Monday, 11 September 2017

Branding Science: Where Variety is the Spice of Market Reasearch

An English graduate, a human biology graduate and a business graduate walk into a bar… no this isn’t the start of a terrible joke. This is a tale about how Branding Science’s newest cohort of graduates met, at a Branding Science assessment centre hosted in a pub nearby to the beautiful riverside offices in Wandsworth. So how did such a motley crew from such different paths in education all end up at Branding Science? I will speak on behalf of my fellow grads, Ahmed and Vanessa, when I say that we did not grow up with fanciful dreams of working for a pharmaceuticals market research agency. It was not until after leaving university that we began to consider the existence of this profession.

Vanessa stumbled across pharma market research whilst working for a healthcare communications company, following completion of her masters in pharmaceuticals sciences. Ahmed wanted to take the data analysis and literature skills that he had developed during his PhD in English literature and exercise them in a commercial context and, with a family in healthcare, Branding Science seemed like a great fit. I landed in a consumer insights facility for a global pharma company during a year in industry as part of my business management degree, fell in love with market research and decided to take the small leap from consumer health to pharmaceuticals to indulge in my interest in medicine some more.

Perhaps to the untrained eye there is not an intuitive connection between the worlds of marketing and pharmaceuticals. You might think that in pharma the science speaks for itself, the right medications will get to the people who need them, guided by the healthcare professional’s rational decision making and the functional power of the product. Conversely, in the flash creative world of marketing we imagine a desperate dash to upsell more products at higher prices and increase profit. But this disconnect is a misconception based on false assumptions. Allocating optimal medications to the patients who need them is not as simple as one might like to think. Healthcare professionals are irrational, because human beings are irrational. We all make strange decisions from time to time. The ‘why did I eat that?’ ‘Why did I buy that?’ irrationality that plagues us all also plagues doctors in their prescribing behaviour. The key to success in pharma is understanding healthcare professionals and key decision makers, what drives their decisions and how you can tailor your approach to best meet theirs and patients’ needs. That’s where the marketing comes in: Branding Science can help to develop solutions to overcome the disconnect between patients, prescribers and pharma with a clever repertoire of unique research methodologies to uncover insights which guide our data driven recommendations.

At Branding Science, as new graduates we joined a team with a huge range of backgrounds, skills and experiences, and bring their own wide range of skills to the mix. It is this array of talent and knowledge that has shaped our methodologies, market understanding and understanding of people. Medicine, psychology, philosophy, business, neuroscience…we’ve got the lot! 

 It’s the diversity within the Branding Science team which helps us to deliver superior market research that is carefully tailored to meet our clients’ business needs

Whether it’s quantitative or qualitative, strategic or exploratory, concept testing or gaining an understanding of the market landscape, every research project is different and we have the right team to do the job.

If you’re interested in finding out more about our holistic approach to market research please contact

Monday, 21 August 2017

How un-focusing doctors can lead to better brand insights

Scrolling through my LinkedIn on a Monday morning (instead of reading emails), I found an article in the Harvard Business review on the brain’s ability to focus*.

The article talked about how focus is a key driver of success, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. CEOs become CEOs because they are incredibly skilled at focusing on what tasks are vital to a company’s bottom line, whilst the rest of us are powerless to resist a good Buzzfeed article when we should be working.  

The article’s real insight was that, contrary to popular belief, being un-focused is just as vital to our functioning. So vital, that psychologists have given it a technical name: The Default Mode Network.

What is the Default Mode Network (DMN)?

The DMN is what happens when our brain isn’t focusing on and assessing the outside world. It’s when our minds have retreated to the safety and wonder of daydreaming, or when we are feeling particularly sentimental and wish to remember the good times from the past.

This sounds a lot like procrastination - putting off tasks that need to get done - and not at all conducive to decision-making.

However, research has shown that the DMN is heavily involved in activating old memoriesgoing back and forth between the past, present, and future, and recombining different ideas, which is a key component of creativity. When psychologists first examined this neural network within the brain, they saw that it was deactivated during most goal-orientated tasks. But on closer inspection, they saw that this was not the case when those goal-orientated tasks were associated with social interaction and working memory.

With this in mind, it feels as though we might be missing out on the opportunity to use the DMN to help us obtain greater insights from our respondents taking part in market research.

How can we change our approach to gathering insights based on the DMN?

A lot of market research tasks used in interviews place great emphasis on engaging doctors, keeping them focused and making sure their minds don’t wander. This is because we want to download their knowledge in the 60 minutes we have with them, in order to identify how a brand might better communicate to their customers and encourage prescribing.

But what if we did the opposite, and allowed our doctors to become unfocused, activating their DMN?

We might then see the less rational, more emotional responses we seek. It may also help our doctors to be more creative and help us uncover solutions for how to make their brand(s) more compelling than their competitorsBy activating the DMN we can better understand the impact of new drugs in the market, and how their behaviour might change as a result.

This is a topic that Brand Garage – our innovation think tank at Branding Science – are currently looking at. Our aim is to design tasks that activate the Default Mode Network, so we can approach our client’s business questions from a wide range of angles. Ultimately providing them with valid solutions as to how to optimise their brand’s marketing strategic.

Watch this space!

For more information about our approaches to helping your brand, email us at: 

Monday, 24 July 2017

My Love-Hate Relationship with My Medication

Many patients have conditions where they need to take medication for the rest of their lives. Living with a chronic condition can have a profound effect on a person's life, from a change in their lifestyle to even being forced into an alternative career plan. Taking daily medications becomes a part of their new routine and for many these treatments help improve their health and their overall quality of life, but sometimes they can also create other problems and patients may enter in to an ‘internal battle’ to take them.

I am one of those patients

At the age of 19, I felt my world had been turned upside down when I received a diagnosis that I never expected and initially really struggled to accept. I resented that I would have to rely on medication for the rest of my life as well as the implications my new diagnosis would have. However my attitude definitely changed as I gradually came to terms with my condition, and realised that things were not as bad as I first thought! My medications do more for me than just helping to keep me healthy and my condition under control. They enable me to have the freedom to be "normal" and go about my daily life without constantly worrying about being unwell. They help me to stay out of hospital, to work, go on holiday and make plans, and so for all of this I love them. I wonder how many people can say they have something as powerful and positive in their lives.

However, a part of me hates them too for the side effects that they come with. For many patients, a balancing act must be achieved between finding the most effective dose but with the least amount of side effects. Personally I feel switching feels risky when other medications aren't guaranteed to be as effective and come with their own set of (often similar) side effects, and so it can become a case of "better the devil you know".

I love them, but I hate them

I feel lucky because I have a specialist who is incredibly knowledgeable, and who takes the time to listen to my concerns and what is important to me and involves me in decisions around my care. However he is a busy consultant and it can be months in between seeing him, and what if I have problems with my medication in the interim period?

Having recently increased one of my medications, I found myself at the end of my tether struggling with side effects and felt pretty miserable. I fleetingly flirted with the idea of stopping them for a few days just so that I could have a respite from feeling unwell, and know that I am not alone with this feeling. I am aware of the dangers associated with this and so wouldn’t stop medication without appropriate medical supervision, but I can definitely understand and empathise with people who feel pushed to this extreme.

So what could help?

·         Patient information leaflets need to change and include more details. They often tell patients to get in touch with their doctor if they have problems, but this often isn’t easy when clinics are frequently fully booked. GPs are commonly unable to advise with specialist medications. Patients value advice and information about not just what, if any, of the side effects someone might expect, but also which of those side effects are like to be transient and if perhaps I (and patients like me) should persevere to see if they subside. There is also a large scope for practical suggestions on things that they can try to help alleviate these symptoms.

·         Signposting to patient friendly websites. In my view, the companies that manufacture the medications prescribed to me by my doctors could add considerable value to their products by pointing users to authoritative and evidence-based patient friendly websites with more relevant and easily digestible information - or linking directly to their own version of this. These need to offer general advice and support around disease management as well as information about their medication.

·         Industry-led patient forums. Commonly patients gravitate towards online forums to ask other people with the same condition for their recommendations and experiences, but these often aren't monitored or regulated and there can be huge differences in the accuracy and helpfulness of information shared. Developing forums that are facilitated by industry experts from within the medical and pharmaceutical industry could have a significant positive impact and reach many people.

In my view, pharmaceutical companies could do much more to support patients’ alongside what they already do in terms of educating healthcare professionals. At Branding Science we work with our clients to understand how patients really feel about their condition and their medication, and what they want and need from their treatment. Ultimately we want patients to really engage with their treatment and truly value the medicines they use on the basis that those medicines are enabling them to have a better quality of life sustained over a significant period of time. Ideally this kind of patient/medicine relationship should lead to the development of brand loyalty amongst patients and healthcare professionals alike and will contribute towards the building of a deeper trust with the industry.

Email us at to discover how we can help you to understand how patients really feel, and how you can best support them and address their needs

This blog was written by Linzie Reason, Marketing Communications Executive at Branding Science

Monday, 10 July 2017

Motivated Branding … ‘Am I bovvered?’

In a recent New Scientist article, Dan Jones examined some of the startling phenomena of recent political times, most obviously the shock of Brexit/Trump votes and the ‘post truth’ politics underlying these events.

Jones observes that it is in the nature of human beings to think in biased ways. He quotes a study conducted by Dan Kahan at Yale University, which shows that amongst conservatives it is the most scientifically literate who are the strongest deniers of climate change. The phenomenon here is ‘motivated reasoning’ … people interpret facts to fit what they already think or feel. Thus, during these recent campaigns, we see the emergence of facts and ‘alternative facts’ that play to both the hearts and minds of different political tribes.

Kahan’s team conclude that only those fuelled by a genuine scientific curiosity that is more powerful than their competing motivations are capable of rising above opposing claims and making a more objective assessment.

However we are not seeing a new age in which facts no longer matter. When presented with objective facts, people will interpret them subjectively to decide if it is relevant and whether or not it matters to them. In practice, ‘motivated branding’ is the golden goose of many marketers, and finding the underlying keys that will unlock motivation is the ultimate goal of market research.

We have long known the importance of the emotive in either reinforcing or changing the direction of human behaviour. What cognitive neuroscience has now shown [on an MRI] is that emotion and reason are always fellow travellers in human decision making. On occasions, the impact of the emotive can be challenged by those who claim a special exemption for medicine, and objectivity rules because science, and scientists, are governed by different principles that rise above the biases of voters or shoppers and strives towards scientific rigour and objectivity.

In practice though, medicine is done by human beings to human beings and so is also subject to how human beings are. When new treatments are adopted into guidelines [or not] on the basis of the status and passion of their advocates, or when a patients’ treatment is upgraded on the basis of their ‘social worth’, we see a system in operation where the ‘emotive’ does count.

At Branding Science we understand that the task of market research is to determine how best to speak to or challenge human behaviour and build brands that are relevant to the audience and make them care. We need to have hard evidence in our story, but we also need to make it emotionally resonant:

And so ‘motivated branding’ should be the watchword of new treatments and new campaigns. It is not that the emotive is somehow a substitute for rational scientific evidence, but rather it should be a partner to it. Therefore we work with our clients to answer the ‘does this matter to me?’ question in the affirmative.

Email us at to talk to us about making your brands matter

This blog was written by Jon Chandler, Senior Director at Branding Science

Friday, 23 June 2017

Bottom-Up Innovation

Branding Science’s approach to generating the new and improving on the old

I started Brand Garage as a fresh-out-of-Uni Research Executive, looking for a forum to voice my opinions on the wide range of approaches and methodologies in market research that I found can either be wildly progressive, or downright ancient.

This space would have to be absent of fear and ego. I wanted to avoid situations of someone more senior than me saying: “I’ve been in this business for years and trust me, that isn’t going to work.” Or “That’s how we’ve always done it, and it’s not a good idea to change.”

I’m a firm believer that ideas are not for shooting down, but for dissecting and re-assembling, until it is the idea that solves the problem. Or re-defines the problem for you, which can be equally useful.

Thankfully, the team at Branding Science gave me that forum, appreciating its potential for innovation, to the point where Brand Garage – our internal ‘think tank’ – is not only supported, but celebrated.

So, how do we ensure innovation in Brand Garage?

  • No-one above a certain senior level is permitted to attend these meetings (we range from grads to REs, SREs and RMs)
  •  We’re encouraged to argue, to challenge, to rip something apart
  • We are creatively agile - we achieve this through allowing ourselves to be iterative, constantly re-defining, readjusting and reflecting on our ideas
  • We don’t put pressure on outcomes. If we don’t end up creating an innovative solution, but come up with another question instead, then that is still a success in our minds
  • We will split the team into two smaller teams to explore different avenues of thought, rather than allow in-fighting to take over the innovation process

 (We’re also encouraged to go off site to meetings and order Pizza, which totally helps!)

As a result, Brand Garage has looked at:

  •          New ways to uncover emotional brand perceptions
  •          New ways to validly test TPPs
  •          New ways to trigger creativity internally during our analysis sessions

I’ve no doubt that this trust in the ‘people at the bottom of the pyramid, the young sparks, the people closest to customers, as the source of innovation’* is why Brand Garage has, and will continue to be successful in the future.

Email Branding Science at  to find out more about Brand Garage, or how our approach to innovation might be applied to your organisation! We look forward to hearing from you.
*quote taken from the TedTalk: How to manage for collective creativity, by Linda Hill 

Written by Sofia Fionda, Research Manager at Branding Science

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

In-the-moment vs. close-to-the-moment research

As researchers, I like to think that we’re naturally curious. Or just nosey. Either way, we’re always striving for the keys that will unlock our understanding of human behaviour.

We want to know what people do. More interesting to us though is why people do what they do. This is especially important in market research, because if we know why people do things, then we can potentially change or replace the behaviour in question. Hopefully changing behaviours that lead to our client’s products being more successful.  

Our nemesis on this quest, however, is often Post Rationalisation.

Post rationalisation - a defense mechanism in which behaviors or feelings are justified and explained in a seemingly rational or logical manner to avoid the true explanation - is something we researchers consistently face when talking to respondents. 

For example, in an interview a dermatologist might give a detailed explanation of their prescription of a particular topical steroid, and how they came to this decision during the consultation, but can we be sure that their account captures the true drivers of their behaviour? Were they omitting that it was actually cost that drove them to make the decision? Or, were they just not consciously aware of what factors led them to make this treatment decision? Regardless, it can limit the validity of our insights.

Let’s look at why post-rationalisation during interviews can happen. Imagine you are in an interview room, either in a viewing facility or in a hotel, the chairs are comfy but unfamiliar, there are several papers on the large desk between a doctor and the moderator, the air heavy with the expectation that answers will be given to the questions asked.

As you probably guessed, this couldn’t be more removed from the environment in which doctors are making their decision – their clinic. Plus, it’s likely a long while after the decision was made.
To overcome these issues, we can try to get as close to the point of a decision as possible, removing some of the interview bias by assessing a behaviour whilst it is happening. This is what we refer to as in-the-moment research.

For several projects looking into drivers of prescription, we’ve used WhatsApp – the free messaging app – asking doctors to describe a particular patient they last saw moments after the consultation finished, using both the audio recording and text messaging functions. Having the app installed on a smartphone makes it very easy for doctors to do.

The methodology has produced some great, relevant insights for our clients about how doctors make the decision to prescribe one product over another, leading to many changes in brand communication strategies.

However, we noticed that some of our doctors tended to treat the task like the recordings they made for their case notes. As a result, their responses were more rational than we would have liked. And though we were able to follow up with them via the text messaging function, they often got busy (as doctor’s do) and didn’t reply until the evening or even the next day. This meant that not all of our research was conducted in-the-moment, but rather, close-to-the-moment.

Is this a bad thing? We don’t think so.

This methodology still has its merits, especially if done in tandem with more traditional interviews, like face to face or over the telephone.

Our experience has taught us that we need to think more about the types of tasks we are asking our respondents to complete, and also how we are going to use the outputs. What’s more, rather than assuming we are going to get all our great insights from this methodology alone, we like to think about it more as a source of cues that can be taken to a face to face interview, a task that will allow the respondent to travel back in time to the moment they made their decision, offering a much more valid discussion around what drives their behaviour. Ultimately giving clients more robust recommendations as to how to optimise their marketing strategies.

For more information about our close-to-the-moment research and how it can help your brand, email us at: 

Written by Sofia Fionda, Research Manager at Branding Science

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Excuse me Doctor, I read this on the internet…?

I recently became aware of an article being shared across social media from a popular tabloid newspaper, informing readers that a bladder drug that is widely prescribed here in the UK increases a patient’s risk of developing dementia by more than fifty percent. In light of these risks, doctors recommend that it should no longer be used at all - information that was due to be presented at the European Association of Urology conference but was not yet publicly available.

Having studied Medical Sciences at undergraduate level and now working at Branding Science, naturally I was interested in where this information had come from. There was no reference made to the scientific evidence or research behind the claims made in the article, leaving readers (and especially those currently being prescribed this medication) unable to determine the accuracy or relevance of the statements made and consequently make a fully informed decision regarding any choices they may subsequently take regarding their treatment. Indeed on reading some of the comments it was clear that some readers were not in any way interested in the scientific rigour of the article and were taking the information presented at face value.  Some bladder patients were even saying that they were going to immediately stop taking their medication before even consulting with any relevant healthcare professional.

It is hardly surprising that the effect of what is seen on the internet can be dramatic, especially as patients can often feel overwhelmed by their health conditions and desperate to find a cure and feel better. 

So where do people go to try to find out what is best to do for their health?

Patients no longer rely solely on their doctors and nurses as their ‘primary and authoritative’ source of advice on their health.  Nowadays they will be influenced by many different factors. With the internet at the tip of our fingers, patients will commonly look online for more information about their condition, medications or symptoms.

As an industry, pharmaceutical companies have a responsibility to the patients taking their drugs and the doctors who prescribe them. We can use various aids to inform doctors (and patients) about the benefits and risks of a particular medicine (often supported by the intelligent use of market research), but there is little or no rigorous control over content is released by the media, or what information (positive and negative) may be shared by patient support groups and on online support forums, or, indeed what is gleaned by talking to trusted friends and family. 

But surely having a greater access to information is a good thing?

It can be, especially if it increases awareness of specific health issues or leads to a patient feeling better able to manage their health. Yet what happens if the ‘information’ is unhelpful, inaccurate, and delivered in a way that isn’t easily understandable or indeed relevant?

Look up “best treatment for cancer” online, and there are over 200 million websites for you to choose from. Alongside the up-to-date, evidence-based sites, there are also a large number of deeply unscientific sites promoting among other things “natural cures”, ‘specialised diets’, strange exercise programmes’ and even DIY cancer cure kits!

How do people navigate the web and filter through the vast array of sites to find those that are free from bias, authoritative and grounded in evidence? Are people looking at these information sources and able to decipher the medical terminology and jargon along with any detailed scientific information published online (as well as the information that isn’t factually correct) in order to be able to make an educated choice?

So what can we do?

The internet will never replace the profound human dimension of the doctor-patient relationship. Understanding how an illness affects a patient, and the importance of finding the right treatment for them, helps empower patients to better manage and feel in control of their health. Healthcare professionals need to identify reliable healthcare websites, give information to patients that is accurate, and build relationships that encourage open dialogue so that patients feel able to come to them with their concerns.

Here at Branding Science, we believe in patient centricity and care about getting it right for patients. Through our intelligent market research techniques and understanding of patient insights we help our clients to build a brand that truly addresses the needs of patients and fosters a relationship of open communication with healthcare professionals.

Email us at to find out more about how Branding Science can help you build a brand that understands and meets the needs of patients

Written by Linzie Reason, Marketing and Communications Executive at Branding Science 

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Bad habits, take a hike!

How market research can get to the heart of a habit and help change customer behaviour

The dreaded habit. We all know what they are and we all have our own, and whilst some may be positive everyone will definitely be able to say which habit, or habits (!) they would like to eradicate.

But I have a secret for you: habits cannot be destroyed.

Don’t lose hope though. There are ways to alter those pesky habits that strike at the heart of your good intentions.

Science has shown that habits are stored in the brain, and as we now know, the brain can be re-programmed. Which means whilst they cannot be destroyed, changing a habit is possible.

Firstly, you have to understand a habit. In Charles Duhigg’s book ‘The Power of Habits’ he shows that habits have 3 core components:

In order to change a habit, Duhigg postulates, you have to identify the routine (that’s the behaviour, for example walking to the food point to steal a biscuit). Next, experiment with rewards to find out what’s driving the habit (are you going to the food point because you want to satiate your hunger?), and also isolate the cue (is it hunger pains you’re experiencing?).

Working with Brand Teams within Pharmaceutical companies, we often get asked to help our clients understand why their customers (Physicians, including GPs, specialists, pharmacists) prescribe a product over theirs, even though their drug has ‘better data’, and how they can change such behaviours.

What they’re essentially asking us is: How can we change our customers’ habits?

Well, that is where market research comes in.

We work with physicians, asking them to describe their prescribing practice (the routine), why they prescribe a particular product (the cue) and what outcome they are looking to achieve (the reward). We can do this by having in-depth conversations with physicians, either individually or in a group, or map these behaviours out through online surveys, looking at perceptions of drugs and patient numbers.

As a result, we provide our clients with direction on how to change prescribing behaviours, by giving physicians new cues and rewards that lead them to alter their original habits, helping our clients to position themselves as the brand of choice.

So as you can see, there is hope for you quitting sugar and eating healthy yet! You just need to work out how much you want those cookies, or if there is some other reason you are craving them, and how to break that routine!

Email us at to find out more about how Branding Science can help you understand and change your customers’ habits.