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Learn how to navigate the ThoughtLeader landscapes in the new normal.
Physicians are facing a major backlog of patient cases after Covid-19 diverted healthcare resources throughout 2020. ThoughtLeaders, or Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) and, clinicians on the ground are now harder than ever to access and activate, winning share of mind requires deeper knowledge of their networks and careful planning of every engagement.
Communication between ThoughtLeaders and clinicians has been impeded. So, to make an impact in the ‘new normal’, you need intimate knowledge of the ThoughtLeader landscape. You also need to understand how it is changing and how influence is shifting, including among Rising Stars. Equally important is an understanding of which KOLs are most active on social media, and on which platforms.
Know your target
No two ThoughtLeaders have the same priorities. You need, therefore, expert knowledge of every one of your target KOLs’ individual preferences and goals in order to make a more personalized approach and provide value. For example:
- What are their clinical interests?
- Are they experts in a particular treatment or technique?
- What are their preferred treatment approaches in clinical practice?
- What does value mean to them?
- How can they best be supported?
- How predisposed are they to work with pharma companies?
When choosing to engage ThoughtLeaders in clinical research partnerships, it’s important to target the right ones. At what level do they influence others – globally, nationally, or regionally? Do they have the stature and energy to impact on formularies and treatment algorithms? Do they influence other ThoughtLeaders, and if so, which ones and how?
If you aim to leverage your target KOL as a speaker, or an author on a publication, be sure to read all their previous material before you engage with them, to learn what drives them professionally.
Or if you plan to recruit your target ThoughtLeader onto a (virtual) advisory board, think about how you can assign each physician a role, topic, or section of the agenda that best fits their own clinical interests and priorities.
Understand your target’s network
Many ThoughtLeaders are most engaged with life science companies when a colleague they trust already has a relationship with the company. Remember: while two physicians may be ‘connected’ if, say, they work in the same hospital, that doesn’t necessarily mean one will influence the other. It could be quite the opposite if there are divergences in their treatment approaches or clinical priorities.
That means you need to know who your chosen KOL has partnered with in clinical trials, shared roles with on leadership boards and in organizations and associations, and collaborated with on published articles, editorial boards, conference talks, and physician panels. In short, you need to know who is playing a role in their decision making.
Personalize your approach
ThoughtLeaders will respond differently to different messaging and channels of delivery. For this reason, personalization is the key here and requires careful planning. Some KOLs are more in demand or over-committed than others and harder to reach; some will respond to email, some to a cold phone call, some, a personalized LinkedIn connection or introduction via a close colleague. Others may be better reached through conferences or education programs.
Understanding their digital habits, and their social media interactions with other KOLs can identify new routes to share of mind from digital connections built in the shift to virtual engagement.
Mapping the most direct route to success
Machine learning, artificial intelligence, and deep knowledge are giving life sciences companies the insights to grow their share of mind through different channels. It is now possible to instantly create complex, detailed maps of each ThoughtLeader’s reach of influence, showing researchers, marketers, commercial and medical affairs how to engage with each individual and build more meaningful relationships quickly.
Those relationships – formed from mapping, navigating, and engaging target KOL networks effectively as Covid-19 continues to restrict face to face contact – will be fundamental to brand success in 2021 and beyond.
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The events of 2020 have necessitated some major changes in ThoughtLeader – otherwise known as Key Opinion Leaders, External (Scientific) Experts, or Key External Experts – engagement strategy. Where resources were typically focussed on the global top 50 or 100 in a given disease area, it’s now just as important to engage KOLs at lower levels of influence too: nationally, regionally, and locally. A holistic, integrated strategy has become fundamental to pharma brand success.
The reasons are twofold. The first is that, in a healthcare market in which more than a third (36%) of drugs are currently failing to meet market expectations such as in the United States, pharma brands need buy-in from the bottom up as well from the top down. While global ThoughtLeaders are best placed to offer advice on brand positioning and exchange scientific data, it’s the multi-disciplinary physicians, nurse practitioners, and pharmacists on the ground who are making treatment and prescribing decisions. Local and regional ThoughtLeaders make a significant impact with their clinical guidance and education.
As the voice of the patient, they need to understand, and have confidence in, the science underlying a product. In a crowded market, clearly communicating that science to ThoughtLeaders at every level is therefore vital. A study of launch performance across 20 brands, found the “leading companies look beyond the key opinion leaders (KOLs) and turn day-to-day prescribers into advocates.”
These advocates then go on to impact their peers, in shared healthcare institutions, involvement in clinical trials or published articles, affiliations in organizations, and associations, roles in medical associations or on editorial boards, meetings at (virtual) conferences, and on physician panels.
The second, more pressing reason why a holistic engagement strategy is now indispensable is that during the global pandemic, it’s no longer possible or practical to meet with ThoughtLeaders in person. The rapid shift to virtual has focused first on education and scientific meetings, a situation likely to continue into the future and spread rapidly to other engagements. As a result, creating meaningful relationships has become more challenging, particularly with those ThoughtLeaders at the highest level of influence; they’re often the most in-demand, overworked, and less or least digitally engaged.
Those lower down the pyramid of influence, however, are both easier to access and more likely to be a Digital Opinion Leader (DOL). Some of them, including Rising Star ThoughtLeaders, influence hundreds of other clinicians, often through mediums untapped by the top 50: LinkedIn articles, email newsletters, Twitter, and social networks used exclusively by medical professionals, among others.
So a well-researched introduction to a national, regional, or local DOL – addressing their individual unmet needs – in the form of a LinkedIn connection request, tweet, or cold email, can open doors to a much wider audience. As Pfizer’s internal digital marketing mantra goes: ‘be useful, be human, be connected‘.
The historic challenge in doing so was that a holistic approach, engaging community by pinpointing which ThoughtLeaders are interacting and sharing best practices, does require a huge quantity of data – far more than can be collected with desktop research.
But technology can now provide this data in seconds. Precision intelligence platforms, powered by machine learning, artificial intelligence, and deep learning, can uncover and depict intricate maps of clinicians around the world, how these clinicians interact, and show on the most effective channels of engagement in real-time.
This creates a major opportunity for MSLs and marketers to engage with communities at global, national, regional, and local levels, with the right outreach, at the right time. With the market environment set to be no less challenging for new pharma products in 2021, that engagement will be invaluable for pharma brand success.
Ready to get started? Contact us at [email protected] or call +1 404.496.4136. to discuss your ThoughtLeader strategy.