THE NEXT: Getting the Most Out of Key Opinion Leader (KOL) Relationships

May 4, 2021
Vince Parry

Most of us on the industry side of the equation rely on key opinion leaders, or KOLs, to be our mentors. But from their point of view, they remain eternal students.

It is now routine to secure a number of clinical thought leaders and key investigators for assistance in guiding discussions about disease states or even brand implementation. Such groups form advisory boards, which convene on a regular basis to brainstorm ideas or react to stimuli put forth by the manufacturer. But, is this really the all there is to the relationship between marketer and adviser? The investment in developing a brain trust surely could be more engaging for all parties. Let’s examine this hypothesis.

First, Know What Motivates KOLs

Most of us on the industry side of the equation rely on key opinion leaders, or KOLs, to be our mentors. But from their point of view, they remain eternal students, exploring—each in their own way—how to shine light into the darkness of medical mysteries. According to Donna Short, executive vice president of Professional Relations for MJH Life Sciences, the secret to maximizing KOL involvement is “learning what drives and motivates them first, and then aligning their interests with your marketing goals—not the other way around.” You may be seeking insights about your brand’s best opportunities, but they remain focused on discovering forward-thinking solutions about patient care.

Learn What Is Unique About Each KOL

While we tend to lump all KOLs into one convenient cohort, each is as different as you or me. Some actively seek the notoriety that accompanies working at the top of their profession because it creates access to the most fascinating issues of the day and gives them a seat at the table. Others prefer to focus on their core research discoveries, happy enough with their investigations. However, one thing KOLs have in common is the prospect of comparing notes with their peers. Observing these interactions and fostering greater camaraderie will allow you to:

  • Eavesdrop on ideas that address unmet medical needs, and how you can co-opt such wisdom on behalf of your brand challenges; and
  • Understand the stimuli that produce the most robust interaction among them all.

Identify the Challenges With Which KOLs Can Help Most

Sometimes, healthcare manufacturers will focus so much attention on securing KOLs that they neglect to formulate a strategy on how these experts can best impact commercialization efforts. Don’t underestimate how innovative they can be in nearly every brand challenge. Recently, a company with its first asset approaching launch found themselves first in a new class, but didn’t have a consensus class name in the literature. Several KOLs came together to help the client work through their options, and helped make consistent nomenclature a top priority of their agenda.

Create a Forum That Maximizes the Dynamic

Perhaps the best way to optimize the dynamic outlined above is to allow the KOLs to function as a body that acknowledges their diversity of interests, while harnessing the perspectives affecting commercialization and brand strategy. A closed-KOL social network—or a private forum for interacting—is one proven tactic that can appeal to all parties. There are several ways to use closed-community platforms to activate and engage KOLs on an ongoing basis, rather than convene them ad hoc throughout the course of the year:

  • Encourage KOLs to introduce problems they face, and invite them to comment on—in real time—each other’s thinking;
  • Allow them to control how the site functions to serve their personal interests;
  • Drop a question into the mix to see not just what they say, but also how they say it, with an ear toward amortizing such insights on behalf of your brand;
  • Create a challenge—an issue that can provoke a debate—and note the different positions the KOLs take on the subject, sometimes uniting with other colleagues or not; and
  • Post a newsfeed to keep them engaged in the changing landscape of the therapy area, as well as how your brand is responding, thereby eliciting ongoing, real-time feedback.

Thought leadership is the backbone of any brand’s impact on the market. Don’t just launch a product; launch a new way to think and act when evolving the treatment paradigm. Any group of KOLs is only as good as your company’s plans for engaging them. With a focus on their interests first, they’ll respond in kind.

About the Author

Vince Parry, a 30-year veteran of the health and wellness communications industry, is the EVP of Brand Strategy at the Truth Serum NTWK™, a company of MJH Life Sciences.™ He can be reached at [email protected].