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Opinion Leaders Wanted—At the Speed of Innovation

Take a deep breath and consider a few recent medical developments:

  • A monoclonal antibody that can delay the onset of Type 1 diabetes1
  • A drug that can slow the onset of ALS1
  • Type 2 diabetes medications that also dramatically impact weight loss1
  • The lightning-fast development and approval of the COVID-19 vaccine

Today’s therapeutic innovations are arriving at a fast and furious rate with no sign of stopping, and they represent immense opportunities to change patient outcomes. However, patients can only benefit from innovative therapies if clinicians are well-informed about them. This lies at the crux of the challenge facing pharma marketers today: “How can I ensure HCPs are well-informed and feel comfortable using my newest therapeutic offerings?”

Providing a vital voice in a competitive landscape

For decades, opinion leaders (OLs) have played a key role in educating their peers about innovative therapies, which clinicians often may not know about otherwise. Today, the voices of OLs have never been more important.

With increasing complexities across payers, supply chains, and health systems, it’s critical that clinicians hear from a diverse set of peer-to-peer perspectives. However, shrinking budgets—the average healthcare marketing budget shrank to $7.6 million in 20222—and competing priorities are causing many brands to make more data-driven decisions.

It’s no longer possible to execute a strategy based on a gut feeling or a hunch. The cost of failure is too high, both in terms of time and money. However, brands can’t waste time in reaching and educating clinicians, either.

This leads to pressure to deliver OLs with greater speed and the subsequent temptation to take shortcuts along the way, like:

  • Google searches
  • Turning to a single source for OL recommendations
  • Relying on known partners

While delivery might be faster, cutting corners like this and using a less considered approach to identification can, and will, undermine an overall marketing strategy due to OL mismatches. This is especially problematic, considering the evolving definition of who an OL is.

Just what, and who, is an Opinion Leader?

The idea of an OL has been around since the 1940s, when it was introduced by sociologist Dr. Paul Lazarsfeld.3 In The People’s Choice, Lazarsfeld’s book about the 1940 US presidential election, he proposed that there is a “two-step flow of information” from mass media to “opinion leaders” who pass their ideas onto the general public.3, 4

Later, Lazarsfeld and his colleagues brought this line of thinking to the pharmaceutical industry through a study contracted by Pfizer that looked at what factors prompt doctors to “adopt a new drug.”5 The findings, which were later published in the 1966 book Medical Innovation: A Diffusion Study, helped establish OLs as a fundamental peer-to-peer link within the pharmaceutical industry.

However, time and technology have expanded the definition of what it means to be an OL:

  • There are the traditional key opinion leaders (KOLs), who are probably best known for their in-person engagements and interactions.
  • Then, in recent years, thanks to the expansion of social media and online forums, digital opinion leaders (DOLs) have emerged as an increasingly important presence. These individuals influence peers and other industry stakeholders through their social media presence, knowledge, and content-sharing abilities. Because they have a different reach and a unique voice, DOLs may not participate in the same activities as their KOL counterparts.

“I need an OL, stat!”

All of these factors—today’s rapid pace of medical innovations, shifting priorities within pharma marketing budgets, and evolving KOL and DOL roles—have led to the increasing need to identify OLs as quickly, efficiently, and most importantly, as accurately as possible.

At Avant Healthcare, we saw firsthand how streamlining the OL identification process would benefit our clients and the industry as a whole. With our clients’ challenges in mind, we developed PeerMesh, a first-of-its-kind data-driven OL identification, listening, engagement, and measurement service. It’s designed to maximize OL reach and impact while minimizing the time and effort spent in identifying OLs and maintaining strong OL partnerships.

In creating PeerMesh, we decided to deconstruct the OL identification process into three core elements: Identify, Engage, and Monitor. By breaking down the bigger process, we were able to build unique efficiencies, leverage specific technologies, including artificial intelligence and natural language processing, and fully tap into Avant’s medical expertise and industry knowledge to build the best process possible for our clients.

PeerMesh offers three key strategic OL services:

PeerMesh PinpointSM leverages a proprietary identification algorithm and scoring system to help brands quickly find the most relevant OLs to deliver on specific business needs. First, we work closely with clients to identify their search criteria. Once, we’ve assembled an initial candidate list, we then use our mScore system to rank candidates across the categories of communication, innovation, prominence, and knowledge. PeerMesh Pinpoint bypasses cumbersome search processes to deliver thoroughly researched OL selections in a fraction of the time traditional OL identification methods take, drastically reducing time to market.

PeerMesh CatalystSM helps brands develop a successful, seamless relationship with their OL partners based on over 20 years of award-winning Avant Healthcare engagement expertise. PeerMesh Catalyst creates a personalized engagement plan for each OL that encompasses everything from travel preferences and training dates to presentations and ongoing communications. It’s designed so our clients can fully leverage the impact of their preferred OLs by ensuring their full participation.

PeerMesh PulseSM leverages cutting-edge artificial intelligence and natural language processing to understand the social conversations taking place outside of a formal presentation or tactic. Understanding the conversation allows our clients to ensure that their messaging is customized and tailored to have the most impact possible. This customization enables brands to not just enter a conversation but rather shape the digital dialog.

Each PeerMesh offering is designed to measure, quantify, and highlight successes and opportunities alike and to translate those opportunities into actionable insights.

Leading the conversation—at the speed of innovation

As the rate of medical breakthroughs and market complexities continues to pick up, pharma marketers will feel an increasing need for speed in identifying and engaging OLs. More than ever, it’s critical to take the lead in therapeutic conversations—before another brand does. From faster OL identification to stronger OL engagement, PeerMesh is designed to streamline the process from start to finish.

If your brand would like to spend less time searching for the right OL, and more time leading the way to the next pharma innovation, PeerMesh at Avant is here to build your data-driven OL plan.


  1. Adrianna Rodriguez, “From ALS treatment to a historic transplant: The biggest medical breakthroughs of 2022,” USA Today, December 19, 2022, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2022/12/19/medical-science-breakthroughs-2022/10858326002/ (accessed November 2, 2023).
  2. Sarah Mahoney, “The 2023 Healthcare Marketers Trend Report: A trim off the top,” MM+M, March 7, 2023, https://www.mmm-online.com/home/channel/features/healthcare-marketers-trend-report-2023-a-trim-off-the-top/#:~:text=The%20average%20marketing%20budget%20fell,a%20peak%20of%20%2412.5%20million (accessed November 2, 2023).
  3. “Paul Lazarsfeld,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Lazarsfeld (accessed November 2, 2023).
  4. “Two-step flow of communication,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two-step_flow_of_communication#:~:text=The%20study%20also%20uncovered%20an,on%20to%20the%20general%20public (accessed November 2, 2023).
  5. Sismondo S. “How to make opinion leaders and influence people,” CMAJ. 2015 Jul 6;187(10):759–60. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.150032. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 26149703; PMCID: PMC4500705. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4500705/(accessed November 2, 2023).

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