Advocacy or ‘word-of-mouth marketing’ is one of the most powerful ways to impact behavior. We all know that consumers trust their family and friends’ recommendations far more than they trust any other source. This is also true for highly credentialed professionals. 

Let’s take the healthcare category as an example. Healthcare professionals (HCPs) are thought to rely mostly on clinical data, guidelines, protocols, etc. But the most compelling source HCPs trust are Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) in their domain. A KOL’s endorsement plays the most important role in determining the success of therapies, treatments, and brands. This is why pharma companies spend significant resources to have KOLs drive advocacy, especially during the first years of a brand launch. While their advocacy helps move the needle, it is no longer moving it fast enough, or at enough scale to drive momentum, especially in the crucial first years of launch.

Pharma drug launch data validates this. Bain & Company examined the performance of drug launches across 20 launch activities and learned that KOL advocacy is overrated while advocacy by practicing physicians is an under-rated differentiator between overperforming launches versus underperforming ones. The advocacy approach dependent on only KOLs plus HCPs as the only influencers is a generic approach founded by strict adherence to a legacy mindset.

We believe there is another way to think about advocacy. Damon Centola – Director of the Network Dynamics Group at the University of Pennsylvania, makes a strong case for the power in the periphery to drive change, in his latest book titled Change – How to Make Big Things Happen. Drawing from examples such as the success of the Black Lives Matter movement, the failure of Google+, and even the spread of coronavirus. He sharply draws the difference between the spread of information, which KOLs and influencers are very effective in driving, versus the spread of beliefs and behaviors where our social networks guide our response in very surprising ways.

So, how do we harness the power of grassroots advocacy?

At Shapiro+Raj, we believe the answer lies in leveraging systems thinking. This mode acknowledges the complexity of the world and embraces it to drive change. Through the lens of systems thinking, there are three critical shifts needed to accelerate success. While we use the healthcare sector as an example to demonstrate how these shifts can come to life, the principles and implications mentioned here apply across sectors.

  1. See the whole rather than the parts: Within the ecosystem in healthcare, KOLs and HCPs are just part of the picture. We need to look beyond those who deliver health outcomes to also include those who receive these outcomes. The patients, and their caregivers, are very important and influential. This cohort prioritizes certain benefits and experiences that KOLs/HCPs neglect or discount, e.g., lower pill burden, dedicated nurse ambassadors, quicker access, etc. In chronic diseases, they become the experts, having lived with the condition and all the ups and downs that they experience. In rare diseases, they tend to form strong and close-knit communities, where advocacy of the few goes a long, long way. Net, think outside the medical community.
  2. See interactions rather than isolation: These various ‘parts’ of a system, or ‘players’ in an ecosystem, don’t exist in isolation. They constantly interact, influencing one another – consciously and subconsciously. As such, a grassroots advocacy approach is best designed without silos. This is because not all constituents are equally important. For example, in certain primary care conditions, the opinion of patients may have more gravitas. Also, not all interactions are equally important. This is why we need to change our thinking from perpetuating a top-down advocacy push to creating a gravity-pull-oriented advocacy constellation. Net, an advocacy constellation allows brands to manage the experience from a human centric POV in a way that has the power to redefine the category.
  3. See dynamic shifts rather than a static one-and-done initiative: In an advocacy constellation, dynamics in the system shift constantly at accelerating speeds. We see how one tweet, one video, one post can go viral and change the conversation in a matter of minutes and the fortunes of brands in days. This is where a robust and purposeful advocacy constellation is the best way to drive growth and future-proof your brand and business.

The power of an advocacy constellation to drive lasting change is proven, both in academic literature as well as in real life examples. Integrating the three strategic shifts outlined above will help amplify your success.

We are passionate about helping brands and businesses drive real change and deliver lasting impact. Reach out to us at [email protected] to see how we can help you shape the future success for your brand by building an advocacy constellation for your brand.