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Evolve or die

How brand teams can bring more value to their customers

Evolve or die

How many brand teams increased their market research budget in the last 12 months?

We asked this very question at the British Healthcare Business Intelligence Association (BHBIA)'s 2016 Red Alert Conference and not a single hand was raised. We also asked our fieldwork partners about recruitment rates and they shared some figures that were difficult to swallow. Response rates from physicians can be as low as 5-10% from those approached and it is getting more and more difficult to find respondents to take part in research. Recruiting from an ever-decreasing pool reduces our ability to gain real insight into our customers' behaviours and decisions and therefore do our job to the best of our ability.

As an agency that strives to make the customer voice and experience central to strategic brand planning, these are two very concerning trends that affect everything we do, every day.

So what does this say to us? If we think about market research as a brand, then it says that the brand has an image problem. Both our internal and external customers are buying into the value proposition and if they don't see value, they won't engage, support and purchase what we do. If we extrapolate this trend, where will the healthcare market research industry be five years from today? Will it still exist?

To understand some of the causes of this image problem, we spoke to both key customer groups about their experiences of market research. We wanted to understand how we could improve the research experience for healthcare professionals and ensure we delivered impactful results to the brand teams we work with. Getting this right will help us all to not just simply survive, but thrive, in the worlds in which we work.

Healthcare professions feel overwhelmed
Our healthcare professional respondents told us they often feel overwhelmed with information, forced to answer our questions in a very unrealistic time frame, with little chance to reflect. As a consequence, we are getting a very rational reaction because they don't have time to emotionally connect to the information in front of them.

As we know, experiencing brands in the real world offers a much richer context so if we only uncover half the story, then we only get half the truth of what may happen outside the research setting. This means we are potentially asking the brand teams we work with to base their decisions on half stories.

Our respondents also told us that they take part because they like to learn about new products but if the conversation covers too much information, with limited time to absorb this new information, then they may walk away feeling dissatisfied with the process. In these instances, our respondents might think twice about coming back.

Brand teams need deep exploration of 'the unknown'
Our brand team clients told us that the voice of the customer needs to be at the very heart of their brand. They see the insights from market research as its very foundation.

After all, without deep insights, without knowing how our customers feel, there is no brand. It is an unfortunate reality that for brand teams, direct customer interactions are limited and so we need to deepen our knowledge of the brand, to create a dialogue, to take those findings and pull out a story of opportunity, not a recap of everything that was discussed. Tell the customer about the opportunity and then back it up with robust evidence.

Or as Christina Griffin, a dynamic global brand director at AstraZeneca, put it: “Give me the 'thing' I didn't know. Give me the answer for the brand that our customers may or may not be talking about but that's there, between the lines during the research. We need you to think like marketers, who listen to our customers and understand what that 'thing' for the brand might be”. Nicely put.

If we want our research to uncover these opportunities, we need to find ways to engage our respondents as well as ensure that our insights tell the full story.

The value of engaging information 
To build a brand, the conversation needs to be designed to reflect what our customers think, feel and do. If we take a well-used approach, for example the product profile, our hypothesis is that respondents are faced with a wall of endpoints and revert to what they are trained to do; seek out key clinical data (efficacy and safety) and give a functional response.

In 2015, we were commissioned to work with Christina and her team on a brand development project in preparation for a Europe-wide launch, which would give us the opportunity to put this hypothesis to the test.

The research element of the project consisted of two stages, both of which required us to present some product information. In research phase I, we shared a product profile. As trained specialists, the respondents honed in on key efficacy and safety data points; clearly important but purely functional elements of the brand we were aiming to create. The rest of the information, which was added to provide context, was ignored. The result was that what they saw was a 'me too' option that would be considered after the current treatment of choice.

In the second phase, we presented the same information but as a story; a data pack, which permitted the respondent to focus and absorb each aspect of the brand in an ordered sequence. As a result, there was a major shift in their views. This time, they saw something different, innovative, a new way of treating their patients with the potential to replace the current treatment of choice. It was the same information, but with a fundamental shift in views.

The moral of the story is that, as a team, we could have gone with the insight from the first phase; we would have been listening to the customers' views after all, but we might have built a soulless brand based on functional-only insights and, as a result, missing the true potential for the treatment. Instead we challenged ourselves on how we could explore customers' views in more depth, building a brand with a bold and confident direction as a consequence.

Graphical information increases comprehension, engages our imagination and heightens our creative thinking

Testing the hypothesis
This difference in views was so significant and supportive of our thinking that we wanted to validate the results, so we commissioned our own research. In February 2016, we conducted 30 telephone interviews; 15 respondents would see the original product profile and the other 15 would see the data pack. We kept all other variables the same: how respondents were recruited and the questions we asked. Our aim was to test two things: would the way we presented the product information impact the depth of understanding and perceptions of the brand and would it shift views of the research experience itself?

On the first objective, we found that the respondents experienced the brand in a similar way as shown with the initial research completed by the project brand team - between the two formats, there was greater engagement with the data pack and a far stronger response to the potential and even the personality of the new launch brand.

Importantly, when asked to rate both the accessibility of the information and the overall research experience, the specialists we interviewed scored the product profile well, but overall the data pack scored consistently and significantly higher. They found that the feed of data was much clearer, easier to understand and more engaging. For them, the latter was the better experience and resulted in a 25% uplift across all elements of the understanding and experience we measured.

So what have we learnt from the research conversation?
The visual format of the data itself is important. We know from academic research that not only is it easier to understand, but graphical information increases comprehension, engages our imagination and heightens our creative thinking. By stimulating different areas of our brain, we are able to gain a fuller picture of their reactions.

As human beings, we are hardwired to engage with stories. Healthcare is no different. If we want HCPs to engage fully, avoiding the rational, trained responses we saw with the product profile, then data should be presented in story form.

The data pack format is much more akin to how people see product information in real life in publications, detail aids, etc. This helps to anchor them in the reality of the world they live and work in, and influences their decisions.

We must help our respondents to get the most out of the interaction and this means not only re-thinking the conversation, but truly presenting the whole approach as an experience, rather than a process. This means better addressing their motivations with learning at the recruitment stage. Perhaps by sending an engaging, related podcast or article as a primer for the interview, or by sharing an overview of findings post-research, as a follow-up so that they can learn about their peers' opinions.

Let's return to each of the dual issues and the two key customer groups we introduced at the start of our article in turn. Firstly, if the respondents are more engaged and satisfied, we will not only get a deeper level of understanding and insight into their decisions and behaviours, but they may also become more motivated to get involved. Secondly, we can't directly control diminishing budgets but we can re-assert the value we bring to the brand teams we work with.

Framing the conversation to uncover the deep functional and emotional customer experience of the brand is vital if we want both customer groups to see the value we bring and consequently allow us to evolve, not die.

Christina Griffin is a global brand director at AstraZeneca. David Coleiro is a partner and Alison Abel is a consultant at Strategic North, a healthcare brand-building agency

27th July 2016

Christina Griffin is a global brand director at AstraZeneca. David Coleiro is a partner and Alison Abel is a consultant at Strategic North, a healthcare brand-building agency

27th July 2016

From: Marketing



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AMICULUM is an independent family of 11 branded agencies that deliver communications and consultancy services to pharmaceutical, biotechnology and health...