As our members of OR:BIT (Oncology Research Business Insights Team) reflect on a memorable experience at ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology) Annual Meeting this summer and think ahead to December’s ASH (American Society of Hematology) Annual Meeting, we continue to be struck by how powerful the experience always is for us, and no doubt all attendees, as we soak in new data, attend education sessions, and explore the exhibit hall.


It’s so rewarding to wander the spaces where pharma companies set up displays to draw in attendees, picking up each delicious snack and seeing some of the work we’ve contributed to, lit up in larger-than-life exhibits. It got us thinking, surely there are some brilliant behavioral science principles at work here, optimizing attendee experience and influencing thinking? And there were!


Our internal team of Behavioral Science experts, HRW Shift, reviewed the exhibits and identified a few interesting principles that can be leveraged for your next interaction with your stakeholders – whether it be the next big conference, a rep interaction, or brand campaign.

Let’s break bread together: finding common ground between HCPs, patients, and Pharma

Because this year’s theme for the ASCO Annual Meeting was “partnering with patients”, several brands had creative exhibits and messages to demonstrate patient experiences and outcomes. These exhibits resonated powerfully with attendees as they helped create a unified social identity around helping patients – a common motivator for both pharma and HCPs. For instance, Abbvie messaged around the fact that “Together, we’ve touched the lives of over 280,000 Imbruvica patients worldwide”, Regeneron featured boards where attendees can pin words to describe what empowers them to help patients, while Takeda shared their powerful goal of “We aspire to cure cancer”. These messages and exhibits highlight how, despite occupying different roles in this industry, HCPs and Pharma are united by a shared identity to help patients.

Social Identity

As a social species, the groups we identify with have a profound influence on our behaviors and motivations. We seek the companionship of those in our social group, we conform to the norms of our social groups, and we defend our social group against threats from others.

The relationship between pharma companies and HCPs can be tricky at times, for example the tension between pharma companies’ marketing campaigns and HCPs’ own expert opinion of the best treatment. While there are some differences in the incentives which drive the two groups, one powerful commonality exists: helping patients. Reiterating this shared collective identity of improving patient outcomes can be a way to overcome some of the current misaligned incentives that exist in the HCP / Pharma company relationship – and we saw this technique on display several times at the conference.

Beyond industry conferences, the implications of finding a common social identity can span various aspects of healthcare. Of course, one obvious potential application is through marketing and messaging. We sometimes see that HCPs disregard the messages that pharma broadcast, labelling it as ‘generic marketing speak’ or ‘not relevant for me’. By placing greater emphasis on collective goals (e.g., helping patients, reducing burdens on the healthcare system, increasing awareness of a disease) HCPs and pharma can find a happy medium on which to unite.

Starting off on the right foot with an emotionally nourishing experience

Bayer and Daiichi Sankyo’s ASCO exhibits stood out, ingeniously incorporating the foot-in-the-door technique and affect heuristic. Oncologists had the option to pen a hopeful message on a digital lantern to float off into a digital sky (Bayer) or on shoelaces with one lace tied to a wall and the other taken as a keepsake (Daiichi Sankyo). Both brands successfully employed these behavioral techniques to shape attendee impressions.

Foot-in-the-door (FITD) Technique

Imagine someone at your door on a rainy day, seeking shelter under your porch. You oblige and then they request to discuss the purpose of their visit over coffee. Would you let them in? Studies show that, with their foot already halfway in the door, you’re more likely to agree, having said “yes” once already.

This principle was evident at ASCO where HCPs were asked to complete a small first request such as taking a seat or a snack, or being asked to write a short message of hope to someone. The next request should, therefore, be much easier to say “yes” to.

Outside of the conference hall, brands have made use of FITD technique by:

  • Sales teams offering a 2-minute video on a new treatment class, paving the way for more in-depth conversations.
  • Doctors providing free prescription coupons, easing patients into a regular prescription.
  • And many more options!

Overall, FITD helps clients break down barriers to change by reducing the costs of change – creating a simple first yes.


Affect Heuristic

For our final ASCO observation, we ask you to think back to the last wedding you attended. What do you recall? Perhaps:

  • Your initial awe at the beautiful venue
  • A particularly nail-biting speech
  • An engaging conversation with another guest

These highly emotional experiences may have influenced how you perceived the rest of the event.

At ASCO, by prompting HCPs to think of a loved one, a significant patient, or general well-wishing, pharma stalls were getting HCPs into a positive emotional state. By activating this part of their psychology, HCPs are then more likely to evaluate the brands through this same positive lens, helping create favourable brand sentiments. A similar process also happens when brands use celebrity endorsements, however in this instance, of course, this is a much more personal exhibit experience.

To solidify this association, brands could reference HCP interactions with stalls in subsequent communications. The result? An even more memorable exhibit and enhanced brand perception.

Takeaway: a final snack

Whether you’re part of a pharma company looking to shift HCP behaviour or a fellow conference attendee looking for a memorable experience, keep an eye out for these principles – you might see them more often than you’d imagine!


Have thoughts or questions about Behavioural Science? We’d love to chat.

Contact us on shift@hrwhealthcare.com or reach out to us on Twitter/X

By Oliver Day, Tony Jiang and Alex Bonello


  • Reciprocity: Fehr, E., & Gächter, S. (2000). Fairness and retaliation: The economics of reciprocity. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 14, 159-181.
  • Social Identity Theory: Turner, J. C.; Reynolds, K. J. (2010). “The story of social identity”. In T. Postmes; N. Branscombe (eds.). Rediscovering Social Identity: Core Sources. Psychology Press
  • Foot-in-the-door Technique: Freedman, J. L., & Fraser, S. C. (1966). Compliance without pressure: The foot-in-the-door technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4(2), 195–202.
  • Affect Heuristic: Slovic, P., Finucane, M. L., Peters, E., & MacGregor, D. G. (2007). The affect heuristic. European journal of operational research, 177(3), 1333-1352.



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