Brakke and Trone look to inject data into discussion of veterinary pharmaceutical market

New research aims to illustrate how more consumer options will affect a traditional veterinary business model—and how the veterinary industry can prepare.
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Aug 20, 2014

Animal health industry consulting and research firm Brakke Consulting has partnered with pet category advertising and marketing insights company Trone Brand Energy to take on one of the hottest topics in veterinary medicine: the pet pharmaceutical market. Specifically, they want to know if the advertising and high profile legislation that's made most of the veterinary profession cringe has actually changed consumer behavior. Furthermore, if it has—or when it does—how will manufacturers, distributors, retailers and veterinarians adapt?

The companies are poised to embark on new research to define those large and looming questions. The study will use quantitative surveys starting with pet owners, veterinarians and pharmacists, followed by qualitative interviews with leaders in the veterinary profession and manufacturing and distribution executives. The result will be a comprehensive written report that outlines in its first phase:

> Consumer behavior

> Veterinary perception

> Comparison of veterinary perception to actual pet owner behavior

> Changing consumer behavior

> Pharmacist profile

And in its second phase:

> Impact on veterinarians, pet owners and ethical and human distribution

> Profiles of retailers and manufacturers

> Learnings from other industries (for example, the Eye Glass and Contact Lens Portable Prescription Act)

But before any forecast can be made on the future business model for pet pharmaceuticals, Brakke and Trone will analyze data to confirm or ease the veterinary profession's suspicions that the traditional business model has changed.

Perception vs. reality

Brakke consultant David Goodnight, DVM, MBA, says that in practice, you often remember the bad experiences and forget the 95 percent that were wonderful. This perception may apply to those clients looking outside the practice for pharmaceuticals. "Are we getting a few of these and we're worrying about them? We need data," he says. "We need a study we can replicate every couple of years."

As more and more advertising dollars are thrown at luring consumers out of the veterinary clinic to online and retail pharmacies for pet medications, and legislation like the Fairness to Pet Owners Act refuses to go away, the issue remains a hot one. Even if, in reality, the average pet owner isn't leaving the current business model—at least in large numbers ... yet.

Recent research conducted by Trone Brand Energy and published in Veterinary Economics revealed that most consumers remain loyal to purchasing their pets’ medicines from prescribing veterinarians. Research showed most consumers aren't even aware of alternative and potentially cost-saving channels for their pets’ medications.

However, that data may not match the current perception of veterinarians. "I see the angst among my colleagues—fights with pharmacies and with the issues surrounding this," Goodnight says. That's why he believes doing this research—and repeating it every couple of years—is so essential. "We're just trying to start something that's beneficial for the profession," he says. "It's going to be a major, major project."

A big part of that is having data to act on rather than reacting to a theory—especially when most veterinarians count 25 percent of their revenue from product sales, Goodnight says. "Loss of that revenue or part of that revenue would have a sizeable impact on their business," he says.

But with good data in hand, the profession can adapt—and counter the claims that lead to legislation like the Fairness to Pet Owners Act, which would mandate written prescriptions in the name of saving consumers money. Without the data to know what's actually driving consumers, Goodnight wonders if such legislation would even change consumer behavior. If research finds that convenience outweighs cost for the average consumer, mandatory prescription writing may do little but waste paper.

Ultimately, he says, the market will decide. "It's kind of a hassle to go to a doctor and then the pharmacy, but if that's what the market wants, that's what it will get and we'll adapt," Goodnight says.

By conducting research now to understand what triggers consumer behavior, Goodnight and his colleagues believe the industry will be able to identify the factors and timing required to push a large majority of pet owners away from traditional in-clinic purchases and into new purchase channels. “Understanding the relationship between consumers and drug retailers, and the life cycle of the imminent changes, will help all vested organizations prepare,” says Doug Barton, president of Trone Brand Energy, in a release.

And with that, they hope those stakeholders will participate and buy in to the project. "It's not cheap to do this primary research," Goodnight says. Brakke and Trone want to begin quantitative research in September in order to have the first phase of the study out by the end of the year. "We probably need a couple more participants to make this viable and that's just the break-even point—and that's OK with us," he says. "It's an important study."

Companies wishing to participate in the study can contact Goodnight at (830) 285-1259.