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How Medline Conducted Nimble Product Research on a Scrappy Budget

Medline needed to find out why their product wasn't selling. The only problem: A tight budget. 

Words by Tony Ho Tran, Visuals by Thumy Phan

The nurse who needs a new pair of gloves before surgery.

The emergency room doctor who needs a resuscitator for the child who just came in struggling to breathe.

The frontline healthcare workers who need N95 masks to protect their most vulnerable patients.

Medline provides vital supplies and solutions to healthcare facilities all across North America. And since 1910 when they began as a garment factory in Chicago’s South Side stockyards, they’ve established themselves as an indispensable provider and distributor of medical products to scores of hospitals.

It was only recently, though, that they’ve decided to offer supplies directly to individuals—accelerating partnerships with consumer retailers in food, drug, mass, and e-commerce, while continuing to serve hospitals and institutional channels.

While there are stakeholders out there who love insights, there are plenty who are wary to invest resources into custom research projects. That means a smaller budget and the need to get creative.

That’s what Vicky Mostovoy, Medline’s Director of Consumer Insights and Analytics, encountered when she was tasked with spearheading a research project into a consumer product that wasn’t selling as well as they wanted it to.

To help meet those challenges, Vicky and Medline turned to dscout.

Vicky Mostovoy is...

… the Director of Consumer Insights and Analytics at Medline. She draws on more than 15 years experience extracting customer insights at orgs like Dyson and Kraft-Heinz.

User research at Medline is...

… scrappy. They’re a historically stats-driven company that’s beginning to leverage qual insights more and more as they wade into consumer markets.

I wanted to introduce a company that was cost-effective, and was qualitative but still would provide data that would result in implications that were very clear to us to go act upon. It was fast too, because [dscout] provides real-time insights.

Vicky Mostovoy

The Problem

Vicky had a lotion problem.

No, it wasn’t an issue with her skin. Medline had just released a new therapeutic lotion called Remedy that wasn’t selling the way they wanted it to — despite the fact that they were sure they had nailed most aspects about the product.

“We had done packaging testing and concept testing, but the launch was not what we hoped it would be,” explains Vicky. “But the sales were soft so we had many questions.”

She continues, “We knew that the packaging resonated when consumers looked at it independently, but was it breaking out on the shelf? Was it price point? There were reasons why consumers were not purchasing our lotion, but we just didn't know what those barriers were.”

Vicky needed to conduct an in-depth qualitative study of Medline’s target users. That meant traveling, recruiting users, and testing hypotheses.

The catch? The research budget was lean. And stakeholders didn’t see the value of investing more into the project than they needed to.

“People had all of these questions and not a huge appetite to go conduct a full on barrier study, like I might've done in a past life,” she says. “It was going to be largely qualitative in nature like a mission. But we would be able to have some quant elements in there and just really beat the hunger for answers. We also wanted to let retailers know that we fully diagnosed what was stopping the sales success. It was critical.”

The Solution

Ultimately, the decision to use dscout stemmed from a number of factors. For one, it allowed them to work within the confines of their budget. It also offered them to conduct the project with the nimbleness they wanted.

“I wanted to introduce a company that was cost-effective, and was qualitative but still would provide data that would result in implications that were very clear to us to go act upon,” Vicky says. “Also fast too, because [dscout] provides real-time insights.”

dscout also allowed them to explore the regional impacts of their adverse sales data as well. For example, colder regions where people’s skin were more dry might see greater interest in the lotion than a warmer, more humid region.

They also wanted to see if there was an issue with the packaging itself, despite the fact that they had already tested it.

“I said, ‘Hey, let's just get people out to stores across the country because the national representation will be critical given that we don't even know if this thing is on shelf,’” Vicky says.

The budget was set for under $10,000. Luckily, dscout allowed Vicky to stay well under her budget — which was a relief considering how many research project budgets can stretch well into the upper five figure range.

“dscout’s cost was really appealing to a lot of people,” she says. “I think we did it all for around $7,000 including participant incentives. Compared to the costs of other research methods, I estimate that Medline saved $50,000 or more by working with dscout."

Case study: Retail Therapy

[The scouts we used] were therapeutic lotion users. We had them go to stores that carried our product because we wanted to learn a little bit more about how they shop, their path to purchase, their category expectations, and pain points with what they look for in a therapeutic lotion.

We had them go in and look at the therapeutic set and we asked them a series of questions, like if you were going to purchase a therapeutic lotion, which one would you purchase? They took a video with it. They took a picture of it. Then we asked them which one was the most premium, and which one was the best value.

We wanted to see if organically Remedy would emerge in any of these. And they didn't, because the product wasn't popping. Then we said, "Okay, you might not know, but there's a new lotion called Remedy. Can you please find it on shelf?" And that was so eye opening because a number of scouts could not.

We did learn it was not present at some stores they were supposed to be because of a distribution issue or it was sold out. And from the pictures they took of the shelves, you really could see how our package was lost. Our package is white and blue, just like a lot of the other leading brands and also the placement varied at some CVS. There was no consistency at all in the set. So it was really eye opening for us. You would have not gotten that via quants.

The Impact

In the end, dscout allowed Vicky and dscout to conduct speedy research with the amount of recruits they needed while remaining under budget.

More than that, Vicky realized that this type of research can be a way to include qual in every proposal, helping her win over stakeholders as well as folks who might be new to insights as a whole.

“People really loved it because the consumer videos really brought to life what we thought was the case,” Vicky describes. “It took us out of our heads because it's not us saying these things. We’re hearing the consumer say them.”

She continues: “There's no reason in this day and age to not have the holistic picture. You can do it on a really scrappy budget in a really short amount of time. And plus with the tech forward platforms that people have that research partners offer today, you can do it with a team very easily too, so that it's not falling all on the shoulders of one person. I know research teams are very lean. So having that collaborative piece also helps a great deal with selling.”

Tony Ho Tran is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. His articles have appeared in Huff Post, Business Insider, Growthlab, and wherever else fine writing is published.

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