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.