Qualifying the market in an online world

 Paul Tunnah interviews Vishal Jhanjee

GfK Healthcare

As an industry, pharma has always placed a heavy emphasis on the power of market research studies to help it understand the market place. Through conducting both quantitative and qualitative studies across healthcare providers, payers and patients a detailed picture of unmet need within a disease area can be ascertained, which is pivotal to driving effective R&amp,D and commercialisation strategies.

However, with the growth of the internet and significant advances in digital technology over the last few years’ modern research techniques have evolved significantly away from traditional face-to-face and telephone interviews. The challenge is to ensure that the quality of information obtained remains high, particularly for qualitative studies, whilst taking advantage of the reduced cost and greater reach afforded by modern technology.

Vishal Jhanjee, working with the well-established cross-industry market research company GfK Healthcare, provides us with his insights into how online qualitative research can best be utilised. In addition, he elaborates on some of the opportunities and pitfalls of online studies and where he thinks pharma research is heading in the future.

To listen to part 1 of the interview, please click on the play button below, with a shortened transcript of some edited highlights shown in print below.


To listen to part 2 of this interview please visit our YouTube channel.

Interview summary

PT: Hello Vishal. We’re talking about online qualitative research today, so how have you seen this evolve over time?

VJ: We’ve seen it evolve quite significantly over the last few years, with great improvements in the technology and acceptance for online methodologies in a number of sectors, including pharmaceuticals. Until now, online pharma research has been more limited to quantitative studies, but we’re now seeing qualitative research getting in on the act. The type of qualitative research being conducted isn’t vastly different to face-to-face studies, but the online methodology brings the ability to test various stimuli online, which is an appealing proposition to clients.

PT: How would you summarise the different approaches to conducting online qualitative research?

VJ: The approaches themselves are quite similar to conducting studies in person, such as, in depth interviews, advisory boards, online focus groups and ethnographic research. However, one is able to involve those harder to reach respondents who may not always be willing to travel to a central location, so it’s providing the ability to capture insight from a wider audience. For patient research it’s being conducted in a far more efficient manner online, especially in those conditions that may be hard to speak about in a face-to-face environment. With the increase in usage of smart phones and so forth online qualitative research can be effectively conducted at any time and place, allowing the researcher and client the ability to gain insight into how patients and physicians respond to various stimuli at any given point during the day.


“Until now, online pharma research has been more limited to quantitative studies, but we’re now seeing qualitative research getting in on the act.”


PT: Is there a difference in the way you would structure the questions, or the length of the interview, for an online study?

VJ: Yes, one of the advantages of the online approach is that you can actually conduct the research over a longer period of time, so essentially you could run a bulletin board over three to five days and capture greater insight from the respondents. Also, the respondents can have a bit more time to give deeper insight into the questions that are being asked and really think about their responses. However, there is always a clear objective in place as to why the research is taking place and what the moderator would like to get out of it, which establishes the actual length of time over which the online study can take place. So it’s always important to have clear objectives and trained moderators who are fully aware of the limitations and advantages of the technology that’s being used.

PT: Conversely, do you think there are certain areas where these online studies don’t work so well?

VJ: Online qualitative research is great in certain situations but it’s not going to be the “be all and end all” per se. In the majority of developed countries, the online usage is at a very high standard where the connection is excellent, but when you’re looking at much larger studies with research in countries where the internet isn’t as great then it may not work so well. The other area where you may want to consider not taking an online approach is where you want a significant interaction amongst the respondents, where you want to get them in a room and you really view how they are reacting to the responses and have a real in-depth ongoing discussion with interaction between all participants.


“Online qualitative research is great in certain situations but it’s not going to be the “be all and end all” per se.”


PT: What kind of feedback do you get from people participating in online qualitative research?

VJ: The respondents who participate in online research really like the fact that they can engage themselves in a study whereby they don’t have to move from a location where they’re quite comfortable taking part, making them much more open with their responses. They also like the fact that you can show a huge variety of stimuli online and use many different ways to capture their response, such as whiteboard type tasks where they can actually write on the screen or highlight different areas.

PT: Critics of online research might say that you lose some of that interactivity, or subtle nuances, of the respondent. How do you deal with this?

VJ: Technology has actually made the research much more real time, so you might have an online bulletin board or an online focus group with a moderator. Respondents in various locations can then all see each other on the screen and converse directly, so it’s actually quite similar to being in a live situation. With this type of live situation you get the same sort of insight and the interaction between the moderator and all the respondents as offline studies.

PT: Do you see online research techniques that pharma can learn from being utilised by other industries?

VJ: Yes, absolutely. Pharma is a relatively conservative sector and can learn from advances in other sectors, such as getting much richer insight from consumers or patients. One of the methodologies utilised in other sectors is the concept of “crowdsourcing”, where a particular concept is being discussed in a forum and driving communication from the customer’s point of view. Essentially it means that the consumers become an extension of the marketing team, but it gives much greater, deeper insight as to what pieces of information are actually driving the marketing activity. The other interesting area is mobile phone technology, which is accelerating hugely in a number of consumer markets through apps and smart phones. Again, this can be translated to the pharmaceutical sector whereby physicians or patients can actually conduct research at the touch of a button on their phone.


“Offline qualitative research will always have a place, but there is a significant increase in the use of online…”


PT: Do you think offline qualitative research has a future within pharma?

VJ: Offline qualitative research will always have a place, but there is a significant increase in the use of online, which is being driven by two things. One is the financial pressures which the industry is going through and the other is advancement in the different technological approaches. However, there is still research that takes place offline in the quantitative area and I think that will continue to be the case in the qualitative area too. However, what we now have is the opportunity to utilize a more interactive methodology either alone or in conjunction with in person qualitative research.

About the interviewee:

Vishal is Director of Business Development at GfK HealthCare working across the entire GfK global network. He is responsible for building upon GfK HealthCare’s expertise in the Healthcare sector and developing insightful solutions to pharmaceutical companies marketing challenges. Vishal has over 12 years of commercial experience within the pharmaceutical industry having held previous sales and marketing roles at IMS Health and Schering Plough.

GfK HealthCare is a global healthcare research organisation conducting research in every major healthcare market in the world. Having numerous offices worldwide enables a global approach to marketing research whilst utilising knowledge of the local healthcare and marketing environment.

GfK Healthcare offers various research solutions including, custom research, syndicated &amp, omnibus services, desk research &amp, secondary data and a specialist market access and pricing &amp, reimbursement. For more information please contact vishal.jhanjee@gfk.com or visit http://www.gfknop.com/sectors/healthcare/whatwedo/index.en.html

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