What if I told you that there’s a hole in your marketing strategy? It could be a small hole or a big hole, but I’m betting it’s there nonetheless.

When building your marketing strategy, you start by making HCPs aware of your brand, probably using a combination of rep visits, ads, commercials, conference appearances, microsites, tchotchkes, giveaways, honorariums, and videos. Maybe you use all of them, maybe just a few of them, but they are stimuli designed to do one thing: make the target aware of your brand.

Once aware of the brand, you hope and anticipate that with some persuasion, HCPs will start prescribing your brand. They are selecting your brand in the same way people select which soda they want to drink or what car they want to buy.

Finally, the target evaluates the outcome of choosing your brand. Did it do what they expected it to do? Were there outweighing side effects? Would the HCP prescribe it again, and if so, under what circumstances?

Stimulate, select, then evaluate. That’s the basic gist of it. Maybe you’ve built in a persuasion step before the selection step. This is smart because every HCP is inundated with messages about brands, some of which may compete with yours. You need to persuade your audience that your brand is some combination of effective, safe, useful and inexpensive.

So where’s the hole? What’s missing is a step between creating brand awareness and HCP’s interest in prescribing the brand.

Let’s pretend you were watching television 18 months ago and you learned about an amazing new product called an iPad (stimulus). What do you do? Go and buy one? Well, if’s you’re the kind of person who can spend $500 (minimum) on something you don’t know much about, here’s to you! But the rest of us did a little research before we bought (or didn’t).

There was a stage when you wanted to learn more about the iPad, wasn’t there? You didn’t only go to the Apple site (though I’m betting you did spend some time there), you went and looked at reviews, both official and unofficial. You read some blog posts about other people’s interest or disinterest in the iPad (and why). Maybe you tried to see if anyone was offering it for sale at a discounted price, or what kinds of options you’d have for covers and cases. Did it work with a stylus if you wanted it to? How hard was it to type on? Would you need the 3G version? How much space would you reasonably expect to need? When would apps be available? Would they be more expensive than iPhone apps? You had a lot of questions, and you looked at a lot of sites to answer them.

According to Jim Lecinski in his book ZMOT: the Zero Moment of Truth, the average shopper visits 10.4 websites before making a decision to buy or not to buy. Even if you argue that HCPs don’t do that much research on your brands (and it’s an argument I’m only allowing for the sake of my point), let’s split the number in half. That means that before your target actually decides to prescribe, they look at five sites, and I’m guessing you don’t have five websites about your brand. That means that your targets are looking at other sites about you to make their decision.

It’s like owning a store and knowing that your shoppers have to go to another location (or another store!) before buying from you. If that was something you knew was happening, what would you do about it?

On the face of it, this isn’t a revelation. Or it shouldn’t be. But it should make the hole in your marketing strategy clear. If your target is going to go to at least four sites that aren’t yours to learn and make decisions about your brand, should you just let them go?

Now, we all know you are limited to what you can say on your website. But so are your competitors. And HCPs know that. However, your targets will be thrilled when you help them find more information about your brand off-site. Send them to forums where HCPs talk about your brand, or social networking sites devoted to the disease state. Point out where you keep your own research on the brand’s efficacy and anywhere else good research can be found.

Don’t worry if the opinions on these sites aren’t 100% positive (There’s no such thing as a brand with 100% satisfaction: even aspirin has some drawbacks and detractors,) as “opening the kimono” and not hiding your imperfections increases your authenticity with your targets. It shows that you are a partner in health, not “just a vendor.”

Remember that HCPs are going to find all your flaws with just a few clicks. Do you want them to think you are hiding them, or that you’re trying to increase awareness about the pros and cons of your brand?