Medical Representatives (MRs) have been deploying various strategies to catch the doctor’s attention and increase brand recall. Nandini Patwardhan explores the various visual aids and freebies that MRs are using.
‘Gone in 60 seconds’
This adage best describe the doctor’s attention span when subjected to the sales pitch of the MR on a particular drug, its properties and efficacy. Soon after the MR leaves the doctors office, it is very likely for the doctor to suffer from a bout of amnesia.
Hectic schedules of doctors coupled with short attention spans are concern areas for any pharma company. In this situation, how does an MR communicate effectively to increase the doctor’s awareness about his products?
The communication gap
There are multiple reasons why the MR’s communication is not that effective to promote the virtues of his products. Firstly, from a pharma company’s perspective, there is lack of product differentiation. Every category today, has three to four similar products. In such a scenario, doctors find it difficult to pay attention to the product details as they are already aware of most of the intricacies.
|“It all depends on the brand. If the product is not good or not efficient, freebies don’t work at all”
– Dr Rajan T D
Also, the doctor’s hectic schedule and lack of attention to product detail does not help much. While getting a doctor to pay attention to the sales pitch is difficult, finding one with enough time is almost impossible. “The doctor’s time is a major problem faced by MRs when a product is being detailed,” explains Dr Rajan T D, Pharma Consultant and Medical Writer. For instance, doctors, especially specialists, are busy shuttling between hospitals and clinics. As far as the general practioner is concerned, it is the steady flow of patients which is usually a problem.
|“Quite often I have seen clients
asking us for innovative gimmick-based outputs more to create an excitement for the MR than attracting the doctor”
– Susan Josi Managing Partner
Sorento Healthcare Communications
“Hence, all the effort goes in vain as the MR delivers just 20 percent of what he is actually supposed to do in that one call,” states Susan Josi, Managing Partner, Sorento Healthcare Communications. Thus, the MR-doctor communication is often reduced to a boring monologue or a 30-second commercial as he cannot be overloaded with information in that short time frame.
There is also a gap between the doctor’s information expectations and what is communicated to him. Most of them require scientific information, which the MR may or may not be able to provide. In many cases, MRs do not get back to the doctors with inputs on their queries.
“Many companies focus only on their molecules. When the reality is that they should focus on identifying the gaps existing in the therapy area and how their product could bridge the gap. Also, the MRs should specify where in the treatment algorithm would the molecule fit for a particular disease area,” says A S Mohanty, Director, Domestic Formulations, Glenmark. “In addition to this, doctors need more of clinical references and studies vs other molecules they currently use,” he adds.
Doctors are simply not interested in the amount and the quality of information being thrown at them. They detest the process of being put through what they have already learnt in medical schools. What they need is interesting new snippets of information which is evidence based and crisply packaged.
Seeing is believing
While the MRs can continue to address the doctor with all the information that they have about the drug in question, to make their communication more effective, they can make use of colourful charts, leaflets or any other kind of visual aid for pepping the talk. They not only offer a visual relief to the doctor, but also help the MR to remember and convey boring, yet technical information.
“Visual aids help the Field Sales Officers (FSO) in titrating their communication. Also, in an event, where the doctor does not have the time to go through minute details of the product on the spot, certain FSOs leave behind a brochure to help them understand the details of the molecule in question in his free time,” clarifies Mohanty.
There are different types of visual aids that can be used by a pharma company to support direct-to-doctor sales activities. For instance, MRs can make use of trial reports, films, CDs, leaflets and pamphlets and flip charts.
This literature aids communication by enabling the MR to communicate the key features and benefits of the brand, establish superiority of his brand over competitor’s brand, give ‘reasons’ to the customer (the doctor) as to why he should prescribe the brand and ensure that he remembers the brand.
It is the power of a good and strong idea followed by visuals and words, which can make any piece of communication interesting. “Today, the pharmaceutical market is very crowded with multiple molecules and many brands per molecules. Hence, it is vital for the MR to establish brand identity in the customer’s mind,” states the Novartis spokesperson. “Literature helps in establishing the ‘visual identity’ in the customer’s mind,” he adds.
The benefits of an effective visual aid are many. An innovative visual aid can help in increasing the product recall amongst the doctors long after the MR has left. If left with the doctor, it can serve as a reminder, every time he reads it. An informative aid can also help the MR solve the doctor’s queries at the time of detailing the product. This helps the doctor in understanding the product better and if already available in the market, can even induce him to start prescribing it.
Lastly, an interesting visual aid always helps in re-enforcing the core brand idea, there by working towards increasing the brand recall. For instance, Viagara is all about relationships between a husband and wife or a girlfriend and a boyfriend. With this background, the product brochures can speak of erectile dysfunction. This will go a long way in associating the product with the disease in the minds of doctors.
Creating visual aids? Avoid these mistakes
The visuals in an aid often appeal to the emotional side and the information satisfies the rationale. When designing a visual aid, both these aspects need to work in sync with each other
A good thought needs to go in creating visual aids. Pharmacos and advertising agencies need to design visual aids in such a manner that will make the doctor want to know more about the brand. A brand works on both emotional, as well as rational levels. The visuals in an aid often appeal to the emotional side and the information satisfies the rationale. When designing a visual aid, both these aspects need to work in sync with each other. “Once we have emotionally hooked the doctor, the rational supports will take over to convince him further. Unfortunately, most companies want to be in the rational area alone and keep saying the same features which other companies have pre-emptied on the product, creating no strong differentiation for their brand,” reveals Josi.
While every company tries very hard to make their literature interesting and informative, many still lose out on the ‘attraction’ part of it, as most of the aids rely on low resolution internet pictures and there are no creative elements. “The examples from yesteryears, like the Trika butterfly created for Unisearch, the Incremin giraffe for Lederle, and the Incidal bird depicting alertness have still remained memorable,” elaborates Josi.
|“The second stage is the ‘me too’ stage when many brands have
already come and yours is the 70th brand to hit the market”
– Dr J B Smarta Managing Director
Interlink Marketing Consultancy
A common mistake made by companies while creating the aids is that they blindly create the support literature without understanding the stage the particular product is in, for which the support literature is being made. “For instance, in the initial stage where the product concept is new, the brand has not yet been introduced and the therapy is also absolutely new, then there are too many things that can be informed to the doctor,” explains Dr J B Smarta, Managing Director, Interlink Marketing Consultancy. In such a scenario, it would be wise to create an aid which is more informative in nature.
“The second stage is the ‘me too’ stage, when many brands have already come and yours is the 70th brand to hit the market. The third stage is when the brand has already been established in the market and you are only going to remind about its presence,” he adds. For these stages, the aids need to detail any new information, may be new clinical data results, increased indications or even change in price or dosage. This is because for such products, the doctors already know everything about them and would be interested only in new information if there is any.
Also, companies make another mistake of making the visual aids more product centric rather than disease centric. “Most of the times, companies look at the communication material from the ‘what they want to sell’ angle, rather than understanding the doctor’s information needs,” states Mohanty.
To be effective, companies need to understand and communicate the core brand idea effectively first to the doctor, followed by any information that reinforces the idea. Eye catching literature is of no use if the brand idea is missing. Companies often forget their target audience while creating these aids. While these aids are supposed to be created to answer all of the questions that any doctor can think of, today, most of these are designed to create gimmicks and to relieve the MR from getting bored while repeating the same information time and again. “Quite often I have seen clients asking us for innovative gimmick-based outputs more to create an excitement for the MR than attracting the doctor,” discloses Josi. “Hence, I sometimes wonder whether we are creating communication to get rid of the boredom of the MR or to create a pull with the doctor,” she adds.
|Clutter: Too much literature is given to customers. Every company gives out literature and ultimately the doctor ends up receiving a pile of them
Lack of clarity of message: There are too many messages or the key message is lost. The only time the customer really goes through the literature is when the rep details it to him. Hence it is necessary to have clarity of message and equipping the sales rep to do it is very vital
Lack of meaningful content/ retention value: Most of the literature handed out has no meaningful content from the customer’s point of view. They are designed purely from the originator’s view point. The retention value too is minimal and they end up serving as ‘post card’ reminders
No continuity: Many times there is no continuity of literature and every time a new format is announced and shared. This acts more like a hurdle in establishing the brand position in the customer’s mind
Aesthetics/visual appeal: There could be instances where the literature lacks visual appeal. It lacks use of good, appealing colour schemes and visuals. It ends up getting lost in the pile of material that a customer receives in a day
Doing it right
Pharma companies invest a lot of money in creating the supporting literature. Hence, it is imperative to have a predetermined process that will help them decide on the information that can go into it. Also, it would be wise if they employ an outside agency to assist them in the creative processes and printing aspects. Today, many of the companies are collaborating with advertising agencies to create the necessary material. For instance, the pharma major, Novartis does not have an in-house agency, but has a process in place before this task is outsourced to external agencies. “The respective brand manager identifies the issues to be addressed, decides on the objective that the literature needs to communicate (for example, establish the efficacy of the brand and counter the competitor brand) and ensures all internal approvals with necessary references in place,” explains the company’s (Novartis) spokes person.
“This written copy is then provided to the agency to develop the first draft of the literature. The agency plays a key role in executing the core idea in a creative manner. Yet another set of approvals are sought and all changes suggested are incorporated. Only after it is approved by a cross functional committee does the literature go to print,” he adds. As against this, at Glenmark, the concept is developed in-house with some finishing touches and help from artists.
The gifting business
In case of a clutter of products, freebies and visual aids do help in increasing the recall marginally and if satisfied the doctor may actually prescribe the product for some time. But over a period of time and many MRs later, the recall value goes down again
Visual aids are one of the many ways that can make an MR’s visit to the doctor more effective. There are other means too, to maintain (if not increase) the product recall. One of them is giving free gifts, or freebies to the doctors. These free gifts are inexpensive items distributed by pharma companies through the MR to the doctors. While ideally they should be related to the profession (like free medical journals), today they range from table top items like a diary, watches and wall charts to expensive ones like sponsored stays in five star hotels during conferences, getaways to exotic locations under the garb of CME programs and so on.
The freebies, especially sponsored vacations, seem to be emerging as the favourite method of staying in the doctor’s mind. As a result, most of the companies have to do aids that look like travel brochures. “Unfortunately, sometimes I feel that in our agency, we are made to do more travel brochures than actual good communication tools for the brand,” asserts Josi. Thus companies end up luring the doctors to a place and not the brand.
There is no data in place that can prove or disprove the effect of freebies on prescriptions and brand recall. This is because there are many doctors, who may take these gifts, yet continue to prescribe in the best health interests of their patients. Hence, there are conflicting views on their impact. “I presume that it must be working, as this activity is increasing by the day. One doesn’t know whether the problem lies with the companies or the doctors,” she adds.
There are many, who oppose this point of view. “It all depends on the brand,” states Rajan. “If the product is not good or not efficient, freebies don’t work at all,” he adds. In case of a clutter of products, freebies and visual aids do help in increasing the recall marginally and if satisfied, the doctor may actually prescribe the product for some time. But over a period of time and many MRs later, the recall value goes down again.
There are conflicts over the fact that what makes a product sell. The answer for this most of the times is a good mix of all the factors associated with marketing like innovative good visual aid, interesting literature and an MR, who can drive the point home to the doctor.
All ethics considered, if gifts and junkets can get the necessary mileage which all these cannot, it should be considered yet another sales strategy. All is well if it sells well!