Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Social Context and Payer Market Research

Stanton R. Mehr, President, SM Health Communications LLC

Market research organizations, which I’ll call MROs, try very hard to evolve their craft according to current trends and the shifting tides of popular technology. Traditional in-depth telephone interviews are highly effective and, armed with a honed set of screening questions, can be the best method of meeting the sponsor’s objectives. Effective? Yes. Sexy? No way. Surveys enhanced by Web distribution and on-line responses (think Survey Monkey®) still are commonly used and extremely cost effective. But this doesn’t tap into the nature of today’s popular media.

Recently there have been concerning revelations about the data being collected on browsers like Google and sites like Facebook to create a profile of the viewer, with an eye towards customizing the advertising they see. The collection of data for external uses, such as that publicized on the March 10th broadcast of CBS’s 60 Minutes, may finally tamp down the fires of social media market research. Much of this market research is based around singular data points (e.g., a person “liking” a particular service, or posting about their experience at a particular resort or hotel).  These data points can help profile the person and, if large and consistent enough in their personal network, a group. This is the essence of social media. It can be very useful in marketing health care products to specific consumers, like proton pump inhibitors to those searching for information on acid reflux.

If you join a special interest group on the Web, such as a patient-support group for (fill in just about any disorder), you can bet the pharmaceutical companies and their market researchers are crawling over the site, collecting information about what you like, what you don’t, and every bit of demographic data they can extract from your participation. These folks are self-selected for this specific interest, and obtaining market research on these like-minded group members can be a very effective endeavor., If the MRO formulates and conducts the research well, it collects not only singular data points from singular individuals, but also data and social context to the market research results. That’s what old-style, one-way mirror focus groups have always sought to achieve.

Let’s take this consumer-based approach and apply it to health executives. If there were on-line community sites in which health plan executives (payers) joined voluntarily and where they discussed frequently a range of topics in conversational style, this community engagement might just put a market research project into overdrive. The group think, coupled with individual responses, on qualitative topics may yield fascinating insights and do it in a very cost-effective environment.

The resulting lengthy discussion, filled with nuance, agreement, disagreement, and insight, can be a challenge for most. The trick is the ability to tease out the social context as well as the top-line responses so as to yield more informed payer market research, but using “sexy” social media so many clients crave today. 

1. Does your MRO have a vehicle for payer interest groups to freely discuss matters of importance to them?
2. Can the MRO use this type of social media to report the social context in which responses are made?
3. What is your greatest challenge in meeting social media-related research requests by your executives?

SM Health Communications provides writing, consulting, and innovative market research services for the payer markets. Its proprietary P&T Insight™ virtual P&T Committee program is the leading mock P&T Committee product in the field. For more information, please visit www.smhealthcom.com or contact Stanton R. Mehr, President, at stan.mehr@smhealthcom.com.

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