There are two types of discussion when selling and in Pharmaceuticals sales  it’s the same. The first type of discussion between the company and the physician is best termed a “no conflict story”. In this case there is a medical need which a physician seeks and only one or two companies have a credible solution. The second type of discussion is a “conflict story”. In this case there is no initial medical issue seen by the physician and only when a company raises an issue with the current status quo effectively, evidenced based,  will a physician be convinced to do something different.

1. Issue- Physician- Company- Resolution (No Conflict Story)
2. Physician- Company- Issue- Resolution (Conflict Story)

There is an important difference between these two stories / or discussions and its vital to understand which of these your company will be best places to use to communicate your brand from.

No Conflict stories

In these conversations a pharma brand finds a willing and receptive audience. There is a need that the physician has which only the brand in the story can resolve.  I’m using the phrase “No Conflict Story”  to describe that the story the company needs to tell will not meet resistance by the physician because the physicians and patients need is great and the current options are limited.  These brands often have novel modes of action and may be first in class molecules. Either way the objections to the company story are usually based on long term safety data (often missing at launch) or the associated long term value.

Elements of a “No Conflict Story

  1. Unmet need generally greater than conflict stories
  2. Number of therapeutic options are limited
  3. Long term outcome data often missing
  4. Story depends on science story – MOA
  5. Objections often based on value over long term
  6. Brand offers clear therapeutic advance

Conflict Stories

These situations are more common in the dialogue between pharma brands and Physicians. In these situations the pharmaceutical company has to communicate brand value in an area where there is already established competition and where the unmet need is lower than with the “No conflict story”.

Why Stories?

I use the word story to represent the communication between a company and the physician. Its an interesting analogy because there seems to be a key element to the communication that is often seen in storytelling but I have yet to see used in pharma communications. The key to telling a successful story in these cases is to raise conflict with the current status quo.  Successful brands raise this conflict in the physicians mind to such a level that when the conflict is resolved by the brand in the story the resistance to change or the “Motivation Barrier” is crossed and uptake is much more likely (See figure1). If the brand story is told without raising sufficient conflict the motivational barrier isn’t crossed and the brand is less likely to be used.  It’s no longer possible to create marketing communications that simply list product attributes.

Pharma brands need to be relevant to physicians and stories are a perfect way to communicate meaning simply and quickly.  I have discussed many aspects of creating different stories (See other posts) but I think the most important point is that the customer should complete the story for themselves. The communication should raise an issue (Conflict) and provide a brand that can resolve this. The way in which it resolves the issue should be created by the customer and used to close the communication.

Fig 1

Conflict story

Elements of a “Conflict Story”

  1. Conflict stories originate out of the need to change a status quo with an already satisfied customer.
  2. Conflicts can be rational where you have better data that the competition. Superior evidence based medicine (EBM) at a similar cost.
  3. Conflicts can be emotional where you have better patient outcomes like Quality of Life (QoL) or you brand makes the physicians treatment options easier or you provide value for  payors.
  4. Conflicts can be both rational and emotional at the same time.
  5. Different diseases have different levels of emotional and rational unmet needs.
  6. If you can’t answer either better emotional or rational reasons for change you will not motivate change and the status quo will remain.
  7. Delivery of a story can be key:
    1. emotional issue, rational data giving emotional benefit
    2. Rational issue emotional benefit leading to a rational choice

Understanding the type of stories “Conflict or No conflict” and the elements inside each of these stories is essential to build motivating marketing campaigns. They will cut through the clutter of other non motivating brands and allow yours to be effective.  This process will also help you control the marketing expenses making each customer contact more productive.