Rediscovering Your Customers
by Sara Sutton
We all inherently know about this trap. We think we know exactly who our customers are, and maybe even what they want or need. But what is this “knowledge” based on?Typically, it is based on assumptions or hypotheses that are (hopefully) based on past learnings or data. Unfortunately, given the quick pace of the market today, those past learnings are quickly outdated. Although this is true in most industries today, it is particularly true in the medical & healthcare industries, where rapid changes driven by an aging population, as well as science, regulation, and other market forces constantly require patients and providers to reevaluate their needs and desires.
Successful market leaders understand that they cannot rely on yesterday’s data to drive tomorrow’s growth. We must constantly seek not only to understand the market, but also to anticipate it, else we risk being yesterday’s market leader.
Fortunately, market change can yield opportunities for companies that are willing and able to adjust their plans, products, or messages to meet the demands of the market. And the astute marketer knows that current and prospective customers (and influencers) are among their most useful tools in understanding the changing needs of the marketplace.
Routinely talking to stakeholders (such as providers, patients, payers, etc.) via qualitative research or other in-depth methods can uncover:
- New/Upcoming threats to your products, services, channels, etc., as well as ideas to feed your new product pipeline.
- Ways you are delighting customers now, and ways you are disappointing them.
- Changes in attitudes, behaviors, or needs that may affect your business (which, many times, may be coming from other products and services, including those outside of your business or industry).
This type of annual, or even biannual, “Understanding Change” initiative allows for an assessment of the rational and emotional drivers at play in the market. This can provide opportunities to develop programs, products, or messages that deliver against the market’s ever-changing needs.
There are a number of qualitative methods that could be leveraged, including:
- Ethnography or in-the-moment research
- Big qual (also called large-scale qual)
- In-person or webcam focus groups
- In-person, telephone, or webcam one-on-one depth interviews
- Online projective interviews or online time-extended forums
- In-person or online ideation or innovation sessions/workshops
Picking the right method(s) will often be a function of the topic at hand (and its sensitivity), how much probing may be needed to get at root issues and ideas, time constraints, and the best way to reach the target audience for the research. For instance, the best method for providers is typically different than the method that may be best for patients, caregivers, or payers. Furthermore, although there may be one “ideal” method that meets many objectives, sometimes a hybrid approach (using two or three methods in combination) would more fully service the objectives at hand. And, of course, once this “Understanding Change” initiative is completed, the new ideas that come from it should typically be vetted and refined with quantitative testing.
Ongoing efforts to understand your key current and future customer (and stakeholder) groups can provide a major competitive advantage. Understanding the “whats” and, more importantly, the “whys” behind the decisions provides the insights needed to optimize your perspective, products, messages, and targeting for this ever-changing market.
About the Author
Sara Sutton (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Senior Vice President, Medical Marketing Research at Decision Analyst. She may be reached at 1-800-262-5974 or 1-817-640-6166.
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