Using anecdotal observations to shape perceptions, form opinions and draw conclusions is a dangerous game. The trouble is, it is a trait of human nature that what you see and hear is often more persuasive than a series of charts or spreadsheets.

I have a couple of recent examples.

Anecdote #1: A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be invited to give a presentation to around 40 marketing executives at the headquarters of a large pharmaceutical company. The interactive forum that ensued was enjoyable, constructive and intelligent. When I asked the marketing folks why they weren’t spending a bigger chunk of their promotional budgets on professional advertising, some shrugged their shoulders, others smiled, while one or two even stared at me like I was an alien sent down to earth to denounce detailing and DTC. Eventually, I got something close to a response: “Some companies choose to advertise in journals, others don’t,” said one marketer. “It’s just not something we would consider.”

For a moment, my anecdotal side began mourning the death of medical journals. Then my analytical side reminded me that you cannot draw conclusions from the strategic musings of a handful marketers from a single company, however sincere their individual comments.

Anecdote #2: The impressively well-organized and well-attended annual national conference of the Pharmaceutical Marketing Research Group in Las Vegas last month featured an experimental session in which eight physicians fielded questions on their experiences, preferences and opinions of pharma-sponsored surveys.

The physicians were candid with their reactions and insights. On the topic of remuneration, the panel was unanimous in its demands for more money to partake in surveys, and most went on to quote figures in the region of $250-$300 as their minimum requirements for a 30-minute session. “I need to make $560 an hour just to pay for my overheads,” complained one physician, “so anything less than $200 is not worthwhile.”

These comments had me wondering how these surveys ever get done at all. Are physicians really ignoring questionnaires that pay less than $250? A cursory glance at the audience revealed a sea of anxious researchers looking around for evidence that any of their peers might be paying the kind of fees these doctors were commanding. There didn’t seem to be too many. Nevertheless, the
doctors had made a strong case.

But then my analytical side was spurred by an earlier observation: while the panel had concluded that the use of direct mail for survey invitations was largely ineffective, the fact was that 86% of the 111 applicants for this very panel had responded to a direct mail invitation.

Exploring the differences between what people do and what they say they do—not to mention why they do it—is a key challenge facing researchers, and an increasingly important thread to pharmaceutical marketing. Next month, MM&M will launch a dedicated Marketing Research department page, featuring stories and updates, as well as a regular column by Richard Vanderveer, CEO of GfK US Healthcare Companies, who will offer a marketing research perspective on the industry’s important issues.

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