Thursday, 7 July 2011

Implicit or Explicit Brand Choice?

How do we really get to the root of barriers and drivers to physician prescribing? Are our brand preferences rational or emotional? And does bias in the line of prejudice play any role in product selection?

We often look to social psychology research for tools when compiling our market research methodologies. Where social psychology meets cognitive psychology we see a series of fascinating (and sometimes controversial) cognitive tasks aiming to uncover the true biases influencing our decision-making.

One such task is the IAT (implicit association test). This computer-based test has been validated in a range of scientific research settings, and more recently, in the consumer setting. Basically, the IAT aims to uncover uncontrollable behavioural responses, demonstrating an association between a brand/group/person and pleasant attributes and another brand/group/person and unpleasant attributes. Typically, the IAT scores are interpreted in terms of association strengths (socially learned or developed associations) by assuming that participants respond more rapidly when the concept and attribute that map on to the same response are strongly associated (e.g. Coca Cola and pleasant) than when they are weakly associated (e.g. Pepsi and pleasant).

What does this all mean for pharmaceutical market research? Well, implicit bias may indeed influence our explicit decision-making. Self-reported experience and anxiety have both been seen to correlate with implicit associations as measured by the IAT. When it comes to Rx or OTC brand selection, this type of implicit information is a critical step to unlocking prescription barriers and drivers amongst physicians.

Stepping outside of our research comfort zones into more experimental methodologies may seem daunting at first, but this leap can potentially offer quantifiable insight difficult to uncover with more traditional techniques. The concept of including a computer-based cognitive task in a qualitative research paradigm sees the fusion of quant and qual methodologies. But isn’t it always the meeting of two great minds that offers the greatest insight?

The author: Dr Pamela Walker is Research Director at Branding Science. After a PhD from the University of Oxford in Neuroscience and Psychology, she gained strategic consulting experience in the pharmaceutical industry. She is now leading the neuroscience taskforce at Branding Science.