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Do you remember the days when the prescriber was king? When the GP or Specialist could prescribe whatever they liked based on their clinical judgement and experience? How much simpler was life back then? However, as we all know times have changed (and are still changing) and the success of your brand is no longer solely at the hands of the prescriber, but a whole host of influencers. Key stakeholders are not just limited to HCPs and payors either; let’s not forget the patient who is playing an increasing¬† important role. In addition, not only is the influencing dynamic different for each brand but it will vary depending on where the brand the sits in the product lifecycle – and it will not be standard across any country; local and regional variations abound. And all this at a time when pipelines are diminishing, blockbusters are going off patent and all too often the future lies in bringing niche products successfully to market.

So, what are the implications for market research?

We all (agencies and clients alike) need to adapt to this ever changing landscape. This involves collaboration, flexibility and iteration. But what does this mean?

Firstly, time needs to be spent working together, truly understanding the business issues, making sure that all internal stakeholders’ needs are taken into account (the burgeoning of external stakeholders has, in turn, led to a greater variety of internal stakeholders, with possibly differing objectives). Only then can we start to design the optimum research approach.

To make sure that the research provides the guidance needed, we obviously need to talk to the right respondents, even though the key stakeholders may not be clear from the outset. Desk research and close relationships with recruiters can help to unearth who we should be speaking to, but even then the full range of stakeholders may not be evident. It is no good recruiting to title as these vary wildly and titles are rarely indicative of someone’s role and sphere of influence. Using an extended screening process, employing an iterative approach and being flexible in the methods used will ensure that we are speaking to the appropriate stakeholders.

Identifying and recruiting the right stakeholders is just the start; we can no longer use a ‘one size will fit all’ approach to the research method used. A face to face interview might be the optimum methodology but how likely is it that commissioners, payors et al are going to play ball and agree to this? Luckily we have newer technologies at hand, allowing us to build rapport with respondents without them having to leave their home or office, increasing the changes of participation. It doesn’t end there, once we have got them we need to engage them; acknowledging their expertise but also treating them as people, designing the research in such a way that it allows us to access reality rather than just accepting the plausible.

As we are often venturing into uncharted waters, we all have to be prepared to change tack if what we find in the early stages of the study (or even at recruitment) challenges the original approach. Continual discussion between the agency and the client at every step of the way is not only vital to make sure that the research delivers what is needed but this approach is far more rewarding and satisfying for all.

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