Home > Our Perspective > Breaking Through the Noise

How do I break through the noise to reach physicians and ensure they retain key messages?

Pressures on physicians are growing

Research from many different sources over the past several years has shown that a steady increase of new medical information, growing administrative burdens, and navigating payer pressures has left healthcare providers (HCPs) with limited time each day. Throughout 2020 and beyond, we will be under various restrictions due to COVID-19 that will impact in-person interactions in many ways.

The immediate effect of COVID-19 was the shutdown of in-person communication from sales force to physicians, an uptick in attempts to connect via telesales calls, and the increased pressure on physicians to manage patient populations that were also quarantined. This has led to a jump in digital communication and an increase in physicians seeking information via digital platforms.

We expect this trend to continue in varying degrees as states slowly start to reopen and begin to deal with potential virus resurgence. Looking ahead to the next 3 to 5 years, we expect the increased reliance on digital sources of information to remain elevated.

Despite these shifts in tools and platforms, this offers a real opportunity for strategic brands to leverage and reframe digital and nonpersonal outreach initiatives.

Data-driven audience targeting helps identify the RIGHT audience

If you have historically failed to break through the noise or haven’t seen any retention of your message nor an increase in prescriptions, you might be talking to the wrong audience and presenting the wrong message. The first step for any successful campaign is to identify the most valid targets first, then understand what messages will resonate with them and how to reach them.

To effectively pinpoint your audience, you should:

  • Start with a data-driven approach to identify the ideal audiences for promotional efforts
    • Use data partners to identify current prescription writers, high priority writers based on similar diagnosis or category writing behavior, and new or non-called-on targets to expand efforts digitally to potential growth audiences
    • Identify the most productive audience so you know where to focus your promotional efforts. Which audiences are more likely to generate revenue for the brand? This step reduces the amount of waste in commercial plans
    • Don’t forget about mid-levels: Nurse practitioners and physician assistants could be important decision makers in the process. Seek to understand how these HCPs fit within your target audience

  • Use research to develop messaging and tactical strategies. Understand your audience, what their day looks like, what is happening in their industry, and what problems they are dealing with that your brand can support
    • Syndicated and first-party research provides timely and strategic insights
    • Uncover beliefs, perceived biases, and attitudes, and understand what they want and don’t want in terms of content and support from pharmaceutical companies. Understanding these beliefs upfront allows you to better measure belief and behavior change driven by your campaign
      • Understand where they are going for information, whether this includes digital, print, or social channels. What sources are considered important, what sources are for reference, and what sources are for learning? How often are they engaging with these sources?
    • Supplement research with insights from pharma sales representatives in the market. What gets physicians excited? What messaging is working; what isn’t working? These firsthand insights sourced through rep relationships are invaluable

Taking these steps to identify the right audience and using research to uncover insights for messaging and tactical decisions will provide a strong platform for a successful promotional campaign that drives ROI and measurable behavior change.

Provide content physicians want and need

Market research studies suggest that 80% of the content that pharma delivers is not what HCPs want.1 Moreover, 70% of physicians agree that “it is crucial that pharma provide education resources rooted in science to gain my trust.”2 Despite this, many pharma brands focus more on heavily promotional messages, rather than investing in developing content that is educational and clinically focused.

It’s also easy to provide your key messages in the same format to all HCPs, but challenge your team to first understand what formats and types of content your audience needs. You can then align your key brand messages within that construct and provide content that will be appreciated and continually referenced by physicians.

Several examples of the type of content physicians want are:

  • Key opinion leader (KOL) and peer opinions and insights
  • Payer coverage tools, references, and patient access support information
  • Coverage and product access alerts, availability, and recalls
  • Patient education around disease state information and/or drug information
  • Summarized clinical data within the disease state via visual abstracts
  • Invitations to speaker programs, conferences, virtual educational events, etc.

Providing content that physicians want and that helps support their clinical practice is vital to building trust and establishing a stronger, more sustainable relationship with your audience.

Combat the forgetting curve with spaced repetition and blended learning styles

The forgetting curve is the decline of memory retention over time. Essentially, information is lost over time when there is no attempt to retain it. The forgetting curve shows that humans tend to halve their memory of newly learned knowledge in a matter of days or weeks unless they consciously review the learned material.

Spaced repetition is the solution to prevent this memory decay and is an essential component of any communications effort. Reviewing material at predetermined intervals will significantly decrease the effects of the forgetting curve.

Graph that shows average audiences forget 90% messages they see within a week, vs when an audience learns through spaced repetition they can retain 90% of messaging they see

Also, if the information is presented in different formats, known as blended learning styles, you will further enhance your odds of retention. Every individual, HCPs included, learns best in different ways.

The majority of adults learn best through visual information, but many also find audio content or interactive (kinesthetic) material valuable. Use a mix of content across these types (eg, journal publications, emails, podcasts, interactive games or quizzes, and others described below) to communicate with your audience more effectively.

There are competing data points about physicians’ interactions with sales reps, and it speaks to the need for understanding your specialty and what their day-to-day workflow looks like. Nearly 80% of physicians prefer getting their information online rather than from a sales rep.3 Many physicians are bombarded with sales rep contacts (receiving more than 2,800 per year),4 whereas others (39%) can go 6 months without communicating with a rep.5

Moreover, in a recent Accenture survey, 43% of HCPs, especially oncologists (46%) and immunologists (44%), said they are currently restricting who can enter the office for professional reasons, and that includes pharmaceutical reps. Of the HCPs with restrictions in place, 28% said they believe this is something they may implement permanently, and another 44% said they would keep the restrictions “for the foreseeable future.”6

Understanding preferences not only in sources of information, but in content and learning styles, will enhance how your audience retains your messaging. Once you understand these preferences, you can seed information across a physician’s digital journey to repeat content, enhance retention, and reinforce your messaging.

New engagement tools or platforms

Researching physicians’ sources of information will likely uncover new tools and platforms that can be leveraged to break through the clutter. Some examples of these platforms that are growing quickly are professional social media, audio, and mobile-based platforms.

Sermo is a professional social media platform, described as a virtual doctor’s lounge, that allows HCPs to post and discuss cases, answer questions, and participate in surveys for honorarium. The unique function of Sermo is that physicians can remain anonymous to each other when posting and answering case questions. This leads to higher frequency and volume of engagements within this platform. Pharma brands can participate in the platform through posts that are targeted to specific lists or specialties, and in the process, gather insights through poll questions around the content posted.

The streaming audio platform ReachMD is focused on HCPs, providing peer-to-peer content via a trusted source for certified education, editorial content, and industry-related features. Programs are consumed in short, easy-to-absorb formats. Pharma brands can engage with ReachMD by developing industry features for disease state education or brand information, or to discuss clinical trials or study information. Another popular way to use the platform is to host a roundtable discussion about treatment for a specific condition. ReachMD leverages the voices of KOLs and professionally develops content that is enduring and educational.

Affectionately dubbed “Instagram for doctors” because of its highly visual and mobile-first platform, Figure 1 is an engaging way to educate physicians about a disease state and engage them with KOLs. Some of the most popular formats on Figure 1 are “cases,” which position clinical scenarios and ask for feedback via commenting or multiple-choice surveys. Pharma brands can engage on Figure 1 through supported cases, newsletters, surveys, and leveraging KOLs for virtual “grand rounds.”


Successfully marketing to physicians requires leveraging strategic insights from research and data partners to identify the right audience, developing messaging that will resonate, and identifying the best opportunities for message repetition.

Now is the time to leverage an increased reliance on digital sources by making sure your content is tailored to solve the clinical practice issues HCPs are facing and are accessible to the audience that is seeking solutions. The medical world’s shift to digital is in hyperdrive, and pharma brands must invest in digital initiatives to successfully engage and educate their audiences despite the rising flood of information.


1. Whitcher J. New frontiers in marketing to clinicians: trends, data, and expert commentary on the expanding toolbox and guidance for the HCP marketer. MM&M eBook, New Frontiers; November 2018. https://www.mmm-online.com/e-books/ 2. Frontline Medical Communications. The future of pharma marketing one to five years out. Accessed August 12, 2020. https://www.frontlinemedcom.com/future-pharma-marketing/ 3. Blue Novius. Pharma Sales Reps are Struggling – Here’s Why. Accessed August 12, 2020. https://www.bluenovius.com/healthcare-marketing/pharma-sales-reps-struggling/ 4. ZS Associates. Want better access to physicians? Understand what’s top of mind. AccessMonitor™ and AffinityMonitor™ 2016 Executive Summary. Accessed August 14. https://www.zs.com/-/media/pdfs/ph_mar_wp_afm_acm_2016_es_v4.pdf?la=en 5. Bulik B. More do-it-yourself docs are finding pharma answers on their own as sales rep contact declines. FiercePharma. Accessed February 4, 2020. https://www.fiercepharma.com/marketing/more-doctor-do-it-yourselfers-find-pharma-answers-their-own-as-all-sales-rep-contact 6. Accenture. Reinventing relevance: New models for pharma engagement with healthcare providers in a COVID-19 world. Accessed August 27, 2020. https://www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/PDF-130/Accenture-HCP-Survey-v4.pdf

You may also be interested in our

Every Interaction Matters White Paper

See what makes us different

Learn how we foster trust in your brand and shift
behavior like no one else.

Our Approach

Let’s move minds together

We’re dedicated to solving your most complex
marketing challenges. Try us out and see for yourself.

Contact us