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Research besmirched

Insightful market research is worth its weight in gold, as long as pharma gets it right

Identifying and understanding the drivers to prescribing behaviour are vital in ensuring that your marketing strategy, brand positioning and key messages are hitting the spot. But how can you apply this theory, making your plans become a reality?

Getting brand messages, both rational and emotional, to link with your target prescriber's own drivers is perhaps the single most effective way of ensuring your overall brand proposition is compelling.

This is more vital in the current environment for products that have minor points of differentiation, where small incremental advantages need to be exploited not in isolation, but as an integrated whole.

Understanding what motivates each group of prescribers to choose particular treatments is crucial for marketers to define compelling, differentiating positioning and, vitally, motivating brand messages.

The way forward lies in insightful research, but too often this is conducted by the pharma industry and fails to provide the fuel needed. This might seem strange given the amount of time and money we spend on market research, but if you approach the task in the wrong way then it is unlikely that you will find the right answers.

One of the problems lies with the marketing teams that commission the research in the first place. While they may recognise the problem (for example, that they have a relatively `me-too' product), and although they may appreciate that market research is going to help provide the answer, too often they go about it incorrectly.

We see large and extensive qualitative research studies used firstly to scope the market landscape, before the product profile is used to understand the perceived positives and negatives, or to flesh out prescribers' needs.

However, without truly probing at the value of the product features in the context of prescribers' roles and responsibilities, the end result is very much a traditional top-level analysis that focuses only on the obvious parameters of efficacy, safety and tolerability, in whatever guise.

When this is then validated through quantitative research, it gives a perception that the necessary depth of understanding has been achieved.

However, the resulting segmentation and/or positioning, and messages are very similar, if not the same, as everyone else's and could have been identified with less time and money.

Make it meaningful
No surprise then that the resulting strategy is very standard and offers only illusory competitive advantage.

In addition, the way the research is approached has its limitations. Researchers are researchers; they will ask and answer questions as defined. In many cases, the research will be piloted, in line with accepted good practice, to test the discussion guide and make sure the information required is being gathered.

However, no one seems to check at the pilot stage whether that information will help to address the challenges faced by the brand; or whether the quality of the insight is going to provide the fuel needed to develop a competitive advantage. If not, then the methodology needs to change.

Instead, what happens is that the research runs its course, and while validated answers to the questions asked are provided there are no real results.

Finally, there is a problem when it comes to global launches of new products. If we review the `ideal' plan leading up to a launch, as proposed by the European Pharmaceutical Marketing Research Association (EphMRA), the sheer volume of research is incredible, covering as it does market, customers, trademark, packaging, pricing, forecasting, detail aid testing etcÖ

The insight market research task is handed over to Business Intelligence (market research as was), which is also trying to cover all other bases.

The result is that they follow a traditional `road map', ticking all the boxes as they go. All the research is completed but we are no better off in understanding the triggers and motivators of prescribing behaviour.

In July: how to understand the true triggers and motivators to prescribing behaviour, and satisfy them with your brand.

The author
Paul Stuart-Kregor is a director of the MSI Consultancy

2nd September 2008

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