Conquering generational differences in HCP marketing
Words by Jade Williams
With multiple generations now within the healthcare workforce, three doctors share their thoughts on how the pharmaceutical industry can improve its approach to engagement
Dr Harry Gibbs (left)
Programme Director, Outpatients Programme, and Deputy Director, General Medicine, The Alfred Hospital, Melbourne
Dr Derek Connolly (centre)
Consultant Cardiologist, Birmingham City and Sandwell Hospitals, and Director of Research and Development, Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust
Dr Farhan Hussain (right)
Resident Doctor, various hospitals across New York City and Connecticut
The Gen Z healthcare professional workforce is making its way from training programmes and placements into GP surgeries and hospitals, taking up posts alongside their millennial, Generation X and Baby Boomer colleagues. But for a generation having grown up surrounded by digital innovations – and many not knowing a world without personal devices – they may be doing the same job as their more established counterparts but with very different approaches and preferences.
While this diversity of perspective can be seen as a benefit on many levels, it poses a mounting challenge for pharma marketers and medical affairs professionals. How should they adapt their communication to cater to the needs and wants of very different generations of HCPs? Three doctors representing Gen Z, Gen X and Generation Jones – from the latter part of the Baby Boomer generation – share their views.
What is your preferred channel of communication with pharma?
Gen Jones: Face to face
Gen X: Online meetings
Gen Z: Digital interactions
What is pharma doing well when communicating with HCPs?
Gen Jones: I find most reps are quite good at coming into my office, sitting down and chatting things over with a coffee. Once a two-way flowing conversation is growing it creates a nice environment that I do enjoy.
Gen X: The implementation of more Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) has definitely been the way forward for pharma because there’s now much less of a hard sell coming from the industry. There are fewer ‘standard’ reps nowadays and more people who understand the science, and that compassion and ability to see where clinicians sit is incredibly important.
Gen Z: Pharma does a great job communicating in a professional manner with HCPs, I always feel like there’s a good level of respect between us both.
What isn’t pharma quite getting the hang of?
Gen Jones: I have to admit, I don’t read any of the marketing material that the reps bring in – I prefer to do my own research. I’ll go off and read the material on the drug in a peer-reviewed journal because I trust it more. The issue is that a lot of the facts and figures reps bring to the table are relative. You’ll receive data from the study, but the percentage differences won’t quite match up with each other because it’s framed in a way to market the drug.
If I’m going to change my practice, I have to be sure that what I’m doing is in the best interests of my patients. Also, I think it’s quite obvious when a rep hasn’t properly studied the material they’re presenting. They’ll go straight into the marketing spiel and try to sell, whereas you can tell when a rep is truly passionate about the product they’re pitching.
You can tell when a rep is truly passionate about the product they’re pitching
Gen X: There’s an enormous variation between different companies. There are some that, to be honest, are absolute hell to work with because they’ve worked the same way for years and don’t seem to change their systems then wonder why people don’t use their products. With other companies, you feel like they’re there to help you. I don’t think the pharmaceutical industry realises this.
Gen Z: While I haven’t had much experience just yet, I can already tell that sometimes when advertising a new drug it’s quite difficult to assess how new products are different from their older counterparts. Why should I choose this drug when the old ones work just fine? It’s not always so easy to tell when you’re not familiar with the new drug. So, having that comparative information alongside all the new facts and indications could be really useful but isn’t necessarily provided by pharma reps. As such, this is information we have to spend time researching on our own.
How would you suggest pharma can improve?
Gen Jones: It’s about having that base belief in your product and also a case of utilising advisory boards. Healthcare professionals need to be brought to the table so we can interject at the right times and give the right information to marketing teams – otherwise, it’s the blind leading the blind.
Gen X: It’s a competitive space. The key point is that companies with more MSLs and those that provide services rather than doing the hard sell are the ones that will ultimately be successful.
I’m also appreciative of companies that have kept a balance between face-to-face meetings and online ones. What the internet allows for, however, is relaxing in the evening when the kids are in bed and having ability to chat to reps through Zoom or Teams in a relaxed fashion – that’s super. The NHS is very pushed at the moment so not having to travel up and down the country for meetings is a big timesaver.
Gen Z is all about efficiency and being online
Gen Z: Since doctors are heavily research oriented, reps should focus on the differences in new medicines compared to the relevant clinical data. We’re not just looking for more information, we need it to be relevant and useful to our decision to adopt new drugs. A clear understanding is the first step in that process.
In addition, Gen Z is all about efficiency and being online. If there was a way pharma could reach out to individual practitioners online in a fast and efficient way, perhaps on a unified platform rather than lengthy phone calls, that would be preferred. It’s about quality over quantity.
Top tips for pharma marketers
Ensure reps learn and understand all marketing materials
Bring HCPs to the table through advisory boards
Add a human touch to conversations and avoid the hard sell
Don’t be afraid to refresh strategies and try different approaches
Make things easy for HCPs by providing as much relevant detail as possible
Aim for quality over quantity.
This feature appears in GOLD 26 – read the full issue here.