A report from Wunderman Thompson Health found personalized and emotional messages are more effective to urge doctors to make better health decisions.

This year’s Health Inertia report analyzed how different messaging styles motivated doctors to order a routine test, a bone density screening for women at risk of osteoporosis. The researchers chose that particular test because it is recommended for all women over 65, but not all doctors send their patients for the test.

“What we see in the pharmaceutical and medical device arena is a belief that healthcare is special in the sense that people respond to things more rationally,” said Destry Sulkes, chief experience officer at Wunderman Thompson Health. “I think people are starting to realize that we need to appeal to a doctor’s emotions just like we need to appeal to a Coke drinker’s emotions to get them to switch from Pepsi.”

Wunderman Thompson Health surveyed 500 doctors who treat patients at risk for osteoporosis to determine their motivation to order these tests. The team then identified four different motivations, from rational to emotional and personalized to generic, and created ads that matched those attitudes.

The team showed the doctors ads based on their preferences and surveyed them on their desire to order the bone density screening after.

More personalized and emotional creative significantly increased the percentage of doctors ordering the tests. Slightly more than half of doctors (56%) who saw the rational and non personalized ads ordered the tests, while 75% of doctors who saw the personalized and emotional ad ordered the test.

“I don’t think doctors are at all accustomed to being communicated with as people,” said Mark Truss, chief research officer at Wunderman Thompson Health, “A fair amount of the communication that happens in professional advertising today is very educational, very rational. It talks about the benefits and the data and the clinical trials. Of course, doctors need to understand the data and they need to understand the rational benefits of any therapeutic area, but it’s not the only thing that motivates them to action.”

The other two categories, non personalized-emotional and personalized-rational also performed better among doctors, both resulting in about 70% of doctors to order the screening.

That was the most surprising finding from the study, Truss said, that the emotional ads resulted in that big of an increase among doctors.

wunderman thompson health inertia report ads
wunderman thompson health inertia report ads
wunderman thompson health inertia report ads
wunderman thompson health inertia report ads

The four ads each touched on a different motivation. One was entirely rational, asking doctors “why not order the screening?” Another played on a doctor’s pride, helping them “feel good” about the decision to order the screenings. The third played into the doctor’s concern for their patients, asking what could happen if the patient doesn’t get the screening. The final ad was meant to make overconfident doctors think twice about following their decision over the industry guidelines.

Some marketers may argue that creating personalized content for every doctor isn’t feasible, but Sulkes already thought of that. He debunked several challenges to this effective style of messaging in the report, from regulatory to brand issues. His solution: it can be done with a little planning and creativity.

Prominent consumer, tech and CPG brands can maintain their brand across different and personalized messaging styles, and healthcare should be able to, as well, he said. He noted that it will likely cost a little more to create more versions of ads, but not enough to eat into the whole budget.

Sulkes also suggested working more closely and “creatively” with the regulatory teams. Let them know early on what’s coming for approval. Then they’re prepared and the different versions don’t get held up in long approval processes.

“Marketing is moving in this direction, whether marketers feel like they should be there or not,” Truss said. “It is happening and they need to start thinking about how they prepare their regulatory colleagues and their marketing tech colleagues. They need to start thinking, ‘How would we go about doing this?’ My word to [marketers] is your competitors are doing this now and if you’re not doing it yet, you’re behind the game.”