Doctors Make Emotional Decisions Too—Even When It Comes to Prescribing

For many years, pharmaceutical companies relied heavily on data to market products. Sales reps would present physicians with the results of clinical trials, statistics and brand comparison charts to prove that their products were superior to others on the market. Based on this convincing data, physicians would prescribe those products over others in their category.

For many years, this approach worked. In the 1990s, the first ads for the cholesterol-lowering drug, Lipitor, focused solely on the medication’s efficacy and clinical trial results—and the drug became a blockbuster. But over time, the marketplace became oversaturated with duplicate drugs, and it was soon clear that pharma companies needed more than strong data to set their products apart.

Though selling based on clinical data still has its place, I’ve seen that tapping into physicians’ and patients’ emotions is a better way to assure that your products get preference.

The Science Behind Emotional Decision-Making

The reason emotions are so effective for motivating decisions can be explained by renowned neuroscientist Antonio Damasio’s somatic marker hypothesis: When individuals are faced with complex decisions, their cognitive processes become too overwhelmed, and emotional processes take over to guide their behavior. His studies and observations convinced him that proper decision-making processes in the brain must involve emotions.

When applying this science to doctors, consider the intense level of stress that physicians face every day in regard to decision-making. Doctors worry about their patients as any other human being would. In situations where there’s a lot of pressure to make a decision, they often rely on their emotions to guide them through the decision-making process. When making diagnoses or prescribing medications, doctors will often make the choice they feel is right for their patients.

Therefore, aligning your message with what “feels right” is the key to making your product a physician’s first choice.

How Pharma Brands Can Use Emotions to Increase Sales

When marketing a product or educating physicians, pharma companies must consider this emotional response. Brand managers can capitalize on it by marketing their products as more complete patient experiences and triggering specific emotions in physicians—whether it’s a sense of mastery that comes after a difficult diagnosis or a sense of nurturing—to influence their decision-making process.

Here are a few ideas to apply to your brand marketing:

1. Advertise to incite emotional reactions in your intended audience, rather than simply provide statistics. Emotions will push patients and physicians from simply thinking about your product to feeling that they need to use it.

2. Explain how your product is an improvement over current treatment regimens (e.g., reduced cost, improved dosing frequency, increased patient adherence, reduced required physician visits, etc.), but do so in a way that shows the physician that he or she is actually improving the patient’s overall experience by prescribing your drug.

3. Offer tools and information to support the physician as an educator and outline all aspects of the patient’s journey. This will help physicians feel as though they are both nurturing patients and improving their own skill set.

The pharma industry is becoming an increasingly competitive environment, driven by consumers and flooded with treatment options. To compete, pharma companies must move beyond marketing a product’s value as a set of statistics and start promoting all the ways that products can improve patients’ lives, the physician’s role as a caregiver and the overall healthcare experience.

  • Ken Ribotsky

    Ken Ribotsky is CEO and Owner of Brandkarma, LLC. Brandkarma provides everything from brand development and advertising to medical education and public relations. Ken is incredibly passionate about helping companies bring products and services that are truly health-enhancing and needed to the market.


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