Avoiding the five traps of healthcare branding research

Many healthcare clients have some form of insight mining capability in house, from a single market researcher to a robust department of analysts and databases.  Usually, the methodologies are sound and proven, reflecting a legacy of good research practices.  However, when it comes to identifying unique insights into healthcare brands, these methodologies reveal significant gaps in effectiveness.  The reason?  Research for health and wellness brands—especially prescription drugs and devices—have been built to capture sales and promotional data about the products, not the customers.  And branding is not about how things are sold, but rather about why customers buy.  Here are the five traps to avoid when trying to truly understand why customers see a reflection of themselves in your healthcare brand, and why they don’t.

1. Don’t demand pathology

Healthcare professionals are trained to find something wrong.  Where we see a pretty face, they’ll see a potentially cancerous mole.  Indeed, if they cannot find something wrong, chances are they feel they have failed in some way.  They ask “what’s the problem,” not “is there a problem?”  So avoid this natural bias by staying away from questions about your brand that ask them to be critical in a negative way.  Best-practice branding research knows how to convert clinical healers into marketing helpers.

2. Don’t award honorary marketing degrees

David Ogilvy once wrote that if you asked people on the street what their favorite magazine is, Time or Consumer Reports would be everyone’s stated choices.  No Maxim.  No Guns & Ammo.  No People.  The lesson: no one answers his or her true conscience with a direct question.  Healthcare professionals are no different.  In fact, because they prize their reputations as people of science and integrity, they’re even more prone to give pat answers.  Yet clients continue to ask these healthcare experts to become marketing experts.  Questions like “in what order do you think we should put the selling information?” and “what would you need to know in order to prefer this product?”  The answers?  “I don’t read ads” and “More data” respectively.  You’d never hear “I’d use the one that makes me look like a hero with my patients” or “I’d use whatever is the most popular”—two of the most common beliefs revealed by the best branding research.

3. Don’t be memorably wrong

When trying to measure how tactics are building your brand equity, do not rely on research designed to measure typical R&R advertising and promotion measures: Recall (customers pick out your promotion as something they remember) and Recognition (customers directly associate the promotion with your brand).  A leading antibiotic was puzzled when its R&R scores were in the 98% range, yet sales were slightly declining.  The proper branding research revealed that while the brand’s icon (a bulldog) was well recognized, its evocation of values (aggressive, tenacious) was creating a conflict with how customers identified with the brand (trustworthy, reassuring).  In short, the promotion was memorable but wrong for the brand’s equity.

4. Don’t presume they own it

Competitive branding assessments fail most often when they are taken at face value, or literally.  Communicating a certain set of values in visual and verbal assets doesn’t mean that the brand experience delivers on these values.  For example, in evaluating the branding for gyms in the New York City area, a fitness center newcomer—trying to establish a differentiating position with which to enter the market—would make a terrible error in thinking that an existing gym which proclaims “we’re all about helping you meet your fitness goals” actually owns this idea in the minds of customers.  Brands must make a commitment to walk the walk, or customers and the competition will position them accordingly.  In this case, what did effective branding research reveal?  That the competitor in question owned a different promise altogether…as “the expensive one.”

5. Don’t think in isolation

When branding regulated healthcare brands, such as prescription drugs and hospital products, clients often rely on a staple of market research: the one-on-one interview.  Here’s the problem: these healthcare brands are not consumed in a one-on-one basis.  Rather, there are a host of parties involved—patients, generalists, specialists, pharmacists, payers, etc.—a community that must unify around the brand in order for it to achieve esteem and share.  A leading brand of liquid suture (think professional Krazy Glue) tried unsuccessfully to get different types of surgeons, surgical nurses and buying groups to stock and use it versus the competitors by speaking to each group individually.  The solution: if they buy like a community, then simulate the community in research.  Any weak link in the chain undermines the brand with the entire community.

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  1. […] comprehensive scope of work…costing millions of dollars. We have already written about avoiding the traps healthcare branding research, and the differences between healthcare and consumer branding.  How can you get everything you […]

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