Second Thoughts On Patient Segmentation Studies

The enduring appeal that high-priced segmentation research holds for pharmaceutical marketers is difficult to understand. That’s because anyone who’s been involved with three or four of these studies surely knows the results are almost always about the same. Regardless of disease state, three basic segments keep showing up:

  1. Patients not especially serious about their health.
  2. Patients indeed serious, but not keen on questioning their doctors.
  3. Patients who play a pro-active role in the management of their health; who do their homework; and who won’t hesitate to question their HCPs if they feel a DTC-promoted medicine might be right for them.

Here’s the point: It makes little sense to spend big money conducting research with patients we know won’t respond to DTC marketing. (Who cares what TV shows a non-responsive patient watches?) But it makes total sense to learn about the pro-actives we know will respond. And even here, we already know a great deal about who these pro-active patients are and how they get informed:

  • Pro-actives tend to be better educated—they do their homework.
  • Women are consistently more pro-active than men—this has always been the case.
  • And, like most of us, pro-actives watch lots of TV—but they’re also voracious consumers of healthcare info online.

In fact, comScore, in a recent study, found that the most reliable way to get a patient to ask their doctor if a DTC-promoted medicine “is right for them” is by getting them to a branded website.

Okay, let’s pivot from the abstract to the real world. Let’s say you’re 15 months away from launching a $50 million DTC campaign—here’s what to do to get specific intelligence on your DTC campaign’s highest value patients:

  • First check MARS, the syndicated research service your media agency subscribes to. If the MARS sample for your brand’s indication is sizeable, then you should be able to tease out actionable insights as to pro-active demographics, competitive usage, and media habits. This is good information that’s essentially free.
  • But you’re probably going to need more specific data, especially intelligence on how pro-actives think about your competition. So, rather than a classic—and expensive—segmentation study, conduct your research with pro-actives only, the only segment that counts. This is easy: Simply screen for patients who partner with their HCPs, who question their HCPs, who do their homework, and especially patients who visit branded websites.

To sum up, Segmentation Studies are not only expensive, but much of the information they provide is also useless. Again, a majority of the patients in these studies don’t respond to DTC. Why study them? As to the pro-actives indeed worthy of study, check MARS first—it’s free. But should you need additional research, screen for pro-actives only. Screen out everyone else. You’ll get better intelligence and a shorter presentation.


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