To connect with HCPs, get to know the person behind the robe

How to leverage the human sciences to design a successful engagement model

A Piece of Pie
4 min readMay 6, 2021

By Matilde Cini — Researcher at A Piece of Pie

Data versus emotions

Pharmaceutical companies may know the age, sex, geolocation, digital behavior, and outspoken treatment preferences of physicians. But despite having all these data, they’re still just scratching the surface of who doctors really are and why they behave the way they do. They may have access to the who, the what, and the how. However, market research after market research, they’re still missing the why.

This why is what really moves people’s decisions, it’s the sum of the drivers of their behavior. And these drivers are not rational: they are deeply rooted emotional mechanisms which respond to basic human needs.

To offer some context, in the 1990s, findings in cognitive psychology, anthropology, evolutionary biology, and neurology began to challenge the assumption that taking decisions is a rational process. Scientists realized that emotion and reason are integrated systems rather than separate states. And that emotions (like fear) can prompt action before a subject can cognitively process the threat. In summary, many scientists and researchers now believe that emotions drive actions. And in order to successfully engage with people, be them consumers or physicians, you need to understand which emotions drive them the most.

Doctors are just humans, as irrational as anyone else

The statement that emotions drive actions, and that human behavior is not rational, may seem obvious, and most marketeers take it for granted. However, many people assume that doctors are, somehow, more rational than other humans and act solely on scientific foundations. If that were true, it would be a remarkable anomaly.

A doctor may tell you that she wants formal and relevant interactions with the pharmaceutical industry. But what is “relevant” for her? Do all doctors who tick the “formal and relevant interaction” box in the typing tool actually mean the same? Do they need the same things? And if that’s not the case (spoiler: it is not the case), what do they actually need, and why?

Doctors are, like all of us, human beings with a complex psychological, cultural, social and emotional baggage. To successfully engage with them, we must be able to dismiss the illusion that they are objective professionals with purely scientific motivations, and understand who they are, as people, irrational as everyone else, when they take their medical robe off.

Getting to know them

Take Eva (dermatologist, 41, from Barcelona) and Ibo (oncologist, 47, from Paris). Each of them has a unique emotional history and needs, which distinctively shape the way they want to be addressed, the kind of information they want to receive, which initiative may get their attention, and their digital behavior.

Eva was once a perfectionist student, always top of her class. Now she is a mother of two and part-time clinical dermatologist, frustrated at the patriarchal hierarchy of medical institutions. Behind her patient-centric speech, Eva often gets frustrated at her patients’ derisory skin rushes and acne. What she seeks above all is work-life balance, together with a sense of agency and control. A purely patient-centric speech will be of no use to her: what she needs are practical solutions to make her clinical practice easier and more efficient. She welcomes digital communication, since it’s pragmatic and fast, but fears that the proliferation of online content may turn out to be a waste of time.

Ibo was born in Frankfurt from Turkish parents. He fought his way up into medical school and is determined to become a reference in German oncology. He wants to have a real impact on the medical world, he wants to make a difference. But, although he’ll never tell you straight away, he also wants recognition and influence, he wants to be someone who matters.

Helping patients is his way to have a recognizable, meaningful impact in this world. He wants the pharmaceutical industry to help him in his mission, funding his research and recognizing his efforts. He is enthusiastic about access to digital information (he loves listening to conference podcasts while cycling to work) but would never give up on in-person networking opportunities.

Sense making and the Emotionality Framework

Eva and Ibo are not just data. To understand them, you need to actually talk to them. And after talking to them, you need to be able to make sense of what they told you and turn the subsequent analysis into actionable insights.

There are a variety of frameworks to make sense of the whys, such as the Mindspace Framework, based on behavioral economics, or the Limbic Model, inspired by neuroscience. At A Piece of Pie, we have developed our own unique Emotionality Framework.

Through years of experience studying people’s emotions and behavior, we have identified 7 main emotional drivers that are common to all human beings. Each of these drivers corresponds to deeply rooted human needs. A very powerful way of connecting with people is to identify which of these 7 drivers are most important for them, and offer the content and initiatives which tap onto the corresponding emotional needs.

In my next article, I will delve deeper into the Emotionality Framework we created at A Piece of Pie to make sense of the whys and turn them into actionable outcomes.

Looking for deeper insights?

At A Piece of Pie, we specialize in the definition and implementation of meaningful customer engagement strategies, based on a deep and robust understanding of your customers.

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



A Piece of Pie

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