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If you can learn to understand patient and physician behavior, you are well on your way to strengthening the position of your product
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.
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.
In an industry that relies on intermediaries to convey finely tuned product messages, the distance between the brand team and the actual patient conversation can seem like a million miles. Such is the case with a physician and patient, where the conversation about symptoms and treatment options is critical to what brand—if any—is prescribed for treatment.
The ideal way to learn how a physician communicates with his or her patients about a specific therapy or condition would be to observe the actual conversation as it happens organically in the doctor's office. Of course, the private and confidential nature of those conversations typically prohibits such an observational approach, so brand teams often conduct separate research with patients and physicians, relying on perceptions and recollections of how those conversations went.
When the research goal is to understand the complexities, challenges, and opportunities that occur during these important conversations, a simulated conversation—known as a "dyad"—is an incredibly effective substitute. A carefully researched and strategically designed dyad between a physician and a patient (though not actually that physician's patient) can reveal startlingly real representations of actual conversations to reveal a genuine dialogue. Those representations deliver actionable insights to empower and educate marketing and sales teams to better target and communicate both directly with physicians and, ultimately, to patients through better communications and materials.
Through this observation, researchers can identify language that is effective—both from the physician's and patient's perspectives. And by having a bird's eye view of these conversations, companies can gain valuable strategic insights around major messages and issues.
Sometimes a marketing research study uncovers issues that beg new questions. For example, as part of a physician survey last year, one pharmaceutical company identified a cohort of physicians who had been detailed on a particular drug, but who had not yet prescribed the drug to any of their patients. This revelation begged the question, "Why?"
The brand team needed quick insights into this challenging group of physicians. To that end researchers deployed a quick and cost-effective series of deep-dive interviews to learn how to increase prescribing rates among this niche group of detailed non-prescribers. Our client needed to understand what key issues were preventing three particular groups of physicians from prescribing the new brand:
» Those who had been detailed but would not consider prescribing;
» Those who had been detailed, who would consider prescribing and, in fact, planned to prescribe; and
» Those who had been detailed, aren't completely opposed to prescribing the medicine, but have no plans to prescribe it.
Our client wanted to learn more about physician reactions to the detailing experience, and whether it was the detail or another factor that was getting in the way of prescribing. Researchers had conversations with physicians from each of the three groups to determine what additional information and/or messaging a sales representative could use to reach physicians more effectively, or whether the problem was something other than the detail itself.
Researchers created a fast turnaround strategy for reconnecting with those physicians through highly specific, in-depth phone interviews (IDIs) with trained moderators. Because the IDIs were limited to 15 minutes, physicians easily fit the interview into their busy schedules, and researchers got them to quickly address the compelling issues with the brand.
In very little time and with modest cost—a fraction of traditional, full-scale qualitative research projects—researchers dug deeper to reveal detailed information about the decision-making behavior of these key physicians. The physicians provided an abundance of important and specific insights that are being used to revamp the tools and approach that detailers will use with similar physicians in the future.
Using these approaches, you can help answer key strategic marketing questions, and by doing so shed light on areas that traditional methods simply cannot reach. By understanding the real story, the reasoning, and emotions buried within decision-making processes, marketers can more effectively influence outcomes and find new messages that resonate with, and address the needs, of target audiences.
Ellen Cabacungan and Bronwen Clark are Qualitative Research Managers at CMI. They can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, respectively.