
Email him at:

This article was first published in PME May/June 2010 as part of the Thought Leader series.

To comment on this article, email



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4th June 2010


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