Most market researchers have been taught that well designed market research usually involves a very tightly defined ‘problem’ to solve. This ‘problem’ often takes a very ‘brand centric’ view of the world which reduces people to ‘consumers’ or ‘buyers’. The advantages of doing this are that it gives from the outset a clear focus and analysis framework. However, there is a downside. By using a brand lens to view the world we are reducing the complexity of human behaviour and the potential for insights that can help brands better connect with people. We end up designing studies that lack ‘human empathy’. How can we design studies that put the person (not the ‘respondent’ – that in itself is reductive) at the heart of the study?
To illustrate this line of thinking, we will look at a b2b case study conducted in China in Q1 2018, where we had the freedom to create a participant centric design that viewed the world from the participant’s needs rather than the brand’s. FUEL partnered with UK Experience agency MESH for this project, working for end client Sanofi. This case study was first presented at the IIeX APAC Conference in December 2018.
The Business Challenge: How to Support Doctors’ Information Needs?
One of the strongest foundations for success for Sanofi is to build strong relationships with doctors, who clearly are essential to the uptake of many types of medication. Instead of taking a brand centric view to learn brand perceptions and interactions, it was decided to explore one area very central to doctors’ work – their use of information. Clearly, having the most relevant up to date information is critical to their work and if Sanofi can better support them in this area, this can deepen the relationship.
What Sanofi didn’t know going into this study is where do doctors get their information? What types of information and from what sources? We know that doctors use both digital and traditional touchpoints to engage with information but to what extent and in what ways? Understanding this consumption of information can help determine what role brands can play and where they can add value.
We used MESH’s mobile enabled real-time experience tracking methodology which allowed us to understand not just experiences, but the context surrounding those experiences, to provide rich contextual understanding of doctors’ engagement with information.
111 neurologists in China were recruited to share their experiences ‘regarding seeing, hearing, sharing or searching for information on drugs, conditions or treatments’. These experiences were captured via their mobile phone, incorporating structured quantitative profiling of each experience and qualitative input via additional text, photos and videos.
Need to Consider the Total Human Being
One of the key considerations when designing this study was to consider the Total Human Being. We felt that it was important to not just view our participants for this study as professionals that have clearly delineated lines between their personal and professional lives, but as people fulfilling multiple roles in their lives, both professional and personal.
As many of us know, the idea of separate work and personal lives is a fantasy! Indeed, when we spoke to doctors, we find doctors accessing information on multiple devices, at the same time, at home at work, in the car or on their lunch break. Three out of ten experiences were outside the workplace; digital touchpoints were particularly prevalent at home. Knowing where to be present is vital to create the best possible dialogue.
What Did we Learn?
1. Doctors in a Digital Age: Interpersonal communication remains key
Now we expected going into this that doctors would of course be using a lot of digital sources. And of course, they do. But it’s kind of reassuring that we found out that most interactions with information were in conversations with either other healthcare professionals or patients – mainly face to face but occasionally via telephone. With other healthcare professionals, these ‘information exchanges’ tend usually to involve receiving information from others or sharing their own expertise, typically face to face. Of course, with patients the focus is on sharing information, again face to face.
The interesting thing is we can understand what these conversations are about including:
The advice they share or receive
Discussions or advice about specific drugs, including dosage and side effects
What advice they give to patients – whether general advice about their condition, treatment and drugs
And even patients’ reactions to that advice
This gives a window into the Doctor’s world - a really unbiased view of current attitudes and perceptions, including specifically towards certain drugs. In fact, many brand touchpoints are actually earned - they come through other people and are not controlled by the brand.
2. Doctors as Researchers & Teachers
The advantage with taking such a broad approach is we can begin to unravel the multiple roles that doctors take on in their careers. This allows us to uncover the underlying psychological needs that drive each role.
The methodology we used not only tracks the incidence of experiences, but also how positive these experiences were. We learned that the experiences that doctors enjoy the most are more active experiences – where they are either searching for / researching information or sharing their knowledge (compared to more passive acts of receiving information from others). Using this insight, there is clear opportunity to rethink Sales Reps’ meetings away from the usual focus of passive sharing of information and following up on drug usage.
We were able to explore in depth how they were using new technology. We learnt that WeChat is a key channel for doctors to help with patient strategies – by finding and sharing relevant information and articles and discussing and communicating about cases and solving problems. WeChat also helps them to keep up to date with the latest research and best practice.
We were also able to capture the online searches that doctors were making – what they were searching for (drugs/ treatments/ conditions), why they were searching (short term case solving focus vs. longer term updating their knowledge), how (mobile vs desktop and whether using search engines or apps) and the location they were at the time. We were able to capture doctors using medical apps and reading (and writing) blogs. We quickly learnt that information needs are hugely context driven – sometimes doctors look for quick snippets of information and other times want more detailed information. This knowledge helped us understand the potential for brands to show up where they were useful and relevant, and how information needed to be adapted to each channel.
By shifting perspectives away from a brand-centric view of the world and designing a study where the participants’ needs were central, we were able to uncover insights that would typically be hidden from view.
The central question was “how Sanofi can build better relationships with doctors?”. By understanding the different roles that doctors take on and the underlying psychological needs, we learnt how to provide them with different types of content that they can use to solve their complex medical cases or to support their professional development. We understood where brands are most relevant and welcome in their consumption of information. We were able to develop strategies to help doctors share their knowledge within their communities, increasing their status and profile within those communities. These are the kinds of learnings that can help build relationships – so essential in a btb context.
There are of course wider implications here for how we plan research. We need to stop reducing the richness and depth of the people we research. We need to look at the broader context of their lives. We need to start thinking about people meeting their goals (people centric) and not path to purchase (brand centric). It is a subtle but significant shift in thinking which can help you create some groundbreaking insight for your next study.