Message testing for creative materials (i.e. image and text copy) aimed at patients, physicians, and healthcare executives is an important area of pre-launch planning and brand management that shouldn’t be overlooked, especially after you’ve spent millions developing your product and getting it approved.
Message testing can be conducted through almost any modality, from one-on-one interviews, to online panels, and, of course, through surveys. The modality you choose will often depend on whether you are exploring your potential customers’ attitudes and needs through qualitative research (where interviews might be best), testing messages iteratively with a targeted group (where an online panel would be best), or quantifying the expected response rate among different target groups (where a large survey would give you the answers you need).

Two major types of message testing:

Developmental market research: Before an advertising campaign is created, and possibly before it is even commissioned, you should consider conducting market research to identify the needs of your potential target group, and what specific features of your product resonate most with them. We define resonate features as those that are memorable to the target, address a need that they recognize and buy into, and are differentiating from your competition.

When identifying needs in a qualitative setting, often the question design is simply a mix of unaided and aided questions probing your targets feelings about the issues around disease diagnosis and treatment, and their satisfaction with the tools (i.e. drugs, diagnostics, devices) they have available.

In a quantitative setting, you can ask an aided set of questions listing many potential needs, and ask the respondent to select how much they agree that that statement, as in the example below:



The answers you receive can illustrate the most important needs that your messaging should focus on, and if your sample is large enough, you can use this same methodology to uncover the sub segments within your target population who respond to different needs so that you can craft customized messages for each group. The importance of different areas can even be tracked over time to monitor the changing sentiment of your target subpopulations (see following graphic):


We often suggest that you consider assessing needs by asking about satisfaction with the features offered by products already in use. Whether in an interview, panel, or survey setting, this method consists of listing the features of each of the products and asking your target audience to tell you the level to which they are satisfied. By looking at the inverse of the satisfaction ratings, you can clearly see areas of dissatisfaction, which generally correlate to areas of need.

Finally, we recommend that you list the features of your product for the target audience, and ask them which are interesting or uninteresting, and why. In this manner, you can narrow in on those parts of your product profile that resonate the most with the audience. These features will form the basis for your message creation.

Evaluative market research: Once “creatives” are developed for a marketing campaign, it is important to test them for resonance with your intended audience. Testing of actual images and copy with the target audience, sometimes also known as “copy-testing”, is a critical element of any marketing campaign and serves as a final editing and selection tool before the messaging is solidified.

Whether it is conducted via a qualitative or quantitative modality, the research methodology for testing creatives is straightforward, though the phrasing of the particular questions can vary. Representatives of your target group are shown 2-6 different mock-ups of a creative and asked rating questions (usually about uniqueness, believability, relevance, and impact on prescribing/use), and then a final ranking question to discover their favorite creative concept. In iterative research modalities like an online panel discussion, messages and creatives can be revised based on recommendations from the panelists and then retested in the next wave of questions to determine the impact of those changes, allowing clients to refine their approach several times within a single project.
The outcome of this methodology should be a ranked set of messages and images that resonate with a need in the market, are engaging and interesting to the target population, and will be remembered after viewing.