Ambition, creativity and energy for optimal segmentation
Published on 26 Nov 2019
By Phil Dunn
There are three
guiding principles that should underlie successful market segmentation, and
therefore the success of a pharma brand. Phil Dunn explains the process.
Segmentation research is a lot like the sky on the marsh
where I live. It is big. It can take many shapes and colours. You need to
experience it and know it well to appreciate its benefits.
Over 25 years as a market research expert I have found that
there are three guiding principles that can make or break the success of
segmentation, and therefore the success of a brand. Getting them right results
in a compelling and valuable segmentation.
The alternative is an interesting, but bland, segmentation
of little commercial use. After all, segmentation is an opportunity to look
beyond what you think you know now and uncover insights that could give the
brand the marketing advantage it deserves.
The three principles can be summed up by ‘ACE’: A for
Ambition, C for Creativity, and E for Energy.
A for ambition
More than any other form of research, segmentation needs to
start with specific goals. It is important to know from the outset why the
brand needs segmentation and how segmentation is likely to be used.
This may seem straightforward, but often different parts of
a business will answer these questions differently. Therefore, from the outset
invite as much input as possible from as many potential advocates and
detractors of segmentation on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ to kick-start a debate or
workshop about what it should achieve and what it must avoid.
This will focus minds and shape the process, so that the
brand team and the research that the business needs to complete will deliver
against that ambition.
Research considerations during the ‘Ambition’ stage include:
Understanding what form of segmentation is
required (e.g. prescribing behaviour, attitudinal, psychographic or more
fundamental – a priori or post hoc).
Knowing who will use the segmentation analysis
Understanding what they will they do with the
analysis – i.e. pharmaceutical reps putting doctors into types using a typing
Deciding what research exists that could jump
start the process or negate the need for a first stage of qualitative research
Clarifying the working hypotheses about how the
expected segments are characterised
Knowing what previous segmentations the client
has seen. What worked and what didn’t work?
Understanding if there are any trends,
breakthroughs or competitor activity that need to be considered
Determining the preferences and dislikes of the
stakeholder audiences that need to be considered
Knowing what country, or affiliate-based issues
to consider. It may be that one or more affiliates have already developed a
segmentation. These experiences need to be addressed for several reasons
There may be a segmentation model used by an
affiliate that could be validated and adopted globally, saving a lot of time
There may be learnings about the research
process or about the doctor population that could prove invaluable.
There may be genuine concerns that a global
segmentation may not be acceptable or that local nuances need to be given
greater weight in the final segmentation than first thought.
C for creativity
Having agreed – and defined clearly – the ambition for
segmentation, the next step is to inject as many forms of creativity as
possible into the research, and the way it is rolled out to the business.
Research methods can feel generic.
Agencies will talk about qualitative and quantitative
research, but the creativity needed for pharmaceutical segmentation goes beyond
A useful analogy is this: it is accepted that if we need to
travel to New York on business we will fly. Therefore, it is no longer normal
to eulogise about the benefits of flight.
Airlines understand this, so it is unlikely you will see an
advert that says ‘Wow, we can fly!’ Research is much the same; it is not the
method, but what you do with it and what you find out that matters.
Creativity comes from the content of conversations with
physicians or patients: how they reveal insights the business will find
valuable; how these same insights inform the creation of segments and the
outputs needed to communicate them.
Creative approaches to both the research and how it is
delivered are available, but experienced guides who know these approaches will
deliver the valuable insights.
However, creativity should not be limited to the research.
Stakeholder involvement and the way the segmentation is rolled out to the
business needs to be as engaging and creative as possible.
Agencies and client organisations need to ensure that
segmentation does not become just another meeting, just another presentation,
or just another research project.
It is too valuable to the success of brand to be routine. It
is also too valuable to be made into an education in statistics.
Of course, whatever we do has to be grounded in solid and
reliable information, but we mustn’t allow this to get in the way of the
fundamental need for segmentation to be meaningful and engaging.
hopes and fears may exist that could be exposed in the qualitative research?
Research considerations in the ‘Creativity’ stage can
What qualitative techniques will explode the
myths and create potential hierarchies or dimensions for the later stages?
Often the best approach is to keep the qualitative research very broad. The
tighter the focus – and the greater the imperative not to go over familiar
ground to help get new news – the more likely you are to miss something of real
What motivations, hopes and fears may exist that
could be exposed in the qualitative research?
Think about bridging the gap between qualitative
and quantitative research with transition meetings, gamification exercises and
Build iterative processes into the design of
materials – e.g. questionnaire flow, draft questionnaire, pilots and the final
Use an array of techniques in the qualitative
research to unlock insights that go beyond rational explanations of behaviour
to evoke emotional explanations
Use stats primer meetings with the client to engage
with the process
Think about key segment driver selection
Employ ‘difference analysis’ to make the segment
differences stand out
Run a client gamification workshop
Outputs – these must be more than just bar and
Use storytelling to convey important segment
Turn segment stories into a video montage
Create segment dashboards
Use posters, postcards, or walk the wall
sessions at the final debrief to help embed the segments quickly
Map in external data (for example, Rep data).
E for energy
It is not unusual for segmentation to take six months or
longer (from discussions about the need to segment, to conducting the research
and rolling the findings out to the business). Therefore, it is important to
keep energy levels high and spread evenly across the whole process. When it
comes to ‘Energy’, Segmentation can be divided into three blocks of tasks:
Planning and set up
Planning may take 1-3 months, research 3-6 months and
embedding 1-3 months. However, the level of energy required over the three
phases is likely to be similar. Often energy levels dip towards the end of
segmentation (even though this is probably the most crucial time for the
business to get to know, and plan, how to implement the segmentation). In order
to inject energy into the process, add some fun into milestone meetings, by
offering more light-hearted activities or inexpensive rewards to celebrate
everyone’s commitment, for example.
ACE your next segmentation project ACE your next segmentation
project by keeping in mind the three factors: Ambition, Creativity, Energy.
And, like the big sky on my marsh, to fully appreciate the
nuances of segmentation, get yourself an experienced guide.
About the author
Phil Dunn is MD of the EU office at THE PLANNING SHOP, and heads up The QuantSHOP, a specialist quantitative research practice. His role encompasses innovation on new research approaches, working with clients on quantitative research studies and facilitating brainstorms and workshops for client specific projects. With more than 25 years’ experience of managing quantitative research Phil has a wealth of expertise in segmentation, conjoint and pricing as well as communications testing (such as message and concept testing).
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