How Taking Part in Qualitative Market Research Makes You See The World Differently

If you have ever taken part in a market research focus group or group discussion, it’s possible that you might have come out of the process unclear as to exactly what was achieved. When we talk to people about their experience of research participation, they nearly always report having had a fun and interesting time -but sometimes they wonder exactly what the people commissioning the research can have learned from their contributions, and how exactly they earned their cash incentive payment (typically £30 to £50 at current UK rates)

Of course sometimes the exercises used in research are very direct and obvious: If the research facilitator asks the group to compare two images and discuss what they like about each of them, which is most effective, which they prefer and why… as a research participant you will surely listen to the question and consider it, then try to respond to it as honestly and fully as possible.

That is fine, when this kind of considered response is required. But sometimes researchers need to go deeper. We relate to the brands around us in a wide range of ways, some of them consciously (‘I love Brand X, but Brand Y has gone down hill lately’), but other relationships are much more subtle. You might have sentimental feelings for brands from your childhood, or unconscious connections and memories suggested by a logo or piece of packaging. An advert or theme tune might really grate on you for reasons you have never thought about, and probably don’t really care about… but the people marketing that brand do care, and that is why they are paying for these focus groups!

So the researcher might ask you to do some things that seem a little bizarre at face value. We have seen participants asked to close their eyes and imagine what a brand of detergent would be like if it were a country – what kind of climate it might have, what governance, what the national dish might be. Sometimes people have said afterwards that they felt they gave a silly answer, because they had no idea what they were supposed to say… but that ‘top of head’ response can often tell the market researchers a great deal about the impressions their products are making, especially when they compare the responses from a range of different research participants.

Other researchers might get you to draw a picture of how an event made you feel, or imagine two different makes of car were people you met at a party – and then think about how they might introduce themselves and what they’d be wearing, and so on.

It’s all about getting you to think about the familiar in new and different ways, and it’s fascinating to observe or be a part of. We all make hundreds of tiny decisions every day, to buy that kind of shampoo or visit that website over there… each of our individual decisions might seem inconsequential, but when we’re talking about brands used all over the world these decisions scale up staggeringly. Market Researchers seeking to understand and learn from this behaviour have evolved intriguing tools to explore how our minds make these decisions, and being part of this is great fun.

Combination Products – Union of Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Industries Brings Opportunities

A few years ago, the idea of integrating Internet capability, a camera and a video and audio player into a single compact device based on a cell phone was very appealing but hard, if not impossible to imagine. Now, there’s Apple’s iPhone and any number of competing devices that made that possibility an affordable, common reality. Converging different technologies into one single product is not confined to consumer and entertainment products anymore, either. Various industries, and in particular the pharmaceutical and medical device segments, are finding innovative means to deliver multi-functional healthcare products. It is a trend that has been developing for a few years now, and the stage is set for solid growth.

Converging Technologies Yield Efficiencies

Engineered from a mix of drug, device, or biologic components to form a single product, combination products represent a relatively new therapeutic and treatment approach, which is proving to be more effective for both pharmaceutical and device companies. Drug-device combinations are more appealing to both healthcare sectors simply because, in many cases, a single combination product containing both drug and device components can be more effective than either one of the components acting alone.

Drug-eluting stints are prime examples of such combination products. Approved by the FDA in 2003, the Cypher Sirolimus-eluting stint was designed to prevent or minimize restenosis (recurrence of narrowing of blood vessels) and to hold open narrowed arteries in cardiovascular applications. In this device, a time-release drug component incorporated as a coating for bare metal stints is used to prevent and minimize the risks and complications associated with typical non-drug, stand-alone stints.

Inhalation devices, drug-delivery pumps, drug-impregnated films and some wound care products also provide examples of successful combination products. Today, in many orthopedic devices, it is becoming customary to infuse implants with special proteins to facilitate bone growth and tissue regeneration.

Collaboration between drug and device companies is multiplying. The combination products currently in the market have already proven to be profitable. In recent years, more device and drug companies are reaching out to one another to develop better products to remain competitive technologically. According to a Navigation Consulting Inc. study, the global market for combination products would reach an estimated value of $9.5 billion by 2009. The big question is why more companies are not investing in this area.

Challenges and Hurdles

Perhaps the biggest challenges to collaboration between drug-device companies, are the fundamental cultural difference between the two industries-different mind-sets, practices, and business strategies. A second hurdle is identifying and recognizing target markets for combination products. For instance, device companies typically focus on hospitals and healthcare environments, whereas combination products are primarily intended for direct consumer uses.

Regulations and FDA approval are perhaps the most challenging obstacle for combination products because they require approval from more than one FDA medical agency. Furthermore, it becomes more challenging to figure out how combination products get classified, which ultimately results in more ambiguity and delay to market the product.

As a result of the Medical Device User Fee and Modernization Act of 2002, the Office of Combination Products (OCP) currently handles these products and regulates the jurisdictions of an alphabet soup of agencies that includes the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER), and Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH). The OCP determines a combination product’s primary mode of action and then assigns it to the appropriate FDA agency. In 2006, 231 original applications for combination products were submitted to FDA.

Establishing the OCP was a big step toward better handling of combination product assessments and approvals. However, ambiguity surrounding regulation and manufacturing protocols still exists. Companies manufacturing these combination products often have to deal with additional regulatory rules and compliance with more FDA agencies.

While drugs need to adhere to the FDA’s “current good manufacturing practices,” and medical devices need to follow “quality system” regulations, combination products must comply with both sets of regulations. Therefore, companies developing combination products need to understand each set of regulations, as well as developing manufacturing protocols and quality systems that meet both drug and device requirements. To speed up the process and avoid last-minute surprises, the FDA strongly recommends that manufacturers of combination products discuss the regulations with the agency to understand how they pertain to their products at very early development stages.

Beyond FDA Regulations

Successful collaborations between drug and device companies also require adjustments. Complete evaluations of how these combination products work for end users, are required, along with additional in vivo clinical studies. The companies must understand the interactions between the drug and the device when used by patients. And they must estimate potential side effects. All these tasks can delay the product development process, but it is crucial that companies understand that adding an additional pharmaceutical component to a device can adversely affect the device’s performance and potentially cause unwanted results. And if an already-approved device or drug is to be used in another part of the body, additional preclinical safety and clinical studies are needed to evaluate how it functions in the new environment.

In addition, combination products typically need sterilization and packaging procedures different from standard operations for individual drugs and devices. Companies developing combination products must adopt appropriate manufacturing protocols, and focus on internal business requirements much earlier in the development process.

Looking Ahead

The union of drug and device companies can offer tremendous therapeutic and financial advantages and bring patients more effective and efficient medical treatments. Many experts predict that the healthcare industry will see more mergers and acquisitions among drug and device companies in the near future, requiring significant learning across the two industries. The device company must learn how the drug works before delivering it through the device, while the drug company needs to become more familiar with FDA medical device regulations, how the devices work, and what factors may affect performance.

The term convergent technology is being used more frequently in the healthcare industry than ever before. Companies specializing in drug or device segments are evaluating options to combine multiple technologies to create better products. And the convergence is not limited to drug and device manufacturers as more electronics are being interwoven into devices. Orthopedic manufacturers are looking into using chips embedded in human bones to facilitate and support bone growth. Advanced pain management systems incorporate implantable devices that use transceivers to facilitate communication and data transfer to ultimately improve patient outcomes. In many cases, open innovation is the key, where development of products drawn from the expertise of different technologies, can serve various purposes. This holds immeasurable promise in the healthcare industry, which is simply too good to overlook.

Facilitators: Types of Facilitation Services Offered

Facilitators are a remarkably savvy business management resource, enlisted by organizations of all sizes. Understanding the types of facilitation services offered by professionals is an excellent way of determining which fit your specific business goals.

Conference Facilitation and Planning

Conferences are a common way of formally bringing people within a company or industry together to discuss new business ideas and opportunities. These services assist with building program agendas, gathering marketing and promotional materials, and scheduling sessions or speakers. They are highly desired by companies that struggle with time management issues and the amount of planning required to host or attend these conferences.

Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is an intricate process rather than an event in which a company and coordinator develop a projected long-term goal to increase business productivity. A well-organized strategy enables dialogue, opposition, positive feedback, and the mutual efforts of all internal company departments with a continued focus on the future. Organizations often recruit facilitators to ease the incorporation of a strategic plan during times they expect resistance from employees, such as drastic procedure changes and industry adaptation.

Team Building

Team building is a process used by facilitators and targeted toward increasing cooperation, teamwork, and camaraderie within a work unit to boost employee morale and positive collaboration. As business owners realize each member of a team plays an integral role of the company’s success, professionals are desired to introduce and monitor team building exercises with themes like creativity, brainstorming, problem solving, and trust. Designed to be stimulating, light-hearted and fun, coordinators are often able to pinpoint where a work unit’s social weaknesses lie based on how well they work with or against each other in each situation.

Conflict Resolution

Conflict is often the result of basic differences. Occurring whenever people disagree about personal motivation, perception, value, or ideas within the workplace, an unresolved employee issue can have severely damaging effects on the entire group. Business owners cannot afford to compromise productivity as a result, and strive to rectify the conflict with professional assistance. Conflict resolution services are a valuable part of the facilitation solution for an inevitable problem, offering a neutral party to mediate and settle disagreements diplomatically.

Process Improvement

Process improvement is a systematic approach to help companies fine-tune their underlying procedures to achieve more efficient results. Coordinators take what is normally a tedious and time consuming task off of the business owner’s shoulders to learn about each employee’s role, responsibilities, and method of carrying them out in search of more time and cost efficient ways of operating.

Focus Group Management

A focus group is a form of qualitative research in which an outside group of people are asked about their perceptions, opinions, beliefs, and attitude toward a company’s products. Facilitators organize and plan which questions will produce the most beneficial and informative results for a company that may be struggling to meet consumers’ desires and preferences.

Partnering Sessions

Partnering session facilitation services are a professional and ideal means of support for business owners rekindling a former financial and legal partnership, or establishing a brand new professional relationship.