Marketing research in the pharmaceutical industry is highly complex and very challenging. Other B2B and B2C industries certainly have their challenges for marketing research, but Pharma definitely stands out. Here's why:
Formidable Business Problems
While the marketing principles are the same for all industries, Pharma's business environment is different and more complex, making marketing research more difficult.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scrutinizes every aspect of the Pharma business. Additionally, regulations vary by state and country and are constantly evolving.
Longer product development cycles with very high investments mean that Pharma companies rarely walk away from a product; they simply find another way to bring it to market.
Once the product is launched under patent, there is a relatively short window when the company can recoup its investment before the market opens to other competitors.
Product development is driven by what the science and scientists discover, not by business or consumer needs.
Finally, Pharma companies market to physicians who then prescribe the product to their patients. Messaging between the Pharma Sales Representative and the doctor is more dynamic than messaging to the end consumer of a product.
Recruiting a Needle in a Haystack
Whether you are looking for physicians or patients, recruiting can be extremely difficult for Pharma marketing research projects. Obviously, physician workloads and schedules can make recruiting more challenging. If you are looking for specialists, that narrows the field significantly, and the more specialized the doctor, the more complex the recruit. Next, you might be looking for physicians in a particular specialty, who have certain prescribing habits (certain drugs, classes of drugs, or dosages), or who work in a specific disease state (have a minimum percentage of their patient population with specific diagnosis). Further, you might also need to specify their specific workplace (hospital, clinic, office), geographic location, or even the specific hospital or clinic! Of course, if you are recruiting from a client list from the Pharma company itself, you may be limited even more.
Patients might be the easier of the two populations to recruit, but even recruiting patients can be a challenge. Right off the bat, looking for individuals with specific disease states limits potential respondents to a lower percentage of the total population, making this more unique than general population consumer recruits. If the project requires in-person research, you will be limited to major metropolitan areas, in many instances, to have enough people to contact.
In Pharma marketing research, your research partner's Project Managers will be more involved in the project. In addition to having strong expertise in logistics, these project managers need to have an understanding of the disease state or therapeutic area. They must be adept at writing complex screening tools that often will identify disease states, time since diagnosis, treatments, impact on quality of life, and much more. This type of knowledge is critical to a successful recruit, to the degree that they may even personally decide which recruits make the grade.
Given the other challenges in Pharm marketing research, traditional methodologies may not be appropriate or feasible. Often, highly creative methodologies must be developed after considering the size of the population to be recruited and the specific needs of the research. To understand the research project and design the optimal methodology means the marketing research firm must have both an in-depth knowledge of and experience in the disease and a strong marketing research foundation.
They also need the courage to break the mold when necessary! While in-depth interviews (either telephone or video) are often the best choice for a project, we may need to step outside the box and run them for 75 (or even 95) minutes to gain the required insight and information. And Pharma researchers must not be afraid to push the boundaries past traditional approaches when warranted. Mobile ethnography, texting platforms, online forums and more can and should have a place in pharma market research when the need dictates something unique.
Developing sound methodologies to uncover sensitive and highly technical knowledge is a requirement for a successful Pharma marketing research partner.
Above-and Beyond Regulatory Compliance and Privacy
The regulations governing the pharmaceutical industry – and by extension, anyone working with them – are complex and evolving. It is critical that your Pharma marketing research partner diligently monitor and comply with every regulation.
Most people have heard of HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). In addition to HIPAA, privacy regulations differ widely between countries and even between states in the U.S. And these regulations get very detailed. For example, in some situations, if a patient is on a webcam and another person walks behind them, you have to terminate the interview because the regulations prohibit interviews in public places. Additionally, in some countries, you cannot have participants' faces shown in video. Or you may be video-interviewing a physician whose diploma is on the wall behind them. If you can read their name on the diploma, the doctor must take the certificate off the wall or move to another place. Finally, once you have the video, you must carefully control who can access it, as there are often strict regulations about who can see the video to protect the respondents' privacy.
Marketing research firms must report any adverse event they learn about while conducting the research to the FDA. The definition of an adverse event is complicated, and the marketing research firm is responsible for educating themselves and understanding what constitutes an adverse event. For example, if the respondent tells of being in a car crash while taking the medication, that is an adverse event that must be reported to the FDA, whether or not the drug caused the crash.
Before even beginning the interview, the researcher must follow guideline to inform participants about compliance, privacy, and AE/PC (Adverse Event and Product Complaint) reporting in a way that also allows for building rapport and setting the stage for a successful interview. A Pharma - focused moderator is skilled in doing so.
Researcher Must Have Deep Knowledge, Detailed Understanding — and Empathy
In addition to meeting all of the above obstacles and challenges, it is critical that the marketing researcher has extremely deep pharma and medical experience in general and of specific disease states. A researcher cannot effectively probe for deeper insights if they don’t know the disease state, treatment options, competitive players, mechanism of action, acronyms, symptomatology, etc. It is nearly impossible to tease out the insights that matter, effectively answering the business questions, if a full understanding of disease state and therapies is not there on both sides of the interview. Doctors may not go into as much depth if the moderator seems uninformed and keeps things high-level, leading to missing key information. Pharma researchers must be able to speak the language of the physician so that the physician recognizes them as credible and continues to engage completely in the research process.
While knowledge and experience are important, empathy is equally important. Pharma researchers are often called upon to talk with really sick patients, including those with terminal diagnoses or substantially impacted quality of life. Patient research in Pharma does require a significant amount of empathy, while simultaneously maintaining an objective viewpoint.
Pharma MR: Not for the Faint of Heart
Pharma marketing research is definitely one of the most difficult types of marketing research to undertake, but it can also be one of the most fulfilling and gratifying. After all, Pharma products literally save lives and improve quality of life for thousands, if not more.
Pharma companies should look specifically for a Pharma-focused marketing firm when they need a research partner. Due to the complexity of the industry, the environment, and the need for deep experience and knowledge, working with a research partner who specializes in Pharma will save time and money. It will also reduce the risk of errors committed due to lack of experience or knowledge. Most importantly, the quality of the insights delivered will directly be proportional to the amount of your research partner's Pharma experience.
Harper Global – Over 25 Years Conducting Pharma Research!