I don’t think any industry does as much market research as the pharmaceutical industry. Yet, with all this research, we still see a lot of drugs failing to hit sales targets—much to the displeasure of Wall Street and investors. Drugs like Provenge were supposed to be huge blockbusters, but somewhere along the way marketers misread their market research or forgot to ask the right questions.

Market research is a tool. Used correctly, it can provide valuable insights into consumer and healthcare practitioner needs and wants. Used incorrectly, however, it can lead you down a path to high expectations that have little basis in reality. Marketers have to know what questions to ask. More important, they have to be able to understand what the data says and what it doesn’t say, so they can minimize risk of a new-product launch failure.

Qualitative research can provide valuable insights into both patient and HCP behavior, but it is harder to determine how much the researcher influences the results: analyzing the data is more subjective. When research is underway, someone, somewhere, has to have both the courage and the common marketing sense to get real insights into the product’s viability in the marketplace… and then to speak up about it.

What can marketers do to ensure that their strategy is supported by insightful research? First, have a clear understanding of your product versus the current competition. This not only includes the direct competition but also the secondary competition as well. For example, you might think that on-patent Brand B is a competitor—but in reality, your major competitor is a generic used as first-line for many years and preferred by HCPs because of its cost and safety.

Second, someone has to be in charge of the market research. This person must be able to develop a strategy based on what the research says, and not on sales targets set by someone who is not close to the brand. All too often, corporate politics—not research—determines sales targets. We keep reading press releases about how this or that new drug in development is having great results with patients—but such early reports cannot guarantee success for any drug.

Third, you need to look at the healthcare marketing environment during the run-up to the 2012 elections. Over the past year, I have heard more and more HCPs say that they will not prescribe certain new drugs until they have more safety data, and insurers are putting pressure on HCPs to prescribe generics over newly approved drugs.

Finally, marketers need to know when they need research and when they don’t need research. Research should be used to provide insights, not to cover your back in case someone asks, “What happened here?” Don’t be afraid to stand your ground based on what the research tells you. And don’t bow to political pressure, because in the end you’re going to lose and find yourself on the low end as blame gets passed around from department to department.

A great relationship with your market research department is essential. But market research is a tool, and all tools are only as good as the people who use them.

Email your question to Richard Meyer, our DTC expert, for the answer.

  • Richard Meyer

    Richard Meyer has worked in healthcare marketing for more than 12 years and is the author of www.worldof dtcmarketing.com and www.newmediaand marketing.com. He is the Director of Online Strategic Solutions.

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