We’ve covered before how conducting your own life science market research is easier than before because of new software and communication channels. Life science companies should be querying customers’ needs more frequently in order to engage them with social and digital marketing, which is necessary in a post-broadcast world. Below are listed the top items you’ll need to consider in planning your life science market research project to ensure success.
- Actionable Objectives. I had a boss once (who became a mentor) who said to me when I was developing a survey “I don’t want you to have a lot of data at the end, and not know what the next steps are.” Ever since then, I’ve always started a market research product by defining up to 3 actionable objectives. In other words, define the big picture questions that need to be answered and also how the data will be used to support business decisions. An example would be “We need to determine the customer’s biggest pain in the area of next generation sequencing software, so that we can develop the right features for our next release.” Each survey question should directly support an objective, and if it doesn’t, take it out. Surveys are often a time when people come out of the woodwork with question they want to add, which can lead to a survey that is too long, resulting in a low completion rate. Sticking to key objectives for a survey will help you to focus and keep your survey succinct.
- Format. One very important factor to consider is the format of the survey. Surveys can be done verbally in person or over the phone, or online. In deciding the format, you should consider your target and your objectives. Verbal surveys are good when the goals of your survey involve determining how customers feel about your brand or products, as a conversation is often better to glean this information. If you envision a large number of essay-type questions, verbal format is best. Online surveys are better for instances where the majority questions are multiple choice and deal with more objective questions such as budgets for products. In addition, if you need statistically relevant data, an online survey is preferable because you’ll get a larger number of responses (see this post for estimating the sample size you need). You also need to consider your target–in general, online surveys are best for younger professionals and those in academia, as they tend to have more time for surveys. Even if the survey is verbal, you should enter the questions into software such as SurveyMonkey and have the interviewers type in respondent answers during the survey, as this helps to standardize both the questions and the resulting data.
- Blind or Non-blind. You need to consider whether you want your respondents to know that your company is conducting the survey (non-blind) or to not know (blind). A blind survey is preferable for most surveys, so that respondents are not biased. However, surveys done in this fashion must rely on working with an agency that has resources to find survey respondents, or advertises the survey. Another consideration is that surveys can be used to get leads and segment customers. For a non-blind survey, the opt in to receive communication about the company’s product is straightforward. For a blinded survey, opt ins may be more difficult, as the respondent is unsure about receiving emails from an unknown source. However, blinded surveys may be preferable because they prevent competitors from knowing your plans.
- Motivation. For a verbal survey, you’ll need to provide each respondent with a $25-50 gift card, depending on the length of the survey and your relationship with them. For an online survey, it is best to offer a “sexy” big ticket prize (e.g., the newest iPad) rather than gift cards for each respondent, as the cost could really add up since any gift card less than $25 is unlikely to be a motivation. Again, keep the survey as short as possible to maximize completion. In both cases, having an unblinded survey helps in this case, as loyal customers may be eager to give their feedback to improve a brand they like.
- Distribution. How will you find people to take your survey? Consider whether they can be targeted using social media, forums, or by advertising or renting an email list. Be sure to budget for this expense and have a contingency plan in case you don’t get the number of responses you need with your chosen method(s). Also, if you do a broad advertisement of the survey, you’ll need to carefully qualify the respondents. We normally require an institutional email address along with a non-obvious qualifying question. We also prevent multiple survey submissions from the same computer and use of the “back” button. These two features prevent users from changing their answers to qualify for a survey, and software such as SurveyMonkey allows for these restrictions.
- Questions. Of course, the questions in the survey are of paramount importance. A mix of multiple choice and essay answers will ensure that you are querying respondents’ needs thoroughly. For particularly important objectives, consider asking the question in different ways. For example, if one of your objectives is to determine whether your respondents utilize image-based social media, ask them whether they use Instagram and Pinterest in a multiple choice question, and ask them about ideas for sharing images in an essay question. This strategy will prevent bias, as well as randomizing the answers on multiple choice questions. Consider also using Likert scale questions, which can be used to get quantitative data from qualitative questions. SurveyMonkey has “Certified” questions you can use verbatim or as templates so you can save time, and you should also check out their helpful survey resources. In addition, we almost always ask the “30,000 foot” question, in which we ask respondents about their high level “pain” about a product area. These questions normally result in very valuable data, which we analyze manually and via word clouds (see this example from our partner site). After finishing your questions, and entering them into the software, be sure to test the survey yourself to make sure it does not take more than 5-10 minutes to complete. If it is too long, consider conflating some of the questions–we find that the matrix questions, where respondents are asked their opinions on a range of items, are ideal for creating a concise survey.
These key items for planning a life science market research project are interrelated and should be considered as a whole during the planning. We hope that you’re encouraged to leverage surveys more to find your customer product and communication needs, as “more is more” when it comes to getting their feedback!