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Using new products in rehabilitation: a marketing perspective.

Using New Products in Rehabilitation: A Marketing Perspective

Wouldn't it be satisfying as a researcher to develop a product that your target audience is already waiting anxiously to receive? Or even to develop a product comparable to the electric can opener, VCR or video camera that people are hesitant to accept and use, but through proper marketing procedure can be widely accepted and used in a short time?

New rehabilitation products are not always as exciting to the general public as the VCR or video camera, but skillfully marketed to the proper user population these products can be as equally rewarding. Past experience has demonstrated that rehabilitation practitioners do not readily adopt new research products and that most continue to use the same evaluation, work adjustment, counseling, and placement techniques that they are already comfortable with. Hence, many challenges face researchers and developers as they try to promote new research products. To overcome the many obstacles to the diffusion of research findings, those disseminating new products must carefully plan strategies designed to facilitate their implementation and utilization.

In this article we describe a marketing approach that can help meet the challenges that face researchers and developers of new rehabilitation products to promote successful adoption in service settings. Research utilization does not normally occur as a result of one specific event at some fixed point in time. It occurs as a result of concerted efforts throughout a process that begins with the identification of consumer needs and the development of research projects and ends with the successful adoption of research findings that meet those needs. The marketing strategy introduced in this article describes this process and can serve as the central organizing theme of a research organization.

Although marketing is frequently thought of as "selling" the product, we present an overall marketing strategy that includes selling as only one of several functions. Marketing is defined as "a series of functions involved in moving goods from producer to consumer." Hence, we will describe a multifunction process that is designed to enhance the movement of research findings and new rehabilitation products from the research organization to the rehabilitation practitioner. The following table lists the marketing functions to be discussed. A major emphasis of this approach is consumer involvement. It is believed that product utilization will result more often if the consumer is included during the entire process.

Market Analysis

The principal objectives of market analysis are to specify the target population and identify its needs and preferences. Given the researcher's goals, appropriate and accessible target audiences need to be designated. Useful questions to ask at this stage are:

* Who will be the primary consumer of the rehabilitation products developed out of my research activities (counselors, evaluators, work adjustment specialists, placement personnel, administrators, educators, etc.)?

* From where will the greatest demand for the products come (workshops in urban areas, field offices in rural areas, comprehensive facilities, schools, etc.)?

Once your audience is defined, its needs and preferences must be determined. Most successful businesses know what the customer wants. They do not create products unless they believe there will be a market for them. Therefore, needs identification is an important step in the market analysis process. This allows research to be done with consumer needs in mind. Products of the research effort will then more likely be viewed by the target population as relevant and appropriate.

Consumer involvement at this stage might be achieved by soliciting input from people in disability service delivery systems (i.e., vocational rehabilitation, private rehabilitation, community-based programs, other human service agencies) as well as representatives from consumer organizations for people with disabilities. Surveys seekig input from consumers, personal contact with the target audience, literature reviews, and others can be helpful in identifying rehabilitation practitioner needs and preferences for solving perceived problems. Identifying the needs and preferences of appropriate and accessible target populations is an important function in carrying out the remaining functions of the process.

Product Development

Rehabilitation products produced through research must be viewed by practitioners as relevant to their needs and readily translatable into tangible action appropriate to the user's environment. For translation to occur, research findings and products need to be developed in such a manner that potential consumers can readily use them. Development may include several activities, such as determining which materials are appropriate to the intended audience, preparing audiovisual materials and planning workshops and training programs.

In order to promote adoption and usage, the development of the product should take a number of variables into consideration, such as appropriateness, relevancy and potential effectiveness of the product for solving problems and meeting needs of the target audience.

Involvement of the target population during the developmental stage can help achieve this objective. Consumers can be involved through a strategy called user reviews designed to identify a group of potential and possibly influential users from the target population to provide input during the product's development. involving the target audience in this process helps ensure that the product will be appropriate; that it will be relevant to the local, state, regional, or national needs of the rehabilitation field; that the product will be useful or usable by those for which it is intended; and that it has the potential for being effective in solving consumer problems.

If the adoption or utilization of a new product conflicts with established concepts and practices, attitudinal barriers may surface. This should be considered during the development phase and the user review process can address issues in this area. For example, if the development of a new rehabilitation counseling intervention closely simulates the traditional, office-based, one-on-one counseling approach used by many rehabilitation counselors, the more likely it will be used than will a more complex intervention.

Packaging the product is an important step in the development process. Several aspects need to be considered. The product should be designed in such a way as to be inviting to its user. All materials to be packaged should include instructions that are relatively simple and applicable to the user's needs. Numbers to be called or addresses to write should be included for questions or help. Information should be included on how to order additional copies.

The product also needs to be developed so that the response cost of adopting it is minimal. Products that are expensive to implement will limit positive reception by the target audience, especially in a time of funding constraints.

Test Market

A new rehabilitation product must have satisfactory types of empirical validation before it can be considered worthy of adoption by the target audience. Hence, the objective in carrying out this marketing function is to evaluate the product with selected numbers of the target population in their setting.

Validation methods include data-based field testing and systematic replications in other settings. Validating the product in this manner helps rehabilitation practitioners view the product as relevant to their needs and confirms its effectiveness at solving rehabilitation problems.

If data fail to support the product, it's back to the product development stage for necessary revisions and refinement, followed by another evaluation. If the product is validated, it's on to the next marketing function.

Product Promotion

Up to this point, we have discussed a process of specifying a target population, identifying its needs in solving a problem, developing a product that will meet these needs, and validating that product. The next function in this multifunction marketing strategy is to promote that product.

Promotional activities require a campaign designed to inform the target audience of the product's availability. In this phase, a concerted effort is made to emphasize the product's desirable qualities (advantages over "old" methods, etc.) so as to arouse a desire to adopt or utilize the product in consumer settings.

A variety of strategies and techniques can be used to promote products and encourage their implementation and use. Personal contact is perhaps the best validated principle in the literature on knowledge transfer and organizational change. Since interpersonal contact is a critical variable in promoting utilization, its use is highly recommended in carrying out this function.

Personal contact with members of the target audience to promote adoption of new products can be done in a variety of ways. The following serve only as examples:

* presentations at local offices and facilities which include product demonstrations;

* presentations at state, regional and national conferences;

* booths, displays and exhibits at state, regional and national conferences; and

* personal office visits.

Allowing potential users to observe the new product in operation is a useful promotional activity. In addition to personal contact, demonstrations can also be provided through audiovisual media, such as audio and videotapes.

Maintaining a demonstration site is another useful promotional activity to provide personal contact with the target audience. A demonstration site allows for members of the target audience to visit a field office, facility, etc., and observe the use of the product in a service setting.

Publication of articles in journals, newsletters and other printed media directed to the target audience can be useful.

Attractive brochures, fliers and other similar materials can be used to promote the product. An extensive mailing list of target group members should be developed. As new products move through the marketing process, their availability can be made known by mailing these materials to the target audience.

Regardless of the promotional strategies used, it is necessary to communicate to this audience the product's appropriateness, relevance, usefulness, and effectiveness in solving problems; the relative advantage of the new product over existing practices; the ease of understanding, implementing and using the new product; and how the product can be obtained.

Product Dissemination

The overall objective of the product dissemination phase is to deliver the new product to the target audience. One of the most common practices of disseminating new rehabilitation products is through workshops and training programs designed to emphasize experiential learning and supervised practice. Instructions that ease the adaptation of the product to the practical constraints of the rehabilitation practitioner's setting should be included. Directive training procedures are necessary to promote implementation and utilization.

Successfully carrying out the above functions enhances the introduction and use of new rehabilitation products but does not guarantee that adoption will occur. Hence, one objective in carrying out the product servicing function is to further enhance adoption. Technical assistance and consultation is the vehicle for achieving this. Following dissemination, new products must be serviced periodically, either through teleconsultation or onsite technical assistance.

Marketing Assessment

The effectiveness of achieving the desired outcomes for each function in this multifunction marketing strategy should be evaluated. A variety of assessment measures can be used to determine how well you specified the target population, its needs and preferences and geographical areas of demand; developed a marketable product; validated that product; promoted the product; delivered it to the target audience; and serviced the product.


This multifunction marketing strategy is designed to enhance the introduction and use of new research products in rehabilitation settings. Many challenges face researchers in getting research findings and products adopted by rehabilitation organizations. We hope this strategy, which emphasizes consumer involvement, will be helpful in meeting those challenges.

Dr. Farley is Director of Training and Dr. Greenwood is Director of Research, Arkansas Research and Training Center in Vocational Rehabilitation, University of Arkansas.
COPYRIGHT 1989 U.S. Rehabilitation Services Administration
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Greenwood, Reed
Publication:American Rehabilitation
Date:Jun 22, 1989
Previous Article:Bringing computer technology to the VR system.
Next Article:Robert R. Davila.

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