Editor's note: Richard Vanderveer is chief innovation officer at ThinkGen. He can be reached at richard.vanderveer@think-gen.com.

New marketing challenges often require the use of new approaches to marketing research. For example, using free-flowing conversations as the data collection technique and the psychology of habit as the analytical framework, it becomes possible to deal systematically with an emerging pharmaceutical marketing environment, even if “We don’t know what we don’t know.”

More specifically, recent years have seen a reduction in the willingness of physicians to spend their time being detailed by pharmaceutical sales representatives (PSRs). This trend was significantly accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as its required multi-month cessation of personal visits by PSRs to doctors’ offices caused doctors to reconsider their long-standing habit of allowing – and often encouraging – such visits. To fill the void during these lockdown months, pharmaceutical companies turned to “virtual details,” with PSRs “visiting” with physicians via Zoom and other videoconferencing platforms. During that time, companies also placed a greater reliance on e-mails, phone calls, etc., to keep in contact with physicians. 

Throughout the pandemic and moving into the post-pandemic period, we have been having monthly conversations (see below) with office-based physicians, primarily high-prescribing specialists, studying the backstories of their various forms of engagement with pharmaceutical companies. Increasingly, articles in the trade press and reports by major consulting firms are recommending the use of artificial intelligence to customize and personalize companies’ engagements with physicians. But, to take meaningful steps in this direction, companies need to understand the psychology of engagement. What are physicians looking to accomplish through their engagements with pharmaceutical companies? How ...