Beware of these 6 marketing techniques

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Marketing may influence your prescribing practices

Pharmaceutical representatives you meet may use marketing techniques that are based on social influence factors. These techniques:

  • are commonly applied by salespeople marketing pharmaceutical drugs and devices
  • may influence you to make treatment decisions not based solely on a neutral representation of the scientific and therapeutic characteristics of a product

Social scientists have studied these social influence factors and identified ingrained human behaviours that can be used to influence decision-making.

6 principles of influence marketers may use

There are 6 main social influence factors, also known as Dr. Robert Cialdini's 6 principles of influence.Footnote 1

1. Consensus

You may look to the actions of others who are similar to you to:

  • determine the established norms
  • help make decisions about your own actions

The perception of consensus, or peer endorsement, can be manipulated by marketers to encourage you to prescribe a particular product. Marketers make claims that other prescribers (your colleagues) are prescribing it, too. This may unduly pressure you to aim towards conformity.

2. Commitment and consistency

You may prefer to:

  • be consistent with your previous decisions
  • continue with your commitments

Marketers may start by asking for smaller commitments, typically reinforced with a concrete action, before initiating the main proposition. Research indicates that you are far more likely to continue with more intensive commitments.

For example, a sales representative for a product intended to help patients quit smoking may initially ask a health care provider to post a poster for a 'Quit Smoking' campaign in their office. Later, the representative may ask the health care provider if they would be willing to sign up for informational newsletters regarding the latest quit-smoking 'options.' These smaller requests precede more intensive commitments such as agreeing to prescribe their specific product.

3. Reciprocity

This principle highlights the social obligation you may feel to reciprocate when you accept:

  • a gift
  • a favour
  • free samples

You may be more likely to agree to propositions made by people to whom you feel indebted. For example, a marketer may try to provide free lunches for a clinic before speaking to clinicians about a pharmaceutical product.

4. Authority

This principle is based on the assumption that you are more likely to accept a proposition if it is endorsed by people you believe to be credible subject matter experts.

Before they make the proposition, a marketer first has to convince you that they are an expert. A common example of this technique is introducing a speaker with a list of their educational or professional qualifications, before their presentation.

5. Liking

You are more likely to agree to offers proposed to you by those you like. There are many factors that can influence who we like, including someone's:

  • similarity
  • charisma
  • physical appearance

These factors can be exploited by marketers to increase the likelihood of you accepting their propositions. For example, a marketer may begin by engaging in a conversation that is seemingly unrelated to the proposition. This conversation is designed to:

  • establish a rapport
  • convince you that the marketer is similar to you

6. Scarcity

Rare products with a limited supply, or deals offered only for a limited time, are often viewed as being more valuable than alternatives which may be more readily available.

Scarcity can entice you to:

  • work harder and pay more to obtain something
  • accept the offer while you still have the chance
  • believe that the offer may become unavailable in the near future

Marketing will often:

  • highlight the unique aspects of the proposition
  • imply that you may miss out on an opportunity if you refuse

Marketers may create the perception of scarcity by declaring that, for a particular drug or device:

  • supplies are limited
  • demand is growing
  • access is restricted

Report a marketing complaint


Footnote 1

Redelmeier, Donald A., and Robert B. Cialdini. "Problems for clinical judgement: 5. Principles of influence in medical practice." Canadian Medical Association Journal 166.13 (2002): 1680-1684.

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