The Influentials For Health Care and Pharmaceuticals

The old model for advertising assumes a one-way single-path method for transmission of a message through mass media directly to the potential consumers.  Of course, life is more complex than that, because when messages get out to people, they get passed around, amplified and distorted by people.  Furthermore, different people have different impact on the re-transmission of the messages.

Among the message recipients, the most important ones are probably those who are known as the 'influentials.'  Who are they?  These is the relatively small set of people in the population who drive what the others think, do and buy.  Consider the case of a pharmaceutical drug.  Within a 30 second television commercial, there is only so much that can communicated about the importance and effectiveness of the product.  Actually, the commercial is lucky just to communicate some imagery and there is little chance of making a sales pitch based upon performance data.  By comparison, consider another scenario in which the potential consumer consults an esteemed person with his/her social network, who is well-informed about the product and will give a credible endorsement.  This is a better sales tool than countless number of repeated advertising exposures.

Ed Keller and Jon Berry wrote a book aptly titled The Influentials: One American in Ten Tells the Other Nine How to Vote, Where to Eat, and What to Buy.  But as with marketing as a whole, the influentials may differ by product category.  The person whom you esteem for knowledge about buying an automobile may not be your best source of information for treating your hypertension condition.  And the person whom you consult about buying your next computer may not be the most reliable advisor about how to invest your 401(k). 

We will now refer to the 2004 MARS OTC/DTC Pharmaceutical Study.  This is a mail survey of 21,054 adults in the United States conducted during the first quarter of 2004.  Within the survey, the respondents were show the statement "I am influential about healthcare and pharmaceuticals among friends" and only 5% of the respondents said that they agree a lot.  This is the small group of influentials for the healthcare and pharmaceutical sector.

Who are these people?  The chart below gives some idea.  First of all, this has to be with education, as those with post-graduates studies (and this group surely includes many healthcare workers) are more knowledgeable and respected for their opinions.  That would come as no surprise.  The second part is more interesting, and is based upon the self-evaluation of current health.  The data distribution is U-shaped.  On one hand, those who really know how to take care of themselves are in better shape that the rest.  On the other hand, those who are in really bad shape have had to learn through personal travails just what and why some things work and others don't, and this type of knowledge can only be characterized as bittersweet.  But they are probably as good as what the doctors will tell you.

(Source: 2004 MARS)

Before you can enlist the help of the influentials to promote your pharmaceutical product, it is still necessary to reach these them first.  The following chart shows the percent of the influentials who are in the top quintile (20%) of five major media.  Had the influentials been exactly the same as the general adult population, each of these would be exactly 20% (=one-fifth) of the population.  From this chart, we see that they are more likely to be read magazines; they are also somewhat more likely to use the Internet, television and newspapers; but they are relatively light radio listeners, for whatever reasons.

(Source: 2004 MARS)

In a recent press release from NOP World, the MRI Survey of American Consumer characterized the media usage of "influential" Americans who are defined as the "the critical 10 percent of the population who drive what the other 90 percent think, do and buy."  The percent of the "influentials" who are in the top media quintile is as follows:

The NOP World results do not refer to a specific product category, and here we are observing some divergence between the generalized NOP World results and the category-specific MARS results.  Of course, such a difference may also occur at a finer level, as when ailment-specific results (e.g. for cancer) may differ from the generalized healthcare results.

(posted by Roland Soong, 3/05/2005)

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