Nothing kills medical-orientated companies, campaigns or projects as quickly as complacency; or engaging in activities without the evidence to support them.

There is no room for standing still in the fast-moving and diverse healthcare sector. Nor does it make sense to assume that you understand your target audience, without taking the time and trouble to check in with them regularly.

Taking time to update your in-depth understanding of the needs of a community or the users of a Public Health body can be the key to creating greater engagement and true affinity with your aims.

For many organisations, this involves quantitative research to generate handy amounts of data which verify a course of action or point them in a new direction. However, savvy organisations realise that behind the numbers lie important subtleties and a wealth of business intelligence. For this, you need qualitative market research.

What is qualitative market research?

At its most basic level, it is an investigation into what motivates people and how they behave, in relation to your product or service. It explores preferences, opinions and reactions.

The data generated can tell you more accurately who your target users are, and can drill down on their needs and wants. Also, it can review your user group’s expectations more vividly, so you can map out whether you are meeting them or not.

It can also provide important insights into how you can amend policies, campaigns, projects, services and even products to achieve higher and more meaningful market penetration. You can remove roadblocks and tackle misconceptions, as well as gain a clearer idea of terminology that could achieve a positive result.

The business intelligence could come from a wide range of research techniques, such as interviews, focus groups, questionnaires and survey software. To be confident in your aims, activities and outcomes, it is advisable to engage the services of an advanced healthcare market researcher. This is especially true if aspects of your research involve observational techniques.

Understanding user behaviours

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of qualitative research is its ability to demystify and map out user behaviours. You can use it to show the reactions and interactions of your target audience, rather than just their verbal or written responses.

An illustration of this would be asking people for feedback on a health campaign website. They may say what they think you want to hear or become oppositional for an entirely personal reason.

Using sophisticated market research techniques you can ‘eye map’ someone’s response to a website. For example, what drew their attention first and where did their attention linger? You can then formulate questions to reveal how much crucial information they assimilated.

Observational research could also be used for something as simple as watching a user unpack and then use a medical product, to measure their body language and acuity.

How can you use qualitative research?

Much depends on your aims for this healthcare marketing research project, as that governs everything from the setting, to the type of people you engage in the process and the way the questions are structured.

Ultimately though, it should create a body of data you can use to verify a course of action.

This would be a good point to contrast the intel from quantitive research, with the more comprehensive nature of qualitative techniques.

You know from statistical analysis that 56% of care home residents in the area have diabetes, establishing need. However, qualitative research could tell you what the care home staff believe are feasible solutions, how residents are likely to respond to a particular initiative and what your likely outcomes will look like.

Quantitive search is the basis on which you can develop new products, services and campaigns. You can also use to it plan changes to delivery mechanisms and pricing structures, or to alter the way you explain and promote products and services.

Why does it need to be done regularly?

If you take a measure of your target audience’s views and reactions now, it can help be valuable information for innovation, change or improvement.

Then, at some point you need to repeat the qualitative research, to see how much progress has been made.

Carrying out regular exploration of behaviours, perceptions and views within your target group helps to show you what is working, and what isn’t. You may even find that a whole new issue has arisen that could potentially derail or devalue your work!

User understanding and acceptance

It would be easy in the healthcare sector to promote what decisionmakers believe is needed, without sufficient checks and measures on whether that is understood and accepted by the target audiences.

Statistical evidence (from qualitative research) can only provide a superficial range of insights and intelligence. Qualitative research can drill down much deeper and can create data that makes take-up and engagement with health services and products far more assured.