Every marketer wants to know how to get through to their audience. What words or images will persuade a doctor to consider prescribing your brand or a patient to ask their doctor about it? Should you appeal to their emotions? Convince them with hard data and facts? Something else? To find out the best way to communicate to your target audience in order to move the needle on your brand, we asked 10 experts:

  • What are the keys to developing persuasive communication that you feel will influence your customers? How do you determine the right words, images, etc. that are most likely to resonate with your target audience?
  • How can neuromarketing or psychology techniques be incorporated into your strategy to help influence a customer’s decision-making at a more subconscious level or just make a campaign more memorable? What is the latest science and techniques in these areas that marketers should now be aware of?
  • What do you find to be the best market research or creative brainstorming techniques to arrive at the type of communications that will make the most impact with your target audience?
  • In your experience as a marketer, is it more effective to try to reach customers via emotion, logic, or some combination of both? Conversely, as a customer, what types of campaigns have made the most impact on you? Do you have any examples?

Brian Dunn

Medical decisions are among the most difficult anyone can face. Uncertainty, gaps in knowledge, the potent emotional charge of threats to well-being, and far-reaching consequences are characteristic of them. Options may be limited—or appear so. Alternatively, details and considerations may overwhelm.

Communicating effectively with people facing medical decisions requires an understanding of how difficult these decisions can be. We have to account, as best we can, for the circumstances and mental processes involved: The deliberative processes that put order to evidence; the many quick-and-dirty mental shortcuts that warp and distort for the sake of fast, effortless results; and the many automatic processes we fold in under the heading of emotion. This work is not a simplifying process. Accounting for multiple mental processes must be done for each audience or segment thereof. Groups differ. People change over time and are influenced by varied contexts.

Explicit and Implicit Communications

For these reasons, marketing teams cannot succeed by working at one, or even just two levels. (The logic versus emotion distinction is, at best, a useful oversimplification.) By design, campaigns should align multiple explicit and implicit communications. For example, we may show that a person struggling with obesity is capable of self-discipline but cannot make the progress they want despite dedication to diet and exercise. We are chipping away at a prejudicial automatic judgment of these people that unduly influences physicians. We complement all of that by telling the audience the scientific details of how an anti-obesity medication is now making the difference for such people. The resulting campaign is simultaneously a compelling emotional narrative, a counter-biasing intervention, and a strategic framing of decision options.

That is why we use a working process, derived from decision science and related disciplines, that combines and optimizes these complex psychological factors. But when you see the resulting work, it appears simple.

Sandy Sexton

I cringe a little at the word “influence.” I prefer to focus on empowering patients to ask doctors about a brand. It has been my experience that educating patients about their disease and about their treatment options is much more powerful than trying to influence anyone to evaluate only one treatment. Shifting that focus can allow marketing campaigns to serve as partners with patients in their care and serve as a trusted resource.

Developing Empowering Messages

The first step in developing empowering messages for patients is to gain an understanding of who they are, what their experience has been with their disease, what they already know about their disease, what questions they have about it, how they describe their journey, and what their interactions with the healthcare community has been. After you have a full understanding of the patient experience you can start building communications. Then test if those communications resonate with your audience, if the audience identifies with the messages and sees themselves in them, and which messages are most meaningful. This allows you to build a story, and then look at what images are most appropriate for that story—and test again.

It comes down to being able to communicate your understanding of the patients’ experience and to empower them with education so that they feel confident in their discussions with healthcare professionals and to empower them (not influence them) to participate in their own health management.

Chet Moss

I happened to overhear a conversation at a shoe store the other day.

Daughter: How about these leopard heels, Mom? These are such a hot pair!
Mom: They are fun. But these don’t go with anything in my closet. Besides, I only buy shoes with arch support.
Daughter: Yeah, but you’d be like the single-coolest Mom in my class.
Mom: Oh sir, do you have these in a size 7?

Is this not classic left brain, right brain stuff? The shoes beckon. But Logical Mom needs arch support. The wheels of reason quickly spin. Daughter, on the other hand, has persuasive marketing savvy. Who wouldn’t want to be Living Outside The (Shoe) Box Mom? In this fashion case, emotion wins out. Sure, Mom was silently wincing in her cool, new heels but she wore it well.

But talking with docs about targeting tissue with enhanced efficacy, tolerability, and toxicity profiles? Show me the p-values. Or the incidence of adverse events in immunocompromised patients. Though the impact of this data will likely be very emotional for their patients’ lives, it’s a numbers game in a data wonky time. (Just make sure the creative pops like crazy.) Know thy audience, the sages say.

As a consumer, I’m more the emotional guy who can be reached with great humor, a moving soundtrack…unforced situations. Quirky work like The Venetian and Cosmopolitan Hotels in Vegas is very right-brained for me. What impacts me most is the dearth of something genuine. Take the plethora of diabetes commercials. Have you ever seen a happier lot of people? They’re mowing lawns, they’re trout fishing, they’re dancing the rumba! Could grinning from ear to ear possibly be a GLP-1 receptor agonist side effect?!

Gee, if this were a leopard heel, I doubt it would fit anyone.

Jesse Kates

A few months after the 2013 Super Bowl, I went out and bought a Dodge Ram. It made no practical sense for me to own this car, but their Super Bowl spot had spoken to me. Appearing in stark contrast among dozens of mega-production, spectacular ads I’ve long since forgotten about, “So God Made a Farmer” pulled a lever somewhere in my cold black heart that was worth about $40,000.

Emotional advertising is essential in great marketing, and our pharma world is no exception. Rapid innovation and increasingly competitive markets are making it harder and harder to see objective differences between our brands. And in our world, cheap alternatives aren’t just allowed, they’re encouraged!

So God Made a Pharmer

Our customers are the same ones that go to the supermarket and make hundreds of brand choices between products that do the same thing, taste the same way, and cost the same amount. They make each and every one of those choices based on what those brands stand for and how they make them feel. When choosing treatments, doctors may be more skeptical than they are as consumers, but that is all the more reason to appeal to their emotions. It is far easier to sell them on the functional truths of our brands when we have sold them on a compelling emotional truth. In more cases than not, that is the only chance we have of getting them to listen to our story.

Until I have the humble privilege of working on a brand that can use the word “cure” in a headline, I approach every campaign the same way I like to think my counterparts approached their Dodge Ram assignment—the best way to customers’ heads is on the road of hopes and dreams connected to their hearts.

Kathryn Wilson

To effectively market a product, you must differentiate the product, but you must also make it relevant and meaningful. It is our job to show the customers not only how it works but why it matters. The only way to do this is to layer data with empathy. Our customers are people, not healthcare professionals or patients or disease states. They are living whole, full lives in spite of an ailment and outside of the confines of their jobs. We must speak to them as such in order to make what we do matter.

This is not to undermine the importance of the data. The science is paramount—and not just the primary endpoints or scales used to determine those endpoints—but the entirety of well-controlled data supporting a therapeutic area and product profile. Often, the scales used in clinical trials are not effectively used in clinical practice so it is important to take this information and make it meaningful in clinical practice. It’s only after listening to real patients and providers speak of their experiences, good and bad, that you can begin to identify what can be impactful.

Explain Why it Matters

One example was the Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) indication for Neupro. It is a condition that was widely regarded as a lifestyle disorder and didn’t have a great deal of legitimacy among HCPs. The campaign we created highlighted the product’s efficacy but also helped to communicate how the patient feels by taking an everyday object, such as an airplane seat, and making it look scary, uncomfortable, and unwelcoming. It was labeled “torture device” to further illustrate the dread of the patient when faced with these situations. The concept was based in both the efficacy profile of Neupro, clinical scales used by RLS treaters in practice, and countless real patient experiences.

Donna VonDerLinn

In the regulated world of healthcare marketing, campaigns often lean toward the safe and the predictable. How many more stock shots of a doctor’s hand resting on a patient’s shoulder do we need to see before we realize that safe isn’t going to move the needle? Instead, success can be found through smart creative—fueled with logic and executed with emotion. That spark is what resonates with our intended audience. The two can’t live without each other—it’s the execution of both that make the best campaigns shine.

Combine Logic with Emotion

Bayer’s “Battle in the Bone” prostate cancer awareness campaign is a stunning example of combining logic with emotion. The can’t-miss visual execution contrasts starkly with what logic and data tell us—men suffering from prostate cancer often ignore advanced symptoms. Symptoms that include severe or unexplained pain—which these warriors depicted within the bone clearly and powerfully embody.

Coming from the discipline of art direction, I personally appreciate when a campaign marries the data that research yields with original, compelling, and arresting visual execution. As marketers, we should all aim to step away from the stock shot and challenge ourselves to take consumers in a direction where emotion seals the deal in unexpected ways. If logic tells us we don’t have to regulate our emotions, we shouldn’t regulate them in our marketing, either.

Drew Desjardins

Whether you are presenting a creative campaign or clinical data, emotion is always the best way to influence healthcare professionals. Although it’s true that doctors make decisions based on clinical data, there is an art to visualizing data in a way that moves HCPs to act. Just watch the way primary investigators proudly present landmark trial results—they’re emotional! Or listen to how KOLs describe a revolutionary MOA. They’ll use words like “elegant!” So, although HCPs deny being moved by emotional creative campaigns, there’s proof that they are.

Understanding Your Audience’s Intrinsic Motivators

Marketing to HCPs is not different from marketing to other types of consumers. We begin by learning about our customers’ behaviors and beliefs—things you can observe and hear during research. We then push to understand what is deeply underlying those beliefs—things doctors don’t say during research. It is essential to avoid simply using what was heard during research as the basis for developing strategy. Deriving insights by connecting seemingly disparate data points is much more of an art than a science. It requires discipline and rigor, but that’s how we find the emotional insights that fuel our creative process and lead to significant HCP behavioral changes.

We can evoke emotion in HCPs in many ways, but we find one of the most compelling ways is by identifying insights that connect doctors’ intrinsic motivators with patients’ inherent needs in what we refer to as the unifying effect. When we create campaigns based on this approach, the results are often stunning, and even in market research we see changes in HCP attitudes toward patients’ experience with rare conditions. Those campaigns frequently result in significant changes in diagnostic and treatment behavior proving that doctors respond to emotional campaigns!

Robin Roberts

For brainstorming or market research techniques, two guiding principles apply regardless of the environment. First, creating a space where the feedback/input is on “what’s working” and “how it can be improved” versus a critique-focused review (thank you to Robin Shapiro for teaching me that!). Then an overlay of divergence to convergence. I also find that identifying larger themes is useful and it helps avoid cutting to “why it doesn’t work” too early. Lastly, with brainstorming in particular, all work needs to be framed in a challenge question. For example, “how can we…” or “what will we do if…”. There are times we get caught up in the ask from the client and don’t allow more expansive ideation. The challenge question helps elevate thinking.

Is Emotion or Logic More Effective?

I love this question! But it’s a tough one to answer. In general, I feel that emotion will amplify brand awareness (think Nike and Colin Kaepernick) and that brand loyalty requires the trifecta of emotion, logic, and experience. Experience was not part of the question but an important factor. If your experience with a brand or service does not live up to the emotion you have invested or the expectation set by functional attributes you will disengage and, possibly, actively speak out against the brand.

Michael Cole

Marketers are fighting an uphill battle. We are either trying to add more nuance to the research world to mimic reality, or we are going in the other direction and trying to remove as many variables as possible to isolate the drivers of choice.

Both of those efforts have long since modified traditional research methodologies. The adjustments helped, but they never moved us far enough to catch up with the increasing complexity of the world in which doctors and patients make actual decisions.

To arrive at the most impactful communications, market research needs to move to the extremes—embrace the complexity or become reductionist.

Algorithms Make for Better Research

Algorithmic techniques can be used to amplify the variables we can learn from. A simple example—standard positioning concepts. There might be five different concepts introduced as stimuli and each concept includes an insight, core image, a benefit statement, and reasons to believe. A standard methodology helps us parse through five options, but if we look at each component of the concept as an independent variable, an algorithm can create 56,875 permutations. By using a decision engine to optimize this process, not only do we get more variations to learn from, but we also understand optimal combinations and variant strength. That output is much more relevant to a world of dynamic content and programmatic targeting.

Going to the other extreme, if we posit that most of the conscious feedback in research is not representative of the real-world context for either patients or doctors—the reductionist view says we should focus only on the subconscious responses. A host of techniques from neuro mapping, facial coding, eye tracking, body language analysis, and other biometrics can in many ways give us a richer set of data that explains motivations and barriers to decision-making.

Katrin Zimmermann

The marketing of a product is always context specific, but traditionally brands have gravitated towards reaching customers through emotions. This has two reasons. Firstly, we feel before we think. Emotions trigger powerful immediate reactions, which often lead to (impulse) purchases. Secondly, many purchases are not logically justifiable. We do not actually need another lipstick. Marketing has to artificially generate the demand for that product in the first place.

However, digital communication has fundamentally changed the way brands interact with their consumers. In today’s oversaturated media landscape, competing for attention has become increasingly difficult. Features such as ad blocks and customizable ads make it even more difficult to cut through the noise. In addition, consumers are more critical and better informed than ever—and they have new, powerful platforms to express their opinions.

Marketing with Purpose

Brands, therefore, need to talk with, rather than at their consumers. Today’s consumers are not passive receivers of information, they are active contributors to a brand’s lifestyle ecosystem. Successfully engaging consumers requires more than emotion—it requires purpose. Nike’s viral Colin Kaepernick “Believe in something” ad is a testimony to this. Gillette’s recent “The best a man can be” campaign is another great example. The controversies surrounding these campaigns are part of their appeal—they spark a dialogue that goes beyond the product or even the brand.

If done right, the pharmaceutical industry can leverage this to its advantage. Unlike many other industries, it has products that intrinsically serve a purpose. Engaging consumers in a trustworthy and authentic conversation about this purpose should, therefore, be at the heart of any marketing campaign.


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