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Speak to the Head and the Heart in Pharma Marketing

Greg Kirsch

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According to a recent article in Medical Marketing and Media, a Harris Interactive study reports "emotional connections and functional attributes" drive physician trust in pharma brands.

My first reaction was, "Well … duh." But on further reflection, I should be pleased that the study affirmed what we’ve been telling clients for years: that as a marketing communicator, you must speak to both sides of the brain.

Many times, especially in medical marketing, we fall into the trap of speaking only to the left brain. After all, we "know" that physicians are data-driven, so of course, all we need to do is define the logical benefit our drug or medical device offers. We gather the charts, data, test results, and graphs; shape them into a rational argument; and then stop and congratulate ourselves on a job well done.

The Harris study, however, suggests we could be much more effective by also considering the emotional triggers that motivate our audiences to action. The study cited emotional connections like "being able to identify with the product, feeling positive about it, believing it inspires confident prescribing."

Science backs up the idea that appeals that include emotional triggers can be more effective. Whether they are willing to admit it or not, physicians are influenced by emotional triggers as well as logical ones.

The Connection Between Emotion and Decision

Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio studies people with damage in the prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain that generates emotions. Damasio’s subjects appear normal with the exception that they cannot feel emotions. But interestingly, in addition to losing the ability to feel emotions, they also lost the ability to make decisions.

In one case, Damasio relates how one test subject could describe in great detail the steps to go through a complex problem, but when it came time to make a simple decision — to choose a time for his next appointment — he could not decide between two available dates a few days apart. He spent 30 minutes in a tedious cost-benefit analysis about which date was better, unable to choose. Exasperated, the researchers finally chose a date for him. He accepted it without question.

Most everyday alternatives have pluses and minuses. But without an emotion to "push" the decision one way or the other, decision making comes to a halt. Damasio concludes that, at the point of decision, emotions are critical for choosing. Emotions drive most rational decisions.

In one of my favorite copywriting books, The Wizard of Ads, author Roy Williams puts it this way:

“Does the customer typically buy the best value, or does she buy what she feels to be the best value? In reality, people usually do what their emotions dictate, then find the logic to justify it. Nothing is quite so important as emotion in advertising and selling.”

A few weeks back, I wrote a post about the power of preventing a loss. Though some took exception, I still believe leveraging an emotion — in that case, fear of a loss — can be a powerful motivator. Look at this ad from the Alzheimer’s Association that does just that:

The copy reads, in part: "Think of all the special moments that could be taken from you." An emotion — fear of loss — to motivate action.

So after forming all of the charts, data and test results into a rational argument (like better efficacy, low side effects, longer-term data, etc.), take a moment to speak to a physician’s heart as well. Think about how these rational benefits make the buyer (or "prescriber") feel. Do they provide peace of mind? Make him feel like he’s a better physician? A hero, even?

Ask yourself how your target audience feels about your offering.

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