Articulating The Patient Journey & Why It’s So Important

I am just returning from the annual PMRG Institute, interfacing with peers in the pharmaceutical sector around a series of new topics & challenges in market insights. The theme of the conference was a 360º View, and many of the presentations focused on storytelling and the current wave of patient-centric initiatives impacting global pharma leaders such as Merck, Teva, UCB, Boehringer-Ingelheim to name a few.

It’s no surprise then the New York Times also recently published an op-ed on the importance of storytelling with Why Doctors Need Stories. This piece by Peter D. Kramer talks about Danish psychiatrist Per Bech, an innovator in clinical psychometrics, which is the science of measuring change in conditions like depression. Per Bech generally focuses on statistics, but more recently he’s shared stories about patients and case vignettes.

This Per Bech example reflects many of the exact challenges of our industry today – how we are changing our perspective in treating specific conditions, shifting to more patient-centric and relatable materials. That’s something we do first hand at BuzzBack. Our eCollage™ is a unique storytelling technique – in research-speak, it’s an enabling technique that helps both patients and physicians open up and express themselves more authentically. We use this technique in our Diabetes study and much of the other healthcare work we do. It helps clients get to the ‘power of the narrative’ and the ‘texture’ alluded to in Why Doctors Need Stories.

The narrative completes the job – it fills in the blanks between clinical facts and data points.  For pharma marketing, the article’s author articulates it beautifully, “But vignettes can do more than illustrate and reassure. They convey what doctors see and hear, and those reports can set a research agenda”.

The physician author admits that vignettes about cases and outcomes augment evidence-based medicine and inform his decision making. In our daily work, we have seen how stories tell the big picture, while also capturing the details of a smaller snapshot too. Time and again, stories provide opportunities for the audience to recognize themselves – and in this case, for the physician, his patient. Stories help individuals connect on a deeply personal level. For marketers, this is the gold they are mining for when weaving their brand narrative.

That Word Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means…

Have you seen the post about the 25 Common Words That You’ve Got Wrong? It’s been showing up all over my social news feed lately. Basically, it’s a list of words that people have repeatedly used incorrectly over time. Some of the words might surprise you! For some of these words, the confusion was understandable – they sound like another word or the definition was close to another word.  However, reading through this list serves as a gentle reminder to those of us in our industry. The need to understand what consumers think and how they perceive certain words or ideas is imperative to a brand’s overall communication efforts. This goes to show that you can’t simply rely on what the dictionary says.

And, going beyond played back definitions, we’ve found through our own research on research that even surface level associations don’t oftentimes match what consumers feel about certain words. It’s often difficult to understand what motivates consumers and how they feel about a brand and why. So how do you extract the deeper feelings about a brand or a concept? Well, research has shown that 80% of human expression is non-verbal, with most decision-making happening in the subconscious.* This indicates a need for evolved market research methods that go beyond reporting what consumers say, and to provide understanding around what they are feeling. One of the ways that we are able to get at the deeper meaning is through eCollage™ which uses pictures and images as catalysts, to elicit emotions more effectively. This type of technique allows for deeper and more personal self-expression. Want to see how it works? Click the image below to go ahead and give it a try.

Click for a demo
Click to try eCollage™

*Zaltman, 1995 et al

Are You A Pioneer?

My alma mater, Dartmouth College, just celebrated the 50th anniversary of John Kemeny’s BASIC computer language. I was lucky enough to have Prof Kemeny my freshman year right before he retired. He was a pioneer in computing and computer time-sharing. For example, when he assigned homework, he would tell us where the hangups would be BEFORE we even started!

Shortly after, Apple made Dartmouth a beta site for the first Macintosh, and as students we used Macs before most had personal computers. I have an original Mac 128K that still works! That’s when I fell for WYSIWYG and the visual desktop – the interface that enthralled Steve Jobs at Xerox PARC became the foundation for how we interact with technology today.

That was a formative experience for me that most definitely shaped my view of how visuals transform interactions. And perhaps that’s when the BuzzBack seed was planted deep in my brain somewhere.  Today, the welcoming, engaging visual interface is part and parcel to our online research applications – desktop, mobile, and more to come.

Being a pioneer isn’t easy.  Like other companies evolving long-held traditions, we had our share of critics or those that didn’t understand what we were trying to achieve.  But as pioneers, we stay true to our vision and keep cutting the trail toward our goal. We look to continuously push the envelope with applications that incorporate visual technology. In 2005, that started with our award-winning eCollage, and today we are rolling out new mobile tools for tablets, ipads, and more (watch this space for news soon).  In the meantime, here’s a look at how eCollage helps consumers express with visuals what may be hard to verbalize with words. It’s our own version of “Pin-ing” – but with specific market research purpose.




click on the video to view our eCollage demo



Minimalism is the New Luxury

There’s a new saying sweeping the nation, “Not Owning Stuff is the New Owning Stuff”. Sounds ironic, doesn’t it? But yes, apparently it’s true; minimalism is now considered the new luxury. Minimalism has always been an idea touted by anti-consumerists, but more recently your average person has joined in as well. From people selling most of their belongings and moving into tiny homes to people not buying homes at all, the idea of ownership is becoming something less and less desirable. In particular, among Millennials, the pay-as-you-live lifestyle is gaining a lot of traction which is seen by the popping up of companies like Netflix, Zipcar and Rent the Runway which allow you to rent movies, cars and even dresses whenever the need arises. People are realizing that we really don’t need all the stuff we want, and it’s actually more enjoyable to live a lighter lifestyle. Especially after the Great Recession when many people had to give up their homes, cars, and some, their entire lifestyles, the advantage of having “less to lose” is obvious.

It’s still funny though to hear minimalism being referred to as a type of luxury. But it immediately brought to mind a study we did in which we explored the different dimensions of “Luxury”. When we first prompted respondents with the word, the first thing that came to mind was the idea of money. On the surface, luxury is defined as richness, opulence, and owning plenty of material things. However, after using eCollage, it became clear that there was another, deeper dimension of the word. One strong emergent theme was that of opportunity, showing that luxury can also be defined as the freedom to do what you want, when you want. In reality, something that is considered luxurious does not have to be insanely expensive, rather it can be something free. What does matter though is that it is not something that can be easily obtained.

With this new understanding of the word, it suddenly becomes clear how minimalism can be considered a luxury. Most would admit that it was very hard to give up their material possessions at first. However, once they dove into the lifestyle, many experienced a freeing feeling of not being tied down to “stuff” which goes hand-in-hand with the deeper definition of luxury we found. So, how about you? Are you ready to try out this new lifestyle trend of minimalism?

For more information on our Exploring Luxury study, click here.

Let The Consumer In

I recently read an article that resonated with me.  It covered the idea of including the consumer in the brand storytelling process so that the resulting brand message is not only compelling, but also meaningfully aligned with the consumer’s values.  I felt that the article actually sets the bar for anyone involved in the business of engaging consumers, including those of us in Market Research.

In our increasingly connected, digitally-disrupted world, authenticity is the order of the day.  Consumers are seeking transparent and more meaningful relationships with brands.  One way of achieving that relationship is through insight development.   The techniques brands use to dialogue with consumers,should be engaging, approachable and easy to understand, ones that welcome consumers into an authentic co-creation process.   Traditional marketing approaches that position marketers as all-knowing are out of step in an open environment where empowered consumers, who given the right tools and inspiring techniques, will thoughtfully and profoundly express both their obvious and latent thoughts, feelings, behaviors and attitudes.  Get out of the way, and allow them to tell you about the product or brand that they will loyally support.

This article reminded me of a recent study we conducted in which we utilized our online social forum, Hive. By allowing respondents access to our unique and engaging tools like eCollage within the confines of Hive, we were able to get twice as much verbal playback as standard open-ends alone. Our Exploring Pet Ownership study revealed non-verbal thoughts and emotions by completing ‘a day in the life’ exercise through their online collages. Respondents also participated in photo sharing, blogs, product name ideation and generating ideas for the next development in pet products. The insights collected provided marketers with directions for product positioning and potential white space for new products or line extensions.

As I reflect on my first year with BuzzBack, I think about what an exciting time it is to be in Consumer Insights.  It’s rewarding to see the breakthroughs we make by providing creative, image-based and engaging tools to consumers who are increasingly willing to return the authenticity favor, by openly sharing and collaborating.

For more information on our Exploring Pet Ownership study or our other Hive studies, click here.

The Emotional and Financial Stress of Millennials

Just this past weekend I read an article in the NY Times that confirmed US Millennials are worse off than previous generations at their age by comparing them across multiple economic measures. While federal aid and economic stimulus is decreasing, many are starting to feel some sort of economic relief. However, recovery is still lagging behind for Millennials who, unfortunately, entered into the work force during the Great Recession.

“According to the latest census data, nearly 16 percent of those in their mid-20s to mid-30s were in poverty in 2012, compared with just above 10 percent of Gen Xers in 2000 and baby boomers in 1980. Nearly 14 percent of that age group were living with their parents in 2013, a higher percentage than in previous generations. And of those living at home, 43 percent (2.5 million people) would be counted as being in poverty if they were on their own. Only 38 percent of those who were on their own were homeowners, compared with 46 percent from this age group who were on their own in 2000.”

There was another article, that posted on the same day decreeing US Millennials’ inability to save for retirement will pose a serious problem later in life.

Both articles cited high student debt as a contributing factor to many of this generations financial issues. To find out more about Millennials’ thoughts and feelings related to student debt, we conducted our own Student Debt study of 501 U.S. residents, ages 21+.

In order to understand the emotions and feelings respondents associate with debt, we asked them to create an online collage that illustrates their feelings about the opportunities and challenges in their life as they relate to their student debt. A few examples of these sentiments are included below:

student debt collage examples

An initial look at these images reveals strong negativity that largely reflects the stress, both emotional and financial, that stems from carrying debt. Images also expose a common struggle respondents face in having to assess and balance wants versus needs given their limited budgets.

Click here for more information on our Student Debt study.




Are You Sick of Big Data?

Are you sick of Big Data? I get several emails every day about new ways to integrate and report Big Data. However, when it comes to Big Data, visualization is an important theme. Recent studies from 3M and the Aberdeen Group talk about visualizing data and why that’s important. First, humans can comprehend visuals faster than words. Second, we retain information presented in visuals at a rate that’s double what we retain from reading or text.

At BuzzBack, we agree. Visuals are a key theme in how we collect information as well as how we report it. A great example that comes to mind is our exploratory study on the word Quality. While immediate associations with quality are all about applying it to a product or service, our eCollages on quality revealed a broader perspective of the word ‘quality’ that includes words such as family–life–time.

More than any of the other words in our studies, the perception of quality seems to encompass an almost holistic outlook; in essence, it is about quality of life. This concept, obviously, could mean a myriad of different things to different people, but it runs very deep. In order for a brand or product to truly be seen as quality, it needs to ally itself with this way of thinking: it needs in some way to enhance consumers’ general well-being and sense of life satisfaction.

Ultimately, we found out that quality is about relationships – about building trust and reassurance – and this is just as important for brands as it is for people.

A lot of our tools such as eCollageScene BuilderConcept Focus — they all use visuals in connecting with consumers. These themes of comprehension and retention are important in our daily insights work at BuzzBack, but they also support another important thing about visuals — they drive emotions and behaviors when it comes to decision-making.

How are you using images to communicate insights? I’d love to know…

Do You Research in Colour? And When Green is, Well, Blue.

While flicking through songs on Spotify recently, I came across an old favourite called ‘Do you dream in colour?’ by Bill Nelson. It’s an interesting song and, more importantly, question. I’m sure you’re thinking, “What has that got to do with research?” Well, it reminded me that, despite the improvements in research over the years, it is still the case that most of what the profession does is literally in black and white. It would seem our industry doesn’t allow people to express their answers in anything other than monochrome. We work hard to create unambiguous, “no grey area” questions, yet expect our respondents to provide imaginative, revealing, “colourful” answers. Most methods don’t inspire expression in the way people actually think and dream – which is in fact in colour.

To illustrate my point, let me tell you about a study that we did – one of my favourites. It was on the subject of ‘being green’ and environmentally friendly. If we were to ask respondents the direct question “What colour do you think of when you think about being ‘green’?” the incredulous response would be, of course, ‘green’ (maybe with one or two expletives thrown in!) However, when we did the study we asked them to create a collage by selecting available images of what ‘being green’ meant to them. When we had taken into account the number and colour mix of the images available, the colour most associated with ‘being green’ was actually blue!

This provides proof that indirect, creative methods can be more effective in evoking subliminal associations and attitudes that delve beyond the obvious. While direct questions certainly have their place, in order to ‘activate the silent’ and allow consumers to articulate emotions and associations requires a deft balance of creativity and science. Only then can we cut through the black and white to richer and more vibrant and actionable insights.


Is Tea the New Coffee?

If you haven’t heard, Starbucks just opened its first Teavana Tea Bar in Manhattan in hopes of slicing out its share of the $90 billion global tea market. They are looking to open at least 1,000 more of these bars within 10 years.

At BuzzBack we were also fascinated in the growing interest of tea, and conducted our own BuzzPoll to better understand what was driving consumers.

Not surprisingly, the focus is on tea’s health benefits. But not only that … drinking tea is also a state of mind.

In our study, we asked consumers who drink tea to create an online collage that expressed the thoughts, feelings, and associations that come to mind when they think about brewed tea. Below are some examples from our eCollage™ tool.

tea 1
“Tea makes me think of relaxation, meditation, nature and health.”
tea 2
“It is a quiet time to sit and enjoy the day and reflect on life. Since I like the herbal teas and flavored teas the fruits are a reminder of them. The cup is a reminder of my mother and her love of the afternoon tea break using one of her many fancy tea cups.”
tea 3
“Tea is a refreshing, soothing, delightful, and social beverage. You have to slow down to prepare and drink it.”













However, don’t expect tea drinkers to give up coffee. In our BuzzPoll, about two-thirds of brewed tea consumers still drink coffee almost every day and Starbucks is banking on that too. While the Teavana Tea Bars will have a more relaxed, leisurely atmosphere where people come come in, sit back and relax, customers will still want to pop in to Starbucks for an on-the-go beverage.

Click here for more information on our tea study.


Exploring Healthy Snacking: What are words worth?

Exploring Healthy Snacking is the 5th installment of our white papers that investigate consumer language. Our innovative online research techniques gain insight into consumer associations with the word Healthy –expressed in pictures, thoughts, feelings – as well as attributes and other descriptors. We interviewed more than 2,400 consumers in the US, UK, Brazil, China, Russia and Germany.


In this paper, you will learn how to leverage consumer language and imagery in relation to your core brand positioning and development. To explore consumer associations with the word Healthy & Healthy Snacking –expressed in pictures, thoughts, feelings – as well as attributes and other descriptors, we interviewed more than 2,400 consumers in the US, UK, Brazil, China, Russia and Germany.
For more information, please get in touch with us using the form below.