This article originally appeared on Forbes
By: Jill Collins, CEO
It’s a tough economic climate for biotech and healthcare companies. We’re seeing wave after wave of layoffs in the news, and not even the biggest or most powerful brands seem to be spared. As companies tighten their belts, internal marketing teams and their budgets are often among the first impacted. That can make market research feel like a tempting line item to slash: after all, when you’re struggling to budget brand-building in the first place, why spend the money to validate it? This mindset is a trap. Don’t fall for it!
Market research isn’t expendable — it’s essential.
When properly applied, market research is actually a cost-saving tool. These savings manifest in several ways.
You’ll know what your audience actually likes.
At the beginning of a branding project, it can feel tempting to “trust your gut.” As creative decision-making compounds, however, it can be harder and harder to maintain an objective sense of what will resonate with your target audiences. Market research simplifies those decisions, with objective, value-driven findings. As an example, a company might combine message testing with customer persona development exercises to uncover that certain audience segments love a specific kind of message or tone. That company can now selectively and strategically tailor its output to those audiences with optimized advertising that maximizes ROI for their ad spend. Allocating resources for research up front helps ensure the entire marketing budget pays off. Companies that forgo research and invest into a failing ad campaign are often forced to to throw money at the wall downstream, in the hopes of eventually finding a strategy that might stick.
You can avoid what your audience hates.
A big problem with trusting your gut is that guts have blind spots — it’s easy to accidentally create brand materials that get it wrong. This can be as subtle as using photography containing off-putting facial expressions, or as substantial as using outdated or offensive terminology in ad copy. An example we often see among oncology providers is an aversion to the term “cancer patients.” Market research shows time and time again that this audience prefers people-first language like “patients with cancer,” because it doesn’t define their patients by their diagnoses.
You’ll find out when likes or dislikes change.
Skipping market research because you already “know the rules” isn’t advisable because preferences and language change over time. To use another example from the oncology space, once commonplace phrases like “the fight against cancer” often generate a negative audience response today, because they can feel trite or trivializing. Putting brand materials in front of a sample audience early on helps you spot those trouble areas, refine, adjust, and finalize materials that make them feel seen and heard.
You can objectively resolve internal gridlock.
Gut-based decision-making gets harder and harder the more stakeholders are involved. Branding exercises tend to involve a great deal of subjectivity, which can result in important decisions stalling, getting stuck in committee, or being compromised to death. Market research provides outside feedback that can help guide these decisions. If nine out of ten dentists hate your CEO’s favorite color, it’s good to know that before you bring your periodontal product to market.
It’s cheaper to conduct market research than it is to get sued.
Sometimes other companies have your good idea first. Without due diligence examining the existing market landscape you can find yourself in court, or scrapping an entire brand or ad campaign because it too closely resembles work done by potential competitors. The sad truth is, foregoing research is one of those mistakes that tends to reveal itself over time.
Quality research is still possible on a tight budget.
The good news is that even small and scrappy budgets can find ways to conduct worthwhile market research. If you already have an idea of the type of audience you are going after, for example, you might conduct qualitative interviews on a smaller scale. Even 5 – 7 interviews can help generate in-depth insights that might not be captured in a large-scale survey. This also tends to be a budget-friendly option when going after audiences made up of lab or health care professionals, as they tend to command relatively high incentives for their in-demand time.
Entrusting market research to an external agency is another way to get the insights you need on a tight budget. Research tasks like survey monitoring or persona development tend to be time-consuming and technical. Not only that, but without an established network or relevant expertise, it can be difficult to find and connect with your desired professional stakeholders at all. As long as you’re working with an agency with proven experience in the desired space, you can take a more hands-off approach, freeing up your teams to focus elsewhere. An agency partner can also help you benchmark against other, similar projects so you have an understanding of how your efforts compare.
Invest in your brand’s success
Managing a reduced marketing budget is hard, and it’s important to ensure you’re making smart cuts, not cutting corners. A relatively small investment into market research is a tactical choice that enables informed and strategic decision-making throughout an entire branding or marketing campaign. It’s the first, crucial step into developing any lean brand exercise that can deliver a return on your investment.