It’s safe to say that at one time or another, we’ve all sat on the dark side of the one-way mirror and thought, “Why don’t the doctors get it?”
Healthcare professionals are clinically trained to diagnose problems and make informed decisions based on facts and data. In market research (MR) of promotional communications, we as marketers challenge their traditional way of thinking with creativity that requires interpretation. The more creative elements of MR stimuli—where proprietary and compelling ideas are found—often receive vague or even negative feedback from respondents.
What can qualitative research achieve?
Qualitative MR is often conducted in an effort to gather early reactions to new concepts. The principal value that MR brings to a creative effort is the voice of the physician to either support or redirect specific elements. For example, a particular visual could have “hidden depth” of communication, or a copy message may be read in a totally unintended (and unwanted) way.
Limitations and pitfalls of qualitative MR
Practicalities of research
The size of a research audience, and where or how the research is conducted (in-person versus phone; focus groups versus individual interviews, etc.), can introduce a certain set of limitations that must be considered and managed when reviewing the results of MR. Because of the typically small number of doctors involved in qualitative research, one of the biggest traps is allowing single verbatim reactions undue influence.
The healthcare professionals themselves
As mentioned earlier, healthcare professionals are typically more literally minded—especially in a MR setting. In addition, a physician may be sensitive to the perception that he or she is someone who is influenced by advertising. These idiosyncrasies can heighten the respondent’s reactions, eliciting commentary that can at the worst of times be hostile or defensive, and must be filtered.
Creativity and conservatism
Bold promotional campaigns can powerfully differentiate a product within a market. But bold, creative approaches can provoke criticism from this often-conservative audience, which in turn can feed discomfort in even the most ambitious marketer. The risk we run is taking the commentary as a prescription for how to execute creative, rather than as guidance to influence our thinking.
If the MR prescription is followed, the resulting creative is often watered down to such a point that it is incapable of eliciting an emotional reaction of any kind (good or bad). In short, you end up with creative that is very “pharma.”
5 tips for best use of MR
- Involve your agency
Your agency’s experience with the brand adds valuable insights that can help to make the research more robust and the outputs more meaningful and actionable. Involve the agency throughout the process in helping to develop the moderator’s guide, attending research, and reviewing audience reactions.
- Let research shape direction, not prescribe direction
Creative can be sharpened through research insights, but don’t let a small group determine direction.
- Avoid placing undue significance upon individual verbatim remarks
Assess each one-of-a-kind response in a measured way: if it rings an alarm bell, then probe further, but if it’s an outlier in the overall picture, don’t give it importance.
- Don’t let the inherent conservatism of the audience suppress the creative spark of communications
It is often lamented that pharmaceutical advertising compares poorly with consumer campaigns. It could just be that our collective reaction to qualitative MR with healthcare professionals is perpetuating this distinction.
- Keep excellence of promotional communication front of mind
The ultimate objective must be impactful, compelling communications.
It cannot be denied that MR plays a significant role in helping to shape communications that are compelling and meaningful to the audience. But MR results serve as one of many other communications guideposts—creative ingenuity, brand objectives, market dynamics—that must also be taken into account.