Master Class: What kind of research should be done before the launch of a new product?

This month's panel discusses the best type of research to conduct ahead of a new product launch.

Mike Carberry
President of CARMA International

Randall Chinchilla
External relations manager, P&G

Lynn Fisher
SVP and director of brand planning and evaluation, Cohn & Wolfe

Candace Steele Flippin
Senior director of product communications, Cephalon

Brian McRoberts
SVP of digital research, Fleishman-Hillard

Mike Carberry, president of CARMA International

Certainly, the usual market research needs to be done: Pre-testing of messages, a variety of consumer surveys, research to determine competitive spending levels, etc.
What's often neglected is an analysis of competitors' messages as reported by journalists, bloggers, and other opinion leaders. This analysis, done early in the new product-planning cycle, will give planners a clear understanding of how rivals are positioned in the marketplace they're about to enter.
A comprehensive review of the previous six months of news coverage in the trades, as well as other stories about the top three or so potential competitors of the new product, will uncover extensive, useful intelligence. Major positive and negative messages, issues associated with competitors that might positively or negatively affect the new product launch, weak spots in a competitor's positioning, an attractive competitive niche not currently occupied, and early warnings on the direction of future competitive campaigns are just some of the data that can be gleaned from this sort of research effort.
This analysis of media in no way replaces traditional new-product research. It is, however, an often forgotten way of getting a good picture of the battlefield. Media analysis gives a product manager the competitive perspective as viewed by reporters and vocal, influential consumers.
A military axiom is “Find 'em, Fix 'em, Fight 'em.” For marketers this translates to: “Who is the competition? Can we get a fix on their positioning? How do we beat them?”
Analysis of news and CGM coverage helps a marketer do all three things when planning to enter the marketplace. It finds competitors and helps rank their importance. It identifies their current positioning, strengths, and weaknesses. And it helps product managers develop strategies to capture market share.

Randall Chinchilla, external relations manager, P&G

P&G invests significantly behind each new product launch to make sure it will meet and exceed consumer expectations. In turn, great performance helps us earn consumer trust, something indispensable for the long-term success of our brands and company.
But how can one earn consumer trust for a new-to-the-world product?
It's a known fact that when independent third parties validate a relevant aspect of a product proposition – such as formulation, efficacy, or ingredients – consumers are more prone to listen. Therefore, the PR function can help a new product succeed in the marketplace by leveraging the voice of third parties to earn consumer trust early on.
The use of in-depth consumer research has helped us systemically identify independent, relevant third parties. We spend hours talking to consumers and asking them who they trust. Responses are sometimes broad or even vague. For instance, results for a particular brand may range from health organizations to independent testing institutes. The key is to define clear objectives up front; look at your results to identify which third parties best meet those goals; and discern the feasibility of actually establishing a partnership.
Narrowing down the list of key trust-builders to one or a handful is, in some ways, only the beginning. The fact is independent third parties will choose whether they're willing to partner with you, which is exactly why we
set out to identify them in the first place: they have independent opinions.

Lynn Fisher, SVP, director of brand planning and evaluation, Cohn & Wolfe

Effective launch communications is developed by recognizing that it's not only what you say, but also how your audience sees, hears, translates, and talks about it. The learning from research enables purpose-driven creativity – ideas that are spot-on in how they address and leverage the communications needs of each audience.
It is important to specify and understand the audiences you most want to engage, excite, and influence. Launch communications are often designed based on target research used to develop the new product or service. While helpful, it doesn't provide full insight on the communications needs and opportunities that lie within each audience.
One objective for research is to pinpoint the bull's-eye of your communication. The best communications, however, are designed by better articulating the target, such as the most enthusiastic groups, those who will most grasp the product's differentiation, and those most likely to trigger further conversation.
Another goal for research is to explore “adoption style.” People vary in terms of how they prefer to process, experience, or share learning about a new product. How much do they prefer facts compared to endorsements? How much will the product's benefits resonate in a direct, sensory way versus a more intellectual, conceptual manner? How much will this new choice operate as social currency? Answers to questions like these help provide insight on what the message should be, as well as how it should be delivered to each audience.
A well-researched product has a good chance to succeed, but only with a well-researched and, consequently, creative communications program can it truly break through.

Candace Steele Flippin, senior director of product communications, Cephalon

Each pharmaceutical product that passes research and development, clinical trials, regulatory approval, and makes it to launch represents a significant investment. Strong market research and insights are necessary to make the best decisions when planning for a successful launch of a product that takes so much time and significant resources to commercialize.
For the recent launch of Nuvigil, a medication that improves wakefulness in treated sleep-apnea sufferers and shift workers, the Cephalon product communications team adapted a market-research model as a new standard for PR launch preparation moving forward. Under this model, the team pulled insights from market research, conducted a media landscape analysis, performed an audit of the advocacy community, and then invited a panel of experts into the planning process.
A brain trust of external experts was also assembled to serve as a PR advisory board to review the research and apply key learnings against the PR launch plan. Advisory board members were selected based on their strong pharmaceutical expertise in media relations, social media, issues management, branding, managed care, advocacy relations, and grassroots outreach.
The investment in the PR advisory board cost less than 5% of our budget. The outcomes included consensus on and enhancement of the PR plan elements and the team's ability to leverage the groups' research to establish relationships with physician- and patient-focused organizations and advocacy groups.
Research is a vital element of launch preparation. Patients today are more educated and engaged in their personal healthcare. By utilizing market research prior to launch, pharma companies are able to understand patient needs, concerns, values, and attributes in order to make the interaction more relevant and meaningful.
These insights are the starting point for a pharma company seeking to develop a launch plan and an informed relationship with patients using their medicines.

Brian McRoberts, SVP of digital research, Fleishman-Hillard

Communicators understand that word of mouth (WOM) is the most trusted and high-impact source of information that consumers use to help make decisions about products and services. Of course, the challenge is to tap the power of WOM.
We recommend that practitioners employ a flexible set of research methods to determine the best approach for driving positive WOM communications. This process seeks to drive positive WOM for new products and services based on a solid grasp of how consumers will receive and use WOM comments and recommendations to make decisions for specific types of work. At Fleishman-Hillard, we call this process ForWORD.
The place to start is by evaluating if the product or service is inherently “WOM worthy.” Some WOM subjects, such as consumer electronics or luxury products, are frequently discussed by consumers and those who influence decisions, while commodity items are less likely to generate a high level of conversation. We use a proprietary framework to make this evaluation based on five criteria: Does the product solve a real problem? Is it different? Does it have emotional impact? Is the subject complex or easy to talk about? And is it easily shared for trial? This framework provides insight into the dynamics of different types of decisions regarding product categories. 
Next, use a mix of secondary and survey re-search to examine how consumers make decisions for the product category. This insight drives the potential mix of tactics and trigger points that influence the decision process. 
Finally, based on an understanding of the factors that drive decisions about the category, you can develop and use qualitative research to test a series of potential tactics and messages upon which to base a campaign. 

The Takeaway

• A competitive media analysis provides pre-launch information about the messaging that will resonate in the marketplace that a new product is entering

• Understanding how consumers receive information helps to determine the best ways to reach your target audience and prompt word-of-mouth buzz

• Research helps determine the advocacy groups, scientists, and others that can serve as influencers when introducing a new product to potential customers

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