Biotech Brand Building: Audience Archetypes


Over the last two decades, pharmaceutical and biotech marketers have witnessed a rapid evolution in the size and complexity of their audience. Twenty-five years ago, there was essentially a single audience for marketers: the physician.

However, that began to change in the mid-90s with the rise of DTC marketing, and patients became an increasingly important audience. These changes continued in the 2000s as the heightened focus on healthcare costs and implementation of the ACA elevated the role of payers in prescription decisions.

Today, biotech marketers must account for three distinct audiences: physicians, patients, and payers. Each of these audiences have unique needs and play distinct roles in the prescription decision-making process. However, marketers have limited resources, and it’s critical to prioritize these audiences in developing effective marketing strategies.

Ultimately, it’s important for marketers to understand whether prescription decisions for their products are physician-driven, patient-driven, or payer-driven. With this understanding, they can prioritize their resources to focus on their key audience. In this blog, we explore three audience archetypes: physician-driven, patient-driven, and payer-driven products.

Physician Driven Archetype

Physician-driven categories are typically for more serious medical conditions where treatments can often result in serious side effects. Oncology is perhaps the best example of a physician-driven therapeutic area. Needless to say, cancer is a complex disease and treatments must be selected carefully to optimize the balance of safety and efficacy. In most prescription scenarios, Oncologists are the primary prescription decision-makers.

Typically, cancer patients will defer to the Oncologist’s recommendation, so patients are less influential than in other therapeutic areas. Payers, too, will often defer to the Oncologist’s expertise. Although there have recently been questions about the cost / benefit of expensive oncology treatments, payers have historically been hesitant to significantly restrict access when a patient’s life is on the line.

For these physician-driven categories, marketing messages tend to be more clinical and technical in nature. Messages often focus on safety, efficacy and clinical outcomes.

Patient Driven Archetype

Patient-driven categories are typically for quality of life conditions where side effects are usually minimal. A good example is treatment for Erectile Dysfunction. ED is not a necessarily a life-threatening disease, but it can significantly impact the quality of life for people experiencing this condition. Furthermore, the side effects of current ED treatments are relatively benign compared to most other prescription drugs.

In patient-driven categories, physicians often defer to the patient’s preference, so the patient is more influential. For instance, individual patients, rather than physicians, typically initiate the discussion about ED. In response, physicians often present all of the available ED treatments and let the patient select the treatment that best meets their needs.

For these patient-driven categories, marketing communications tend to be more emotional messages that focus on quality of life. These messages are more likely to be communicated through mass media, such as television or digital ads.

Payer Driven Archetype

Payer-driven categories are most often commoditized therapeutic areas where there is little perceived clinical difference among treatment options. Insulin is a good example of a payer-driven category. Insulin is has been clinically available for many decades, and there are many different companies that offer very similar forms of insulin. Although pharmaceutical companies have engineered new insulin formulations to alter the duration of its effect, insulin is, well . . . insulin.

In payer-driven categories, physicians and patients will often defer to formulary coverage in selecting their insulin. Because there are relatively few perceived differences in the safety and efficacy of insulin options of similar duration, physicians will often select the insulin that is covered by insurance and least expensive for their patients.

For these payer-driven categories, marketing messages tend to focus on access: the cost of the product, coverage on major insurance plans or the availability of copay cards that reduce out of pocket costs for patients are all critical in the prescription decision-process.

Audience Archetypes

Indeed, every brand is unique, and marketers must prioritize audiences based on their unique circumstances. However, deeper analysis across biotech and pharmaceutical brands reveals broad patterns from which emerge a few key archetypes: Physician-driven products, patient-driven products, and payer-driven products.

By identifying and exploring the implications of these archetypical competitive contexts, biotech marketers are able to focus their resources on audiences that will have the biggest influence on prescription decisions.

Dan Callahan is the Founder and President of Vivisum Partners. He specializes in creating multi-phase research programs that combine quantitative, qualitative and strategic facilitation methodologies. Email Dan at dan.callahan@vivisumpartners.com