Traditional market research projects of 8 to 12 weeks may take too long to implement during a phase of rapid change. A market research online community (MROC) generates insights quickly.

Pharmaceutical companies are making a transition to launch more, but smaller products with more intense competition. Research from IMS Health shows that the first 6 months of a brand launch are critical in achieving succcess. During this time, the brand message and value proposition needs to reach customers.

Advantages

For two major therapy areas I have helped clients that selected to conduct market research with a MROC rather than commissioning a series of in-depth interviews, focus groups and quantitative surveys. Having the flexibility to run qualitative and quantitative market research projects quickly, on a single integrated platform and at a lower cost is a major advantage of online communities.

Planning

The process typically starts by recruiting and screening GPs from an internal panel and informing participants that this will be an ongoing, longer-term research activity. As with online discussions the community allows for anonymous exchange of opinions and experiences, which makes it far more engaging than a series of surveys. In both MROCs the client supplied ad concepts that had not gone to market yet, and the opportunity to comment on these had high participation rates.

Planning ahead and getting buy in from all stakeholders is key, and I recommend that clients introduce new research activities to a community on a regular basis, with the aim to have fresh content at least once a week. Because the online community is available 24/7 for recruited GPs, there is a possibility that an adverse event gets reported. For both communities I actively moderated discussions from Monday to Friday, and encouraged people to elaborate on their answers. On the weekend, a quick login on mobile would show the latest posts. By monitoring daily, it has been possible to comply with the pharmacovigilance requirements and processes of these 2 clients.

Remuneration

Physicians participating in pharmaceutical market research expect to be reimbursed for their time. Clients often have set maximum limits. In both cases community members were offered reimbursement for their time. Nevertheless, the total amounts were less compared to  traditional focus groups and quantitative surveys. Non-financial rewards such as a weekly updated leader board for the most active member of the community, and infographics that summarise findings from a discussion further helped with respondent engagement.

More and more companies are turning to scalable online community solutions. Insight communities offer a flexible mix of qualitative and quantitative methodologies. I expect pharmaceutical companies will increasingly use these platforms to engage with customers.