As life science market researchers, we ask questions for a living. But are we asking the right ones of the right people? That’s the first query we as an industry collective should be considering, and the unfortunate answer too often is no.

It’s unfathomable but true nonetheless that, except for a few outliers, market research firms don’t typically consider or include the largest demographic that comprises our respondent population – individuals with basic to below basic health literacy.

This group accounts for 88% of all US adults. At worst, this demographic has been intentionally excluded during study recruitment. At best, they have simply been ignored by many in our industry. We must do better to deliver on our promise to our clients to uncover meaningful insights.

Ignoring the behaviors, opinions, beliefs, and motivations of the majority should not be the industry standard.

Historically, though, market researchers sought the most articulate respondents who would readily understand the materials as presented and proffer eloquent commentary on what was being reviewed. Individuals with limited health literacy were intentionally excluded since the belief was that they would have more difficulty understanding the materials and, therefore, would have less insightful comments.

What many of us failed to realize is that a respondent’s lack of comprehension is a valuable insight. Is it just one or a few respondents who had difficulty with the materials, or is the lack of comprehension more wide-spread, making the issue statistically significant?

The other challenge market researchers face when recruiting for studies is that individuals with limited health literacy largely do not volunteer for research. The lengths many of these individuals take to avoid exposing these perceived “deficits” is well documented, so it’s understandable why so few are willing to raise their hands to participate. There are also outside factors that pose additional challenges to participation – access to in-person facilities, time off work, access to technology, etc.

But the mere fact that a demographic is hard to recruit does not mean we should simply exclude them. We cannot expect to receive complete and nuanced insights if we limit our studies to only a 12% minority of US adults.

For over a decade, Sommer Consulting has been committed to not go about business as usual. We challenge our market research colleagues to join us in ensuring that health literacy best practices are featured prominently where appropriate in all market research studies.

Bill Stone

Director, Content Strategy