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Concept testing: the collision of two worlds

Published on 09/10/03 at 04:18pm

Market research is a vital part of pharmaceutical marketing. If you don't talk independently to your audience, the people who are going to be prescribing your product, then you cant know if you are getting it even halfway right.

Just as the pharma industry has undergone some pretty seismic shifts in the last decade, so the medical market research world has turned around in the last 10 to 15 years. The kind of doctors that would come to the opening of an envelope have all but disappeared. In their place are doctors who are incredibly busy, who are overwhelmed with paperwork and bureaucracy and who are tired, but still canny enough to be aware of their worth.

With this in mind the market research process must be an exchange of information and opinions between the two sides. It has a high value to the companies that need to talk to doctors and the doctors are aware of that. So it is strange that sometimes it appears that at no point do the people commissioning research genuinely sit and think about what the doctors need in the way of information. Instead, their minds seem to be more occupied with the information they feel they must push at the doctors to make them see what a brilliant product they have.

Speaking as a recruiter, I do sometimes wish they would get their act together. So much more could be achieved if those on the pharma side would understand the pressures that doctors are under. A good starting point would be to see that it is not just about getting a doctor, any doctor, to attend for an opinion-gathering interview or come to a focus group discussion. It is about getting the right kind of doctor, one with an interest in that area and a lively mind, as opposed to the bums on seats mentality that can prevail.

Creativity for its own sake?

Concept testing, and detail aid testing for that matter, is basically the collision of two worlds. On the one hand you have the doctors, who are not too bothered about how the brochure looks, are not impressed by clever graphics and do not believe the results of a trial they have never heard of. The other side, the suits, want a cutting edge design to give their reps something new to talk about and can be more interested in the look of the thing rather than the information it contains.

You can be as creative as you like but if you are not giving the information in such a way as to help the doctors make a decision about your product, you are leading to a negative situation. There can be an impulse to say clever, new things all the time, partly to hold the interest of sales reps and partly to give them something different to say. But it is very difficult to say anything new about most established drugs (eg, NSAIDs) and sometimes you are in danger of insulting the doctors intelligence by pushing that to the limits. Where a creative company might have one eye on the awards potential and the other on the clients needs, doctors tend not to be bothered about how clever an ad is.

Try walking in their shoes

Although the market research industry must work within strict financial guidelines, under the MRS code of conduct marketing departments should not expect doctors to give hours of their time without a reasonable acknowledgement. So often I find in the projects that I am asked to organise that my clients expect the doctors to be free to come to their offices or to a viewing facility for at least an hour during a research interview day. At no point do clients recognise that doctors journey time to and from their surgery must be added on or the fact that by interrupting doctors during their working day an hour interview can easily be a two-hour diversion. Added to this, few clients will consider interviewing into the evening, when the doctors might be free, because they want to go home!

At this point, I would like to say that I am still  in this day and age  asked to limit the number of ethnic doctors invited to a group or for an interview day. I find it incredible and embarrassing - these are todays doctors: they are not all white, middle class and sipping cappuccinos on Brompton Road. You need to recognise your target audience and make the process work for them.

When doctors are at the interview it is very important to carefully consider what you need to achieve and not try and cram too much into an interview. There is a strong case for limiting the time of an interview, editing a discussion guide and re-examining your information needs. This may sound over simplistic, but I have conducted a number of interviews where the same question is asked, couched slightly differently, over and over again in order to hopefully glean another nugget of information that might be useful. While there is an obvious case for asking the same/similar/same area question in a different way in order to get a rounded answer, too much of this can irritate doctors, prompting them to give only short answers in the rest of the interview in order to get it finished and escape out of the door. If this happens you can lose an important part of the interview. Over-long interviews or uncontrolled groups risk destroying doctors attention spans.

Doctors have to understand why they are there and look outside of themselves to see why they are thinking in a certain way. This is down to the skill of the interviewer/moderator and whether they can get the doctor on their side and encourage them into thinking in a different way so that these two worlds can meet, explore and understand each other - and therefore learn.

Understanding is the key to this process. What is the most important thing in the world for a creative director still has to work for the doctor and both have to wear each others hat in this respect.

What can be done?

Listen to the needs of the doctor as much as your own business needs: if you get the doctor on your side, he will be more thoughtful in his responses, which will consequently be of a higher quality.

Limit the time of the interview: rather than using it as an excuse to add on extra questions, the quality of the interview will be improved by paring down the number of questions you ask.

Consider commissioning research in sufficient time to allow you to react to the results of interviews/focus groups.

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