How can pharma companies ensure they support HCPs in a meaningful way?

Active Emotionality: Our approach to add value to HCPs and improve patients’ care

By Álvaro Sánchez, Innovation Manager at A Piece of Pie

Before approaching us, our client, a global pharma company, had launched a drug with an innovative Mechanism of Action (MoA) for an autoimmune disease. This new drug was preceded by great results which made expectations run high. Market research studies had confirmed a pressing unmet medical need for a targeted therapy that could be effective with the various clinical manifestations of the disease. Surveyed Health Care Providers (HCPs) and those participating in advisory boards had consistently confirmed this unmet need as their specialty was evolving towards the so-called “personalized medicine”.

The product was launched in a context of great optimism. Our client was convinced that their product would be rapidly adopted since it had the potential to help millions of patients to live better lives. However, after a strong start, the uptake of the treatment progressively stalled. HCPs incorporated the drug to their treatment algorithm but did so mostly in later treatment lines. Two years after the launch, our client came to us with some burning questions. What had gone wrong? How come HCPs did not use a drug that could substantially improve patient outcomes?

Our immediate answer to those questions was that we needed to get the foundations right. We needed a deep and up-to-date understanding of those HCPs. What does really matter to them? What is their overarching need with regards to patients? What were they lacking? What makes them feel fulfilled as doctors? Our hypothesis was that at the root of all problems lay a misplaced understanding of those specialists. And as you might imagine, if you do not really know somebody, it is not an easy task to fulfill his/her needs and be perceived as a value-based partner.

Statements by HCPs regarding their unmet need were taken too literally and their decision-making was seen as a purely rational process, devoid of any emotional component. A commonly-held assumption in the high-tech medical world being that HCPs are only swayed by a product’s functional benefits.

Emotional marketing and sales is about the ability to communicate benefits so they elicit emotions and feelings that in turn lead to new behaviors and better patient outcomes. The big question here is what those emotions and feelings are.

The straight answer here is that it depends on the type of specialist as well as on the disease itself. For instance, the desired feeling for an Hematologist dealing with patients with a highly aggressive disease such Multiple Myeloma will surely be different from that of a Neurologist struggling to act when Relapsing Multiple Sclerosis progresses. Similarly, the desired feeling for a Pulmonologist treating Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) will surely not be the same as that for a Pulmonologist dealing with patients with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis.

In our experience, they key to identify this desired feeling is to really understand the barriers and obstacles HCPs encounter in their day-to-day. What they are lacking personally and with regards to their patients. To look at doctors not only like rational professionals but also as human beings. We call this the North Star Desire. This is the overarching HCP unmet emotional need. This is the North Star that should guide efforts to add value to HCPs in order to improve patient outcomes. And its fulfillment should be the goal of the interactions with doctors. The bad news is that doctors cannot tell you explicitly what this fundamental desire is. In most of cases they are not even consciously aware of it. The good news is that it can be discovered with the use of adequate research techniques and analytical frameworks.

At A Piece of Pie, we have developed a framework called Active Emotionality. Its main purpose is to steer you towards thinking about HCPs as emotional individuals, ultimately taking you through a systematic process for identifying their North Star Desire. Once this strategic insight is unveiled, you will need to ensure that the whole customer experience aims at giving HCPs an ability or superpower that fulfills that desire. Importantly, that ability or superpower would be underpinned by relevant functional benefits, product-related and beyond.

And that is what we did with our client. Guided by our proprietary Active Emotionality framework we found out that HCPs were not as driven by understanding the complexity of the disease as they were by obtaining results for each patient. Their North Star Desire revolved around the idea of having a real impact on patients’ wellbeing and on disease control by making use of their own intuition and clinical experience. Certainly nobody could know more than them what their patients really needed. And we developed the strategy around that desire, aiming at strengthening their experience-based powers of prescience and intuition so they could take what they considered, as experts, the best decisions for their patients.

Over the years we have worked with top global pharma companies, across specialties and in a myriad of diseases, accumulating a wealth of North Star Desires. Along the way, these have changed our clients’ understanding and given focus and clarity to strategy formulation. Ultimately, North Star Desires cut through complexity in a way that is meaningful, inspiring and memorable.

Key learnings

In order for your brand to support HCPs in a meaningful way, we recommend you do the following:

  1. Conduct ethnographic research, and analyze and interpret your findings to unveil the North Star Desire.
  2. Formulate the ability or superpower that your brand should provide to HCPs and design your engagement strategy around it.
  3. Design your customer’s experience around the functional features and benefits that underpin that ability, including but not limited to relevant product attributes.
  4. If possible, include patients in the ethnographic research. Their stories will help you to put those from HCPs in perspective. In fact, in many instances, HCPs’ North Star Desire mirrors that of patients. This shows how patient-centric HCPs have become.

Looking for a change?

At A Piece of Pie, we specialize in the definition and implementation of meaningful commercial strategies, based on a deep and robust understanding of your customers. By means of our emotional & anthropological studies across sectors, we understand what really matters to people, what will connect with them and how to achieve the best outcome out of that connection.

If you want to take a real people-centric approach to engage with your customers and to ensure that thinking is put into action successfully, get in contact with us at

Global consultancy that brings meaningful impact through our unique business anthropology and emotionality approach.