I’ve been noticing lately that many companies with patient panels or communities that conduct market research also engage in direct marketing or advertising with their patients. They’ll send out a survey at one time, but at other times they’ll send promotional material sponsored by a pharmaceutical company. They aren’t combining these activities, that would be obviously offensive. Like when you get a call claiming to be survey, they ask if you want higher taxes, and then ask you to donate to a candidate. That is clearly not market research and is clearly forbidden by market research organizations.
I was wondering if the practice of a company doing both market research and promotional activity to their panel was OK. I asked the Insights Association, of which we’re a member, and they helpfully told me it can be legitimate. They said (thanks to Nicole Symelidis and Melanie Courtright of the Insights Association): “A research company can also engage in marketing; they cannot, however, call their marketing ‘marketing research,’ as it has to abide by marketing laws. The distinction is important for the laws that govern marketing and the exceptions that only cover true research. They must also be transparent with their clients about those activities.” The Insights Association asks applicants who want to join the IA if their company conducts marketing, and if so, to provide details to make sure they are handled separately.
So, it is clear that companies are permitted to do both market research with and marketing to their panels. But is it a good idea? Would you want to conduct research with a sample that had just been sent your competitor’s advertisement? Or yours for that matter? Wouldn’t that make your sample unrepresentative? It’s one thing if they come across promotional materials naturally through their regular behavior, watching TV, reading magazines, engaging online. But If the entire sample with a certain disease or condition has been promoted to, I would consider that tainted sample. What do you think?
We do not do promotional activities with our Rare Patient Voice panel. We promise our panelists that we will never try to sell them anything. All we ask of them is their opinions. Even on our Facebook site, we’re happy to make patients aware of information or free services that they might find interesting, but we will never promote something for sale.
So, as you select sample providers for your research, ask if they also promote to their panel or community. You may want to avoid that sample.