Editor’s note: Warren Shapiro is vice president, qualitative practice, at Lieberman, Great Neck, N.Y. 

The online business dictionary defines end user as a “person or organization that actually uses a product, as opposed to the person or organization that authorizes, orders, procures or pays for it.”

The term "end user" entered the lexicon some years ago via the IT industry as a way to differentiate between the people who actually use the software or hardware and the customers, the folks who purchased these same items. In some cases, the customer and the end user are the same person. For example, if an individual buys a personal computer or software to meet their own personal preferences and needs, that person is both the customer and the end user.

In other cases, the customer and end user may be different groups or individuals. An example here is a company purchasing computer hardware and software based primarily or solely on the company’s needs and priorities, which may or may not be the same as those of the end user(s). In fact, the needs and preferences of the customer and those of the end user may be diametrically opposed. For example, security may be of key importance from the company’s perspective, while ease of use may be the highest priority for end users. And as most of us experience every day, increased security, while important, rarely if ever makes things more efficient or easier to use.

Most pharmaceutical companies would assume they know who they are focusing their marketing efforts (and dollars) on. In fact, most do. But the first and most obvious questions are: Are you focusing on the right target? Are you focusing on the customer (i.e., the prescribers), on the end user (i.e., the patients) or both?

Those of us who work in pharma, bio-pharma and medical device market research have observed this aspect of competitive priorities; the needs and preferences between customer...