Healthcare marketing

BioVid’s researchers take the guesswork out of positioning.

By: Melinda Sherwood
   With the cost of research and development in the pharmaceutical industry skyrocketing, precision marketing is increasingly vital to healthcare businesses.
   One West Windsor firm is helping to fill that need.
   "We help reduce uncertainty around decisions, and those decisions are becoming higher stakes all the time because of less robust pipelines and fewer mega-blockbusters (drugs)," says Dr. Andrew Aprill, founder and president of BioVid, a young, but growing, pharmaceutical marketing firm on Vaughn Drive in West Windsor.
   With a 10-person staff boasting "enough advanced degrees to open our own university," BioVid is a small firm in a field of giants — a characteristic that Dr. Aprill, 40, believes is an asset.
   "We don’t want to be the biggest — we want to be the most sought after," he said. "We want to be a Ferrari, not a GM."
   BioVid’s clients, however, are the pharmaceutical powerhouses — companies like Pfizer, Merck, Novartis, AstraZeneca and Aventis.
   The firm is currently wrapping up an 11-country global market assessment for one of the top five global pharmaceutical companies, and kicking off a $2 million early-stage landscape study for a new product also from one of the world’s leading global pharmaceutical firms.
   As a result of this growth spurt, BioVid recently announced expansion plans that include doubling in size at its current location and adding a state-of-the-art focus group facility, which the firm will make available to other companies that want to capitalize on the unique demographics of the Princeton area.
   BioVid provides qualitative and quantitative research that helps healthcare businesses make decisions as simple as what color to use in packaging, to how clients should position a product based on patient and doctor behavior, brand share and treatment patterns for a particular condition.
   To illustrate, Dr. Aprill mentions one client — a pharmacy chain — approached the firm for insight on whether they could gain a competitive edge by providing counseling and other health monitoring services to customers.
   "The immediate problem we saw was that to do this is basically encroaching on physicians’ turf and there are health issues," said Dr. Aprill. "The challenge to us was how do we get good, critical constructive feedback from physicians on this idea. We knew if we went into a room and said, ‘Doctor, what do you think about this idea?’ the report would be one word: No."
   So BioVid employed a trademarked methodology it calls a "tag-team focus group."
   First, they convened a group of doctors to see how they responded to the pharmacy concept. Not unexpectedly, "the physicians spent an hour saying ‘no way,’" said Dr. Aprill.
   The physicians were then led behind a one-way mirror where they listened to a group of patients discuss the same concept.
   "The patients loved the idea, because when they go to the physician’s office, they feel the physician doesn’t have time, and they’re respectful of their time," said Dr. Aprill. "And more elderly patients are less likely to open up that dialogue, and a patient often forgets to ask those questions."
   The study, in effect, "lowered physicians’ resistance level — they got to see that they’re really is a need out there," said Dr. Aprill.
   Resolving the disconnect between healthcare companies and the physicians or patients who need their products is just one part of what BioVid does. It also compiles data and uses computer-based decision modeling to forecast how a particular product will be received in the marketplace. Pharmaceutical companies "have to make sure that every decision they make is a sound, valid, rational decision," explained Dr. Aprill, "and we help them do that through research — is (the product) going to generate enough revenue to justify development?"
   A native of Nebraska, Dr. Aprill graduated from Temple University with a Ph.D. in social psychology and statistics and worked at small pharmaceutical marketing firms before joining the much larger NOP division of Market Measures in Livingston.
   He left to start BioVid in 1998 because he felt limited by the corporate environment. "I understand that in a publicly traded company it’s all about quarterly earnings, but what that tends to do is drive daily decisions and set a tone for the culture of the organization," he said. "I didn’t have the opportunity to always do what I wanted to do for the client. I had to make compromises that I didn’t feel were in the client’s best interest."
   Over the past five years, BioVid has been cautiously adding staff and building its advisory board to include several reputable leaders in the business community, including Steven Keefer, head of the marketing development group for the Al Ahram Beverages Company; Robert R. Bernstock, president, The Scotts Company USA; Maxine Champion, president and founder, Champion Strategies; Roger Davis, Ph.D., founder and president, Lifespan Research; and Thomas Maeder, senior scientific adviser, Georgetown University School of Medicine.
   The recent flurry of mergers within the market research industry has also opened up new opportunities for BioVid, Dr. Aprill believes. "Our competitors are becoming fewer and fewer because they’re being gobbled up," he said. "Our challenge is to convince clients that small is beautiful."