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  • Writer's pictureMarvin Bowe

Idea 4: Marketing to Birds of a Feather

Let's review how the Homophily Theory can improve your marketing plan.

The concept of homophily (i.e., "love of the same") has been observed for hundreds of years. In Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Nichomachean Ethics, he noted that people “love those who are like themselves.” Plato observed in Phaedrus that “similarity begets friendship.” But, the term wasn't coined until the 1950's when Robert K. Merton (July 4, 1910 - February 23, 2003) was studying the friendship processes. He is best known for creating the terms “self-fulfilling prophecy” and “role model.” Merton grew up in Philadelphia... but I digress.

The Homophily Theory defines how individuals have a tendency to associate and bond with like-minded peers. These individuals share common characteristics (beliefs, values, education, etc.) that make communication and relationship formation easier. This is important in marketing because peer-to-peer connections are more likely to successfully influence others that are similar. These similarities can determine how healthcare professionals (like the rest of us) access proof points, diffuse innovations and form opinions.

So why draw attention to a 70 year old theory? Well, there has been a resurgence of sociological studies focused on homophily conducted over the past decade. This is largely due to the fact that social media networks have become the dominate means for social exchange. Several of these studies suggest that homophily occurs through two different mechanisms: socialization and selection.

Socialization occurs as peers share beliefs and learn behaviors from one another. For example, a clinician at one community hospital will be more likely to influence a peer within that same practice than will someone from different practice where treating habits may differ.

Selection happens when one person seeks out another that already has perceived beliefs or behaves similarly to the group. Social networks have enabled us to easily select the advice of other like-minded connections regardless of proximity. For example, a clinician at one community hospital may seek consultation from a clinician outside their practice, but only if the physician inquiring has already established a homophilic relationship. Let's say, similar treatment approaches.

We tend to think of physicians that specialize in a particular therapeutic area as one large, connected community. But, they aren't. And, it’s important to understand why some will respond differently than others when presented with your marketing materials. You need to figure out how you can make the most of current customer preferences in your marketing campaigns. Research your larger audience in detail, and look for homophilic connections.

The key take-away is: as humans, we tend to value the beliefs and attitudes of our circle of friends and co-workers. The implication is: as marketers looking to influence beliefs and change behaviors, perhaps, we should focus less on Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) and look more towards localized network advocates of our brands. Sharing the opinions of several local clinicians within their peer networks may be more effective at driving change than partnering with a national key opinion leader to speak for the brand from the podium.

Let's talk about how we cultivate this idea and grow your brand.


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