The HCP is Not Your Target—It’s Time to Re-Think HCP Message Targeting and Relevance

In the world of pharmaceutical communication and marketing strategy, the majority of effort is focused on brand positioning, therapeutic objectives, communication strategy, associated tactics, engagement metrics, CTAs, campaign measurement, and overall performance. Within context, we are thinking about these activities from the perspective of the target audience, but the real question is: Who is the target audience?

Marketers and strategists typically measure success (business impact) by an incremental lift in Rx activity. Given that the HCP (and to a lesser extent NP/PAs) are the only individuals writing prescriptions, then that should be our target audience, right? Not necessarily, in fact, there is a good chance that this is not where we should be focusing our full effort, nor is it the actual audience that is engaging with our message.

Are HCPs Really Our Target Audience?

Recent insight provided by the Taking the Pulse Study performed by Decision Resources Group, provided an interesting perspective on how HCPs view pharma marketing, and in turn, what needs to be done differently. What jumped out at me was not the fact that, if we consider quality scientific content as a currency for physician trust, pharma isn’t delivering. More importantly, we aren’t helping physicians with their pain points.

Philip Kotler, in Marketing 4.0 refers to these pain points as “deepest anxieties and desires.” He goes on to say that to address these anxieties, brands should be engaging, compelling, and attractive all the while demonstrating strong personability and morality. Let’s consider an HCP’s anxieties, specifically the administrative burden in a typical clinical environment.

Given that HCPs are small business owners with a variety of staff ranging from general admin, compliance reporting, NP/PAs, reimbursement specialists, office/billing, and financial staff, there are many areas to cause a level of anxiety. Considering the HCP business environment, the real focus should be to align messaging with the appropriate target audience. In a recent tele-campaign (focused on generating sample requests) calling HCPs, out of a total of 10,000 contacts, 1% of all conversations took place with a physician, 55% of the conversations took place with office staff or the office manager, 38% were with medical assistants or nurse practitioners, and the remaining 6% were with other staff. Despite the engagement mix, results are typically reported as “HCP contacts,” which further reinforces the illusion that we are actually marketing to physicians.

Typical pharma message content includes formulary updates, patient education material, patient coaching and support programs, sample offers, copay card offers, therapeutic updates (including mode of action, co-morbidity, etc.), new indications as well as administrative support for prior authorization and patient payment support. Given their relevance to a cross-section of the clinical staff, it is intuitive that we should focus our efforts on these individuals, and subsequently reconsider brand communication strategies. Consider moving beyond impact on the physician, and look to help the physician’s office redefine the prescribing experience.

Targeting Physician Support Staff

Given the range of functional roles we are targeting in the physician’s office, the key will be identification and aggregation of who is who, linking these individuals to the physician. To this end, development of the communication strategy is really three-fold:

  1. Source and/or develop a target file of identified individuals in each clinic.
  2. Create messaging and CTAs that are relevant and of value to the respective functional areas.
  3. Capture data updates, refresh, and build insights around the target audience relative to the physician segment.

While all of our messaging is generally addressed/targeted toward the HCP, we know that a very small percentage is actually acted upon by the physician. The office strategy approach makes the assumption that engagement with the office is not engagement with the HCP, and subsequently builds relationships with key individuals responsible for non-prescribing activities.

This approach could truly reposition the way we (pharma) communicate and interact with physicians. It could re-establish pharma as the trusted partner, supporting the efforts to get patients on the right meds while leading our communication with support for the clinical staff, administration, copay assistance, patient education material, delivered on a parallel path to the HCPs, and aligned with high-value, scientific content.

We often say we need to look at our go-to market strategy from the customer’s perspective. Well, now we have a framework to help HCPs resolve their anxieties and address their pain points. This approach should return pharma to a position of trust and inclusion (because we listened), and give us the ability to assist and inform in the day-to-day exercise of helping physicians get the right meds and information into the hands of their patients who need them.

  • Kent Groves

    Kent Groves, PhD leads the global strategy practice at Merkle Health. Kent has been consulting in healthcare for more than 20 years in the areas of healthcare provider segmentation, brand channel integration, CRM, marketing analytics and direct-to-consumer.


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