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And the star of the IIeX Health 2017 show is ...MarlaJan


Thursday, 20 April 2017


Who the hell is MarlaJan and where does she work?  

Well, she is not a researcher or employed by the healthcare industry.

She is a nurse, patient, survivor, patient advocate and an inspirational lady.

What is her story?

MarlaJan was born with congenital heart disease and defied the odds to become a nurse and help patients like her who are dealing with serious medical conditions.  Just as her life was approaching something we might term as “normal”, she was diagnosed with lupus.  The combination of that, her long and continuing medical treatments and the issues associated with her congenital heart disease has meant she has had to deal with physical and mental difficulties that I am really not sure that I would have been able to cope with.  Although she looks well enough in this photo, every day is a challenge and clearly there are good days and bad days.

Her experience has motivated her to become an advocate for patients suffering from her condition.  She talks openly and with humour about her “fake boobs, and an out-of-order baby maker” although it is plain to see there is a lot of hurt and pain.

And through this story, we get real insight not just into the issues of coping with a disease like lupus and its treatment, but also the physical and mental side effects, the impact of other conditions and how we can better address these to provide not just longer life but a better quality of life too.

Emotional impact

I have attended a great many conferences over the years and this was the first time that I saw a presenter getting a standing ovation.  There were people fighting back tears, not in sadness or pity, but because we were inspired.  Inspired by the honesty and bravery of MarlaJan and inspired to try to be better in our jobs to help MarlaJan and all those who lives we can positively impact.

"Notwithstanding the commercial purposes of what we do, I am fundamentally in healthcare to help people live longer, better lives." Giving voice

I must apologise but I have done a terrible job of conveying MarlaJan’s story and the impact it had on the audience.  In my defence, it is a mission impossible task although I acknowledge a writer of any talent would have done better.

It is not practical have respondents sitting in an office next door, so what can we do that we are not doing now?

Beyond a one-way written question and answer

It is impossible for me to write about her presentation and convey its nuances and emotions, so it is impossible for any research to do the same with customer views.

There are additional difficulties to overcome.

  • First, respondents often struggle to find the right words to convey what they mean. That means for example, moving away from asking to listening and observing.

  • Second, it is often a “system 2” response that we get back and measure and not a “system 1” response. For example, a “system 2” response may aim to please by responding with the answer they think they ought to give rather than what they really think.

  • Third, the market research industry continues to bore people with over-long, over-complex questionnaires which most people in data collection agencies know have lost the respondent’s interest and attention after a few minutes. Furthermore, as I have written about previously, this causes a serious bias in the respondent sample.

Stop defending what is not working!

There are lots of new, innovative agencies that are offering services that seek to tackle the current inadequacies of what we are currently doing.  So why is it that for most organisations, 90%++ of their spend is on the same discredited methodologies as they have utilised for the past 10 years?  Marketeers don’t buy into the change?  It is so hard to get Medical affairs/compliance approve it?  The straight-line on my tracker might not stay straight?  I can only bring in new things to low risk projects – I just don’t have many of these at the moment?

"If you are in your job for more than money, then you need to learn how to influence change for the better." How making the respondent the “star” can help you

So much research is based around the researcher trying to demonstrate how smart they are, that we have lost our way.  Market research is nowhere near as important and influential as it should be.  If you think of how you make the respondent the “star”, what you are really doing is putting the customer first.  To do that, we need to bring them alive, make the research feel authentic and create an emotional reaction.

Power of video

A key way to do that is though the use of video.  We all walk around with a portable recording studio in our pockets.  We are attached to our smart-phones and almost all of us have learned to use the video capabilities as part of our personal lives.  There is nothing we love to consume more than video.  76% of all internet traffic is video.  This is going to rise to more than 90%!

Influence and activation

Perhaps the biggest single issue that the market research industry faces is its inability to influence its internal clients and activate what might still be good research findings.  It is no use blaming others – blame ourselves.  We need to communicate in the way that people want to consume data – visually.  If I had shown you a video of MarlaJan, you would get as close as possible to “the moment” that those attending the conference experienced.  It is not just the words, it was the tone, the eyes, the facial expressions, the body language than conveyed her story.

All of that builds an emotional connection.  As neuroscientist Antonio Damasio proved, we need emotion to make choices.

And the star is….

To me, video is the most obvious “no-brainer” in the list of “no-brainers” that the market research industry should be taking on.  Our job should be about making the respondent the star of the show.  That is the most effective way for us to get our own star to rise again.

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