Sunday, February 8, 2009


TRY CONVERSING WITH A GROUP OF DOCTORS! IT IS TOUGH CUTTING THROUGH THE CONVERSATIONAL CLUTTER!! THE ABOVE IMAGE COMES FROM HERE. The fact is, we are in the age of conversations - enhanced by social media and the internet. Both the - loud and whispered conversations - are defining our attitude, emotions, and activities.

I was waiting to meet a dermatologist, some time back with a MR colleague, at a hospital. We overheard a conversation between two doctors:

Doc 1: So how is patient Ankita doing?

Doc 2: She is better, no doubt it was mainly a exacerbated hypersensitivity of the skin...

Doc 1: OK, but don't forget to put her on Augmentin ... there is always a possibility of secondary infection!

This is a conversation - and it reflects the word-of-mouth popularity of Augmentin. There are thousands of such conversations going on in target prospect or customer segments. The point is how can pharma and healthcare marketers benefit from conversations?

One to one conversations

Pharma marketing is characterized by highly personalized relationships between pharma company medical representatives and physicians. This is one reason pharma has not been fast in embracing digital marketing concepts (as fast as other industries).

During one-to-one conversations between a doctor and a MR, knowing the profile of the doctor with all the fine details helps in discovering the hot buttons to engage in a fruitful conversation:

Dr. Manohar MD, a bearded Malyali gentleman, practicing in Marathhally, Bangalore was one of my favorite calls during my independent field work days. While talking to him I realized he had a fond hobby - he loved aeroplanes. In fact, his knowledge was so vast, he knew the wing span and horse power of various military and commercial airplanes.

With this background knowledge, I happened to meet him at his clinic for a call one day. I wanted to launch a new product - SUPERGESIC CREAM - to him.

As an ice breaker, I started talking about aeroplanes and the Aero show (for which Bangalore has now become famous - in fact, this year's aero show is to start in a week's time). After some talk about planes, I took out the launch visual aid, and started, "Dr., planes are known for their swiftness, and here I am pleased to launch a new SWIFT ACTING, topical approach to pain management, introducing, (pause) Supergesic cream... "

The call went on well. During my next visit after 15 days, a pleasant surprise awaited me from the chemist - he said, Dr. Manohar was prescribing good quantities of Supergesic cream, at least 3 to 6 tubes a day!!

So the hot button here was the aeroplane talk, this was effective in having a productive conversation and good storytelling on Supergesic cream to Dr. Manohar MD. This incident is still fresh and vivid in my memory, thanks to the success.

Thus, the point is that one has to discover the hot buttons of a person and strike a conversation based on the likes and dislikes.

In fact, I had learnt this point from my dad - Late Suresh G Chiplunkar, a PSR with Wyeth. He would share with me (when I was still going to college), how based on the tastes of a doctor, like say, films, one has to start the doctor call with that point.

Mr. Vivek Balse, a good family friend and an exceptionally gifted PSO with Pfizer, would share with me his experiences too. I believe Pfizer called this approach of effective conversations with doctors as SOCIAL STYLE SELLING TECHNIQUE. The technique was to basically align the in - clinic activity with the personal interests of the doctor and finally put across the product message.

Digital marketing and pharma

Digital marketing and pharma have a sort of love-hate relationship. On one hand, all pharma marketers agree to the immense potential of the internet and digital media for marketing activities. However, all wonder why the adoption of these digital technologies is not as swift as it could be.

One reason is that pharma marketers still swear by the conversations (including story telling & messaging) between the field force and the doctors - as the foundation of pharma sales. Pharma marketing does not envision any other form of effective conversations with the target doctor community. There is an important reason for this belief. The reason is: EFFECTIVE PHARMA SELLING IS A HI-TOUCH EXPERIENCE. There is an intimacy between the MR and the doctor, which is in fact responsible for prescription generation. Digital marketing on the other hand, is not personalized. It is standoffish and there is a thinking that digital marketing may not result in better sales. Hence, pharma marketers feel it is better to play with the time- tested & trusted winning business model - and that is invest on MRs (more and more of them), and more on in-clinic activities between doctors and MRs - to ensure prescription generation.

Is there a way out of this e-imbroglio?

E-imbroglio is a pharma marketing phenomenon characterized by inertia to adopting digital marketing concepts and techniques.

The main reason for the e-imbroglio in pharma marketing is that digital marketing avenues are not positioned as effective for conversations that can result in doctor conversions and enhanced prescription generation. Digital marketing is visualized as a costly add-on to traditional sales and marketing through MRs. The ROI from digital marketing campaigns is anybody's guess - hence, pharma marketers continue to invest in the MR based pharma product promotional formats.

The best way out to increase adoption of digital media for effective sales and marketing is to use a HI TOUCH-HI TECH approach.


Hi-touch refers to the human touch of marketing, represented by MRs. Hi-tech refers to use of high tech gadgets and techniques to enhance sales and marketing activities. In the Hi-touch and Hi-tech approach the MRs, field personnel and Head Office personnel use digital media in a co-ordinated way to have enhanced conversations with doctors.

Example 1: Background: India has one of the world's highest mobile phone penetrations. In fact, every doctor has a mobile phone. Every MR has a mobile phone.

Let us say we want to create a campaign for electrolyte energy drinks in prescribing practice.

Step 1: Provide a mobile phone to each MR with which one can record a doctor's medical opinion with some clinical patient photos on how electrolyte energy drinks have delivered patient value.

Step 2: MR sends the same to Head Office, through email, and this is posted on the product portal.

Step 3: MR informs his doctors about the posts, and the doctor community visits the product portal to view and understand the medical opinions of other doctors.

Step 4: A poll is conducted to find out which are the most interesting clinical videos and the most voted one is given a good gift. The doctors can also discuss issues relating to the videos on message boards available in the portal. They can also be enticed to listen to e-detailing.

Example 2: Background: The pneumococcal vaccine is sometimes in a bind - some pediatricians feel it is not a very valuable vaccine as it provides protection from invasive pneumococcal disease only - and not from the common types of clinical pneumonia.

The pharma marketer's problem here is to enhance consumption of this vaccine. This can be done by reiterating that this is a necessary protection to some susceptible groups (to begin with).

The marketer launches a mobile phone based case study photographing campaign of invasive pneumococcal disease in diabetics. The case studies are collected by MRs in collaboration with the doctors on whom they call.

These medical opinion case study videos are uploaded on the product portal and doctors are informed of the same. These doctors will not only see their video but will engage in conversations on the website message boards and they can view the videos of their colleagues too.

Such doctors can also be encouraged to listen to e-detailing podcasts on the importance of pneumococcal vaccine in diabetics. They can also order for samples or purchase vaccines at discounted prices or print out a discount voucher for gifting to patients who opt to get vaccinated.

The above approaches can be used for any campaign - like liver disease case study campaign, antibiotic resistance clinical study campaign, etc.


When such e-CRM (customer relationship management) approaches are adopted not only will pharma marketers get out of the e-imbroglio, they will also see enhanced product adoption. Besides, patients and doctors too will get to enjoy the benefits of the digital revolution leading to better patient care and healing.

The digital medium is a great enabler for pharma marketers to create a selling environment, to the patients it is an empowering medium, and for doctors the digital medium facilitates instant and real-time communication. The digital medium helps overcome geographical barriers.

Thanks for reading this blogpost, please scroll down and read all other blogposts, they are worth it!! Click on older posts, wherever required.


Jeet said...

Dear Mr. Sunil,
Indeed it is a very apt written article and we @ lavandoo totally advocate the same principles. It is all about engagement, made meaningful with information in a manner chosen by the informant.

I am sure the industry will dust itself from traditional marketing and look towards better ways to reach information and empower the MR from being a information delivery gate keeper to superior relationship gate keeper.

Its always been a pleasure reading your posts, please keep it going.

Sunil S Chiplunkar said...

Thanks Jeet for your time and interest. In years to come, managing clinical and patient experiences will be an important role of MRs.