“That’ll be £16.55 please”, she insisted. I stood there in confusion. Moving from Northern Ireland to London had been a big change for me in many ways, but it wasn’t until I collected a prescription from a chemist in London that I was shocked to be asked to hand over money. I hadn’t realised until this point how oblivious I had been about two different healthcare ecosystems within the UK.

Thinking of the cultural differences between Northern Ireland and London, paired with working in the healthcare market research industry, it struck me how mindful and appreciative we need to be of these differences when conducting multi-national market research studies.

Take a concept testing study for example; we often encounter polarizing views between markets. As market researchers, it becomes our mission to find out why, and by pulling apart these insightful nuggets of information, we learn how important it is to take cultural biases into account.

What I find particularly interesting in concept testing, is for the ranking of different concepts. In one recent study, where the concepts were particularly emotive, we noticed that in the US physicians provided very high scores on most attributes on a scale of 1 to 7 i.e. 6 out of 7 for uniqueness and clarity, but physicians in Germany were unlikely to give a score higher than 4, even if they were impressed with those specific concepts qualitatively.

It made the team wonder, were the US much more open to these dramatic concept images because they have high exposure to compelling healthcare advertising through TV promotions (Pharma TV ad spend promoting prescription drugs has increased 62 percent since 2012), or were there other factors at play? And what about Germany? Studies show that certain markets, one of them being Germany, are more likely to give an ‘even distribution’ score. These cultural biases are hugely important to consider, and there are certain ways to account for these such as local benchmarking.

In another recent multi-national study, we were intrigued to uncover that patients from countries with traditionally reserved or ‘closed’ cultures, found market research interviews as a helpful way to open up and talk about topics that might be otherwise difficult to discuss in their normal day to day lives. For example, patients in China tend not to display their feelings towards certain blood diseases as the condition is considered shameful; another influence that is culturally imbedded. However, once in a room with a moderator and away from their social and cultural pressures of everyday life, these respondents were given the platform to openly express their emotions, allowing for an extremely successful study due to the deep and home-hitting insights gained from these respondents.

In contrast, in Greece, patients are proactively encouraged to talk about the very same disease as mentioned in China and there are even certain legal documents which must be obtained before getting married to ensure the other spouse-to-be is aware of the condition. This highlights how much cultural influences produce diverse perceptions and behaviours towards the same disease. Providing this information to our clients is vital; it gives strong justifications to our recommendations and allows them to confidently tailor their objectives and strategy to individual markets.

Market research in the healthcare sector always provides me with new and interesting learnings on the cultural differences of the various markets we work in, and I especially love finding powerful insights from those countries I am personally less familiar with… however my main learning is to always bring payment when collecting my prescriptions in London!

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