5 prescriber profiles to target before launching a new drug

Customer profiling in marketing is the analysis of psychological and behavioral characteristics to identify the typical or ideal customer for a company.

For the pharmaceutical industry, prescriber profiling is an essential tool for successful marketing or launching a new product on the market. Thus, the pharmaceutical industry will “profile” its potential prescribers to understand their needs, adapt the communication according to the profile and above all help the medico-marketing to make better commercial and business decisions.

Read this article in french version.

Profiling: an indispensable tool to accelerate the adoption pathway.

Adoption is the process by which physicians become users of a product, first by trying it out for a few patients, then by becoming an occasional or even long-term prescriber. Product adoption is one of the most important business objectives for the pharmaceutical industry. If your product is adopted, you create a customer base and gain market position.

Product adoption marks the transition from being unknown and foreign to being used and welcomed by prescribers.

Customer adoption models are important for understanding how to market a new product to achieve successful uptake. While Rogers’ theory applies to all types of customers, it is also applied to healthcare professionals: for example, pharmaceutical companies use it to segment and profile each physician to place them in the right product adoption timeline.

Without a clear understanding of the values of each type of adopter, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to target them through marketing.

In his book, Diffusion of Innovations (1962), Everett M Rogers, a communications specialist and sociologist, describes five types of product adopters and provides insight into each.

The 5 types of adopters for new products and innovations

Blue represents the consumer groups that adopt a new technology and yellow represents the market share that obviously reaches 100% after full adoption. This is the point of market saturation.

Rogers presents a social system for adopters of recent innovations; innovation adoption varies throughout the product life cycle, as shown in the diagram above.

  1. The Innovators (2.5%)
  2. The Early Adopters (13.5%)
  3. The Early Majority (34%)
  4. The Late Adopters (34%)
  5. Very Late Adopters (16%) or Laggards

Let’s look at each type and see how they differ from each other :

The Innovators (2,5%)

Innovators are the first customers to try a new product. They are, by nature, keen risk-takers and are excited by the possibilities of new ideas and new ways of doing things. They typically learn about the product long before it is officially launched, attend medical conferences and are the first to adopt it and give feedback.

Innovators make up 2.5% of the population and an important marketing strategy is to target them early, well before the launch. Indeed, innovators will be the first population to be targeted. One would expect the marketing team to identify these people very early in product development (not after a launch). Marketing and medical should engage these people, involve them in early user testing, and generally gain their support.

These are the “influencers” of Key Opinion Leaders, who are closely followed by the medical population: as a result, their recommendations on the new product as well as their opinion on the efficacy and safety of use are highly anticipated by the rest of the medical community.

Our bonus tip:

If innovators are the first to adopt a new molecule or technology, they will also be the first to try other innovations once they are released on the market: so the laboratory cannot rely too much on their loyalty to their product and must immediately follow up with the “early adopters”.

Early Adopters (13,5%)

Early Adopters will be targeted by following the innovators, they can be approached prior to a product launch and again the focus will be on finding out what that sector needs. Marketers may choose to support early adopters with additional technical knowledge to encourage them to share their ideas with those who follow their lead.

Mass marketing of a product must be attractive and beneficial to early adopters if opinion leaders are to be convinced to support product adoption.

Early adopters normally have a reasonably high social status (which allows them to be opinion leaders), and a reasonable approach to risk. However, they do not take as much risk as innovators and tend to make more reasoned decisions about whether or not to commit to a particular product. They will try to get more information than an innovator in this decision-making process.

Our bonus tip:

They are usually the most influential people in the market and often have some degree of “leadership” for other potential adopters. They can be very active in social media and often create reviews and other materials around new products they like or dislike.

The “Early Majority” (34%)

People in this category adopt an innovation after a variable amount of time. This adoption time is significantly longer than that of innovators and early adopters. The early majority tend to be slower in the adoption process, are in contact with early adopters, and rarely occupy opinion leader positions in a system (Rogers 1962 5th ed., p. 283)

Although these healthcare professionals are not opinion leaders in their own right, they are often in contact with opinion leaders and use the opinions of opinion leaders to make their adoption decisions.

Our extra advice:

Because this profile of prescribers takes a little longer to adopt a new product, it is necessary to gain their trust by asking them to try it on a small number of patients so they can make up their own mind about the effectiveness/risk ratio.

The Late Majority (34%)

The Late Majority is rather more skeptical about the adoption of new molecules than the first three categories of adopters. They tend to prescribe only well-known, proven molecules and are reluctant to take risks. As might be expected, this profile of physicians has less interaction with opinion leaders and innovators than the other adopter groups. The late majority rarely provides any form of thought leadership in any field.

Our extra advice:

While it’s tempting for marketing to target this type of volume prescriber early on, given that they make up a large percentage of prescribers, (34%), you’ll waste a lot of time and money targeting them early on because they need a lot of evidence in order for them to build their own opinions.

The laggards (16%)

Laggards are the last to arrive at the adoption party and their arrival is usually a sign that a product is entering decline. They value traditional methods and are very resistant to change and to new molecules. In general, these prescribers are of low socioeconomic status and rarely seek opinions outside their own limited social circles. However, it should be noted that in many cases, these very late adopters are older people who attend fewer medical conferences and are less comfortable with new molecules that they are not familiar with and have never used to treat their patients.

Crossing the gap between the Early Adopters and the Early Majority is a challenge for pharmaceutical companies.

With Innovators and Early Adopters making up only 16% of the target audience, it is very difficult to achieve sales targets with these two categories. The gap between the early adopters and the early majority is a major challenge for the pharmaceutical industry because these groups are very different and require completely different marketing strategies. While the early adopters are willing to try something entirely new, the early and late majority want a solution that works, that cures and relieves patients without side effects and with an affordable price.

The only way to cross this gap is to identify a niche segment among the early majority and focus all efforts on developing the entire product solution serving that segment. Once that niche has adopted the new product, the company can focus its efforts on a second niche. The key to gaining a foothold in the mass market is to use the first segment of influencers as a reference customer. The company can then begin to shape all its marketing communications to position itself as a market leader and risk mass market adoption.

In conclusion…

Despite the relatively small number of innovators in a market, they are often the primary target of a company’s marketing efforts. Since innovators tend to influence other potential prescribers, i.e. the majority, companies have a strong incentive to devote more marketing effort and resources to innovators than to the majority. This is a prescriber profile to target, well in advance of the new product launch, and to emphasize to build a strong launch base.

Pharma Market Solutions supports you in strategic and operational marketing consulting as well as in digital transformation. For more information, visit our website.

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