New Ways to Gain New Brand Insights

Jul 01, 2011

Despite a significant transformation in pharmaceutical marketing over the last several years, in response to new models of care, expanded access to online physician and patient data, and new regulations on detailing and DTC, marketing research has remained more or less consistent. But as pharmaceutical marketing has grown more complex, it's time for new approaches to answering questions fundamental to sound marketing strategy in several key areas:

1) Understanding patients' real needs. How can your organization be a better advocate for patients? How can you understand their needs if they don't even discuss them with their physicians? How can you help physicians address those needs?

2) Communicating effectively through intermediaries. How can you more effectively and efficiently communicate with physicians? What channels, messaging, and materials provide the greatest value and help improve the patient-physician dialogue about your brand and the condition it treats?

3) Diagnosing physicians' prescribing behavior. What factors keep physicians from prescribing your brand to qualified patients at various points in the product lifecycle (e.g., dearth of long-term evidence, formulary tier, competitors' messaging) and what can you do to quickly overcome those hurdles?

These important questions can be addressed through new approaches to market research. These approaches include new methods and/or use of new technologies to dive deeper into the issues to help brand teams extend their reach, while facilitating the exchange of valuable information between sales forces, physicians, and patients.

Understanding Patients' True Needs

No matter the health condition, brand marketers benefit from knowing how patients regard their health, their symptoms, your brand, and your competitors' brands. Uncovering these attitudes and behaviors can be even more challenging when the condition is of a personal nature. The solution lies in providing a safe environment that allows patients to share attitudes and behaviors they might not even admit to their doctors or spouses. The key to such an approach is to create an ongoing, intimate, but "anonymous" relationship with patient respondents. Short-term online communities (groups of similar customers sharing ideas through online bulletin boards) foster a high degree of candid and insight-rich communication, especially when used to study stigmatized, highly personal conditions, to generate a richer understanding of patient needs and their true concerns.

Case in point: A pharmaceutical company sought to expand usage of an existing drug to a new treatment category for an STD. To develop an effective marketing strategy, it was crucial to fully understand the patient experience and barriers to getting treatment. As any brand manager would expect, the most revealing questions would be impossible to ask in a traditional focus group.

The research objectives for this study included:

» Gain an in-depth understanding of the patient experience, particularly how the condition affects lifestyle, attitudes, and behaviors;

» Examine patient attitudes, behaviors, and motivations related to diagnosis, physician interactions, and treatments; and

» Identify marketing and messaging opportunities for DTC communications, physician detailing, and patient-physician interactions.

The short-term online community included patients from across the US and involved individual private blog assignments and group message boards over the course of three weeks. All participants remained highly engaged throughout, providing thoughtful, detailed, and unrestrained perspectives, and participating in free-flowing dialogue with one another. Many expressed gratitude for the opportunity to participate and commented on the benefits of the study's unique environment.

Having overcome some of the hurdles of traditional research on such a sensitive topic, the brand team was able to deliver valuable insights that are directly impacting the company's marketing strategies within this new category.

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