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The familiar messages

Identifying and understanding the drivers behind prescribing behaviour is a vital part of ensuring your marketing strategy

Separating 'nice-to-have's' from priorities will help to shake up prescribers' preferences

Identifying and understanding the drivers behind prescribing behaviour is a vital part of ensuring your marketing strategy, brand positioning and key messages hit the spot. This case study is the first of three, through which Dr Paul Stuart-Kregor, of the MSI Consultancy, will explore the issues in applying this thinking, and explain how to approach the challenge and the value it can bring.

The decreasing differentiation between products, a shorter time in which to achieve return on investment (with the consequent increased pressure to gain quicker peak sales), and a difficult environment in which competitive and portfolio pressures are greater than ever, all mean that gaining (product/brand) competitive advantage is becoming evermore difficult.

Understanding what motivates each group of prescribers to choose particular treatments is crucial to overcoming these challenges, enabling marketers to define compelling, differentiated positioning and, vitally, motivating brand messages.

What exactly do we mean by `triggers and motivations' regarding prescribing? Many pharma marketers often look only at their brand performance Vs the straight-forward, entry-level clinical needs of the physician and patient when trying to understand prescribing decisions.

The problem with this view is that the definition is too narrow and results in each brand coming up with the same default answer: that the only triggers to prescribing are efficacy, safety and tolerability.

Of course these are important, but this thinking results in everyone acting in the same way; look at brand advertising in GP journals to see what I mean.

What we need is real insight which requires the marketer to delve into the direct, indirect, current and latent triggers and motivations. To do this, we have to look at the different layers of doctors' thinking which lead them into making a particular prescribing decision.

Clearly, the base level clinical needs (efficacy, safety and tolerability) must be taken into account, as they will be the starting point of any prescribing decision. Yet, these are areas in which achieving a competitively advantageous point of differentiation is increasingly difficult.

Finding other triggers and motivations means understanding, on one level, the prescriber's priority issues and needs (these may not be purely functional), and, on another level, the `nice-to-have's' in product performance. Finally, it may be that even more personal, aspirational and emotional factors play a part.

Marketers have to decide in which layer they should anchor the brand positioning in order to create, or maintain, that change in prescribing behaviour (although it will always be important to address the `entry-level' criteria in some way).

I know what I like
Take the treatment of hypertension as an example. At a macro level, each GP has a treatment path mindset, set within the context of when and where they use existing treatments. The `stepwise' approach, based on habit and previous practice, is likely to be the most powerful influence in their mindset, followed by the expectation of polytherapy and making a choice based on guidelines and patient differentiators (reinforced by the current patient status).

The general view among prescribers is that their current treatment strategy works. Therefore, new brands will need credible rationales to change that - routine, habit and inertia all work against new treatments, which will generally be at a disadvantage on cost and lack of familiarity, as well as the depth and breadth of data available.

The approach taken by Zanidip based on efficacy and tolerability, for example, is unlikely to work because it does not offer enough differentiation in meaningful or motivating clinical terms.

'Outer layer' trigger areas need to be explored to help leverage the importance of certain choice criteria where your brand can and/or does perform better than your competitors'. These, potentially marginal, differences can be made to be much more important when you give the prescriber a suitable contextual reference or anchor.

Getting the messages (both rational and emotional) to chime with the prescriber's own drivers is perhaps the single most effective way to amplify how compelling the overall proposition is. This is even more true for products which have minor points of differentiation, where small incremental advantages need to be explained not in isolation, but as an integrated whole.

In the June issue of PM: how current practice in understanding prescribing triggers and motivations works, and where it falls short of delivering insight.

2nd September 2008


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