What Are IDEAs Made Of: Research

Mike Rea

IDEA Pharma

It has been said that the definition of madness is to keep doing the same thing again and expect a different outcome. This doesn’t seem to apply to market research.

There is a thought in play that if you ask doctors what they want from your new product, you might get a response that is both useful and likely to be different than the information gathered the last time your company asked the same question, or the last time your competitors did. Given that Henry Ford knew the flaws in this approach some time ago, it does seem to be taking a while for pharma to catch up.: “If I’d asked customers, they would only have told me they wanted a faster horse…” is as good a statement of the problem of research as we’ve heard. Ford knew that customers aren’t best placed to answer the ‘What if…?’ question.

When we say someone is ‘insightful’, we mean that they fully understand and empathize with their correspondent, that they see things with a different perspective, they can think laterally and ‘outside of the box’, that they are an active listener, exploring ‘what if?’ and ‘so what?’ questions, probing with ‘when you say x, do you mean…?’ questions and following with ‘do you mean something like this…?’ Applying those same rules to market research would produce a remarkably different outcome.

“A lot of market research presumes the customer has thought about what is possible…”

We may know that our product could do something that our customers haven’t thought about yet – we can’t presume they know what to ask of our product. A lot of market research presumes the customer has thought about what is possible, whereas we know that if we ask the straight question, most often we see users say they ‘need’ more: efficacy, safety, tolerability, options. None of these is useful in itself – users often, in practice, ignore what they say they ‘need’ more of.

We must truly observe what users do with products. Why do they do what they do currently, and is there anything curious to a wholly ‘rational’ observer. What are the patterns of behaviour? All of these questions get us to a ‘that’s funny’ clue, and more than one definition of ‘insight’ is that it is not the Eureka moment that counts, but when someone says ‘that’s funny…’.

Customers tend to ‘cope’ with current agents – because they have to – so at the same time as they understand the flaws of the agent, they also underestimate the improvements that would make them switch. The AK-47 isn’t the success it is because it is the ‘best’ rifle (if ‘best’ is used the way pharma companies use it) – on many ‘efficacy dimensions, it is beaten by competitors (accuracy, repeat firing), but it gained its success by being, on the ground, the dirty hard ground, the most reliable. Which, when you come to think of it from a user’s perspective, has its advantages…

What is great insight, then? Great strategic insight should:

• Be correct: it should be verifiable. Guesses are OK, but need to be verified/ validated through analytics/MR. An ‘n of 1’ insight can be enough as a clue, but needs to qualified and quantified at some point

• Be insight into the product you have, the way the market works, or the way that audiences think, or insight into constraints imposed by current therapy

• Be a goal of the audience: not unmet needs. Goals track to behaviour and personal reward (benefits) better than ‘needs’. Goals can be driven (that is, you can do something about the goals they hold)

• Be a learning: Insight is a learning process. It should be iterative – don’t expect ‘insight’ from first-pass research, from the first ‘why’ question. This week, I heard a marketer newly integrated into another company say that the new company’s research tends to ask just one ‘why’ rather than the ‘3 whys’ he was always told to ask as a minimum. Learning processes are based on assumptions that can be corroborated, so the onward examination of assumptions is an absolutely core goal of research.

• Lead to thinking differently

“Remember Viagra, the angina drug?”

So when does insight become useful? When it makes us ask different questions, that lead to somewhere no-one else has been… Our product should make us ask different questions of our audiences, but that insight should then make us ask different questions of our product. “Could it do ‘that’…? Of course – we didn’t know that would be something you might want…”.

Remember Viagra, the angina drug? Key is the “If we act on this insight, will we be the only ones to have done so…” question. Insight itself doesn’t need to be unique, action can make it unique – studies, marketing strategy, etc. The key is to ask ‘Can we build on this insight to get somewhere completely new (with our product) and valuable?’ Anything else is just a finding, one that is likely to be the same as everyone else’s findings, and trying to use that to your benefit could well be another definition of madness.

About the author:

Mike Rea is a Principal with IDEA Pharma, who enjoys taking a look outside the industry to learn how it can think differently. For direct enquiries he can be contacted on mike.rea@ideapharma.com and for more information on IDEA Pharma please see http://www.ideapharma.com/what/default.htm.

The next WAIMO piece will be in a couple of weeks.

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