New normal: How can neuroscience support in general and in pharma-HCP communic...

Illustrative image
Illustrative image

„New normal“ is a real gamechanger. The pharma world is rearranging itself, especially in terms of two aspects: one is pharma-HCP communication and the other is the greater reach and visibility of products due to the higher adoption of digital channels.

How are physicians currently experiencing the new normal? Never before have physicians received information from so many pharma companies through so many channels. Never before have physicians been so selective of both channels and sales reps in order to cope with the new flood of information. Physicians are increasingly closing their minds to this enormous increase in push information. What's more, there has never been so much medical information in so many digital locations, such as apps and homepages, making it challenging for physicians to keep track of it all. Yet on the other hand physicians want to stay up to date and many want to be taken care of. It's a dilemma.

So what does contemporary and simultaneously, from the perspective of pharmaceutical companies, results-oriented communication with physicians look like and how can neuroscientific findings support here in order to achieve a leading position in the reorganization of the market?

The key word is efficiency. Physicians have little time and are exposed to the flood of information described earlier, so they need information that is both specifically relevant to them and concise. Pharmaceutical companies, thanks to the current economic and political challenges, focus on an even higher ROI (return on investment). So, in both cases, efficiency is the goal and therefore also the key, i.e. to achieve higher sales with lower costs and to obtain relevant information in the shortest possible time.

To help both parties achieve their goals at the same time, we now turn to neuroscience. The solution to this apparent dilemma lies in the way the brain works. The brain always works efficiently to save energy. This is well known. Our brain tends to choose the easiest, fastest and most pleasant way to make decisions (Kahneman 2012). It uses concrete principles to do this. In addition, studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) show that decisions can be identified by the way the brain reacts up to ten seconds before it becomes aware of them. In other words, decisions are pre-meditated and made unconsciously in our brains long before we consciously decide (Haynes et al. 2010). If one understands how the brain works and then how a positive decision is made, it makes it easier for the physician to do exactly that. Thus, both sides win, pharma and physician.

Let's look at this in more detail with an example: Let's say you have important information about your product that you want the doctor to remember, such as the mode of action which helps patients to have a speedier recovery. If the physician is aware of this effect, the likelihood that he or she will prescribe your product for appropriate patients increases. To achieve this result, you can use the very powerful option of product-centric metaphors.

Metaphors are tremendous learning accelerators for several simultaneous reasons and are highly effective in supporting a physician’s decision making:

Firstly, metaphors create images in the customer's mind that they are already familiar with  and can understand easily in seconds. This is time efficient. For physicians in particular, time is a scarce commodity; they simply do not have time for long explanations. Metaphors make on-site, phone, video call and even mail conversations shorter and more effective at the same time.

Secondly: In addition, metaphors reduce the need for the brain to actually think. Anything that has a cognitive ease is automatically given preference by the brain over elaborate and time-consuming information. Following this logic, the first-choice effect, for example, can be explained. First-choice means that the brain likes to choose what is easy to grasp or comprehend and seems logical at first glance. So, a doctor is more likely to choose your compound because they can easily understand the metaphor.

Thirdly, metaphors easily trigger emotions due to their visual nature. It is emotions which enable information to be stored and thus remembered. Studies such as that of Ambler et al. (2008) show the differing effects of emotional and rational advertising. The result: test subjects remember emotional advertising better than more factual advertising. This advertising principle is transferable to any communication with HCPs.

If you would like to develop an effective metaphor for your product, then let me give you a final tip from brain research. Be sure to find a positive metaphor and phrase it in a positive way. Why? There are two regions of the brain that are significantly involved in decision making. The U.S. psychologist Anita Tusche and her colleagues (Tusche et al. 2010) confirmed in their study that the stronger the nucleus accumbens is activated and the weaker the insula, the greater the probability that a decision will be positive. Positive phrases, images and emotions are required to activate the nucleus accumbens in the brain. Negative considerations are more likely to activate the insula.

In conclusion, a successful omnichannel manager (sales representative) should be aware of the neural processes of the decision-making process and then actively use them when communicating with customers. Metaphors are a means to profitably use the way the brain operates. Moreover, metaphors can be applied well across the various channels because they are both concise and quickly understood – concise in both speech & writing and even as images in marketing materials. A good metaphor can trigger the motivation to prescribe in seconds. The insights of neuroscience, together with the principles of neuro-selling and neuro-marketing, offer many opportunities to develop the relationship with physicians cost-effectively, especially in the current era.


Kahnemann D (2012) Schnelles Denken, langsames Denken. München: Siedler Verlag.

Tusche A, Bode S, Haynes J-D (2010) Neural responses to unattended products predict later consumer choices. The Journal of Neuroscience, 30(23): 8024-8031.

Ambler T, Ioannides A, Rose S (2008) Business Strategy Review, Volume 11, Issue 3 p. 17-30, Brands on the Brain: Neuro-Images of Advertising

Elke Schwarz is Managing Director of Pharma-LOT, an institute for efficient omnichannel communication. She has been working for the pharmaceutical industry as an expert in neuro-selling and neuro-marketing for over 20 years and has published three books on these topics by Springer-Verlag.


‍New normal: the new hybrid world brings many challenges, but also significant new opportunities. How can neuroscience support in general and in pharma-HCP communication in particular?