Who knew that Mark Twain, one of my favorite authors, knew a thing or two about market research? Proof is in one of his great quotes “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.”
That’s a comment on discipline, and it takes on a whole different—and cautionary—meaning when it’s applied to primary market research.
As a market researcher, my first order of business is to help clients “get the facts first.” The discipline of gathering the right facts from the right stakeholders―and in the right way at the right time, to boot―allows us to not only uncover our customer’s drivers and motivators, but also to help inspire changes in behavior.
There are certain activities and processes that are important for us, as an agency, to shepherd our clients through. For instance, we don’t want brand team members driving the creative according to their personal beliefs and perceptions about the product. Rather, we want our clients to clearly hear their customers’ voices, and shape their brand strategy accordingly, with our guidance.
As market researchers, we help ensure that clients “hear” their customers by answering 4 key questions:
1. What are the right facts?
- The right facts can be as simple as the customer’s geography (physical location) and demography (age, gender, occupation, socioeconomic status), or as complex as their behavior (product consumption level, use patterns, frequency, and loyalty), and psychographic profile (interests, attitudes, and opinions)
- By targeting the specific questions that our clients need to answer, and by understanding how that data are meant to inform business decisions, we determine the right facts to gather
2. Who are the right stakeholders?
- Pharmaceutical clients often believe they have a “physician problem,” but chances are they could also have a patient, caregiver, payer, or pharmacist problem (And I could go on!). Sometimes it’s even more than one problem! Healthcare is a sector defined by intricate interdependencies among a long list of stakeholders that ultimately impact product usage
- Well-designed market research takes into account all relevant stakeholders, including them as the research questions dictate. We often talk with clients about, at minimum, viewing patients, physicians, and payers as three legs supporting their product’s stool—the “length” (eg, importance) of those legs can vary by therapeutic area, but they all need to be taken into account when planning brand strategy
3. What is the right way to gather the facts given budgets and timelines?
- Do we need one-on-one conversations with customers where we can take the time and latitude to investigate the “why’s” behind responses, and explore topics that might be challenging to articulate in front of others?
- Do we need small groups of customers to talk with us about our clients’ products’ features and benefits, and the extent to which they produce functional, emotional, and/or personal benefits?
- Do we need to use projective exercises in which ambiguous or vaguely defined stimuli grant customers’ considerable freedom in their responses? Images and metaphors can sometimes reveal a deeper dimension of thought/decision-making processes and feelings than objective, “correct” responses to explicit research questions
- Do we need to survey a large number of customers, and on a big enough scale so we can obtain results that are statistically significant?
- Do we need to survey various types of customers to understand the number and size of diverse market segments, including what those segments look like?
- Do we need to deploy mobile or app-based methodologies that allow us to track customer thinking and behavior in real time?
4. When is the right time to gather the facts?
- Sometimes we want to conduct research, either to take the market pulse on the heels of a significant marketplace event, or to get a “snapshot” of the market at a particular moment
- Sometimes we want to be in the field when the market is quiet, so we can get a baseline against which to compare the impact of future disruptive events
- Sometimes we want to longitudinally gather the same metrics from the same customers at certain intervals to get a long-term understanding of customer behavior and product usage
- Sometimes we simply have materials or concepts to test. This might warrant multiple rounds of research, depending on customer response
Contrary to Mr. Twain’s memorable comment, the second order of business for market researchers is to make sure that clients do not distort those facts to fit their own view of their marketplace–or the marketplace they want instead of the one they have.
It’s therefore our job not just to provide the facts, but to give them meaning and to make actionable recommendations. The beauty of being part of the larger Ogilvy CommonHealth organization is that we have a wide and deep network of resources to help us round out our interpretation.
Drawing on our own backgrounds in multiple therapeutic areas, and working closely with our account team counterparts, optimizes our point of view on the research. Having our secondary research, data analytics, and digital colleagues weigh in allows us to ensure that our recommendations are deep and broad, and showcases our capabilities as an integrated agency.
Consider how primary market research can help your organization’s brand teams to get the right facts first (distortion-free!), and use that data as a platform on which to build robust strategies that firmly stake your brands’ positioning in the marketplace.
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