We have recently discussed several important considerations for pharma when looking into the future. While some future directions seem clear, such as the increased use of pharmacogenomics for personalized medicine, digital tools and neurotechnology apps, and incorporation of behavioral science in marketing and education efforts, others are more difficult to predict. In the setting of early and pre-launch pharmaceutical market research, one major issue is that it is completed in the present while the launch itself might be years away. Hence, the results could be, at minimum, vague, if not completely misleading.

Pre-launch Market Research – Why It’s Needed

Although countless new products are developed by pharma each year, many ultimately fail due to improper introductions to the market. Conducting thorough market research can help maximize the likelihood of the product making it. It ensures not only that the product launch will resonate with the consumers but also that the product itself will meet the needs and desires of the target audience.

This research process can be broadly divided into seven steps:

  1. Understanding the market and competition
  2. Targeting the appropriate customers
  3. Designing a stand-out value proposition
  4. Determining the marketing strategy
  5. Testing of the product and overall approach
  6. Initiation of the marketing campaign
  7. Tracking of the overall life cycle

Pharmaceutical market research comprises early, pre-launch, launch, and post-launch market research. In this article, we will focus on early and pre-launch research – research conducted more than one year prior to the product launch. In cases of new and innovative products, such early research can be challenging, more so now than ever.

Challenges of Pre-launch Market Research

How do you predict what consumers and prescribers will want or need 2, 5, or 10 years from now? One way involves looking at current trends and extrapolating the data to the future. Although this might have worked well in the past, the rapid advances made in medical technology and precision medicine are making it more difficult to predict the future.

Key opinion leaders (KOLs) are generally considered the best people to gain insight from on the most suitable product launch strategies. However, there are frequently large discrepancies in the opinions of the KOLs and consequently in the advisory board direction and real-life results. KOLs tend to be either conservative or cutting-edge when it comes to adopting new products or treatments. While your advisory board should ideally contain a mix of the two to stimulate real-life clinical practice, this can also create confusion regarding the best future path.

In light of the above challenge, research needs to be conducted specifically among respondents who are “future thinkers” or “early adopters.” However, this in itself also poses an obstacle, as the definition of an early adopter is vague. For example, a physician might be early to adopt a treatment for one condition but not for others. Thus, generalizing that individual as an early adopter may be misleading. Further, even early adopters tend to predict the future based on recent, short-term trends.

Noteworthy, more conservative advisors also play an important role by allowing a comparison of responses between the two types of KOLs.

Research Methods to Help Respondents Better Envision the Future

market research
To enable your KOLs to envision the future in the present, there are several research techniques that can help. Most of these methodologies add no or only a marginal cost to your research. These include:

  • “Disruptive timelining” techniques. These techniques involve looking at points in the recent past followed by predictions of the more-distant future (e.g. 10-20 years from now), before discussing the near future (e.g. 3-5 years from now). This creates a mental framework that allows for big leap changes.
  • Capturing of fast thoughts. By conducting and recording fast-thinking discussions you can capture the respondents’ gut responses, even if they do not sound rational at the time.
  • “Feeling the future”. Try discussing known future anchor points to help the respondents “feel” the future.
  • Showing your advisors potential future products. One of the best techniques to help your KOLs to envision the future is to present product ideas that are likely to exist in the future and discuss their potential impact on behavior.

Importance of Putting Together a Strong and Diverse Advisory Board

market researchDuring the early stage of market research, KOL interest must be propagated. To achieve this, a clear KOL strategy associated with the product needs to be developed. The strategy should include a detailed list of potential KOLs to engage, based on their experience and interest in the treatment, research, and education related to the condition in question. During these early interactions, the KOLs should be informed regarding the science and mechanism of action of the new product, ongoing trials, and the results of these trials as they become available. Importantly, all interactions must comply with FDA regulations, with both positive and negative results being presented.

To navigate this sometimes complicated process, Impetus Digital can help at each step of the way. From recruiting advisors, to designing meetings and activities to enable them to better envision the future, to providing detailed reports summarizing the insights gathered.

Stakeholders can include physicians, researchers, nurses, allied health providers, payers, and other experts. The enrolled advisors are engaged through a series of online touchpoints via the Impetus InSite Platform. These can either be in the form of web meetings or online asynchronous assignments delivered as web form questions, discussion forums, or annotation exercises. The virtual nature of the boards and working groups can help increase the engagement rates of the advisors. Moreover, the assignments can give the advisors time to pause, reflect, process, and review their colleagues’ comments on their own time. In turn, this allows for more thoughtful and granular insights shared through the online forums.

Impetus’ technical team create, program, project-manage, and report all assignments. Hence, the manufacturer’s workload is minimal and so are the costs when compared to more traditional in-person consultancy meetings. Leveraging a virtual advisory board to plan and implement a successful project is a time- and cost-effective solution.



Hughes, K. (2017). Market research that understands the future. Retrieved from https://pharmaphorum.com/deep-dive-future-pharma-july-2017/index.htm#!/market-research-that-understands-the-future

Pejak, A. (2015). 7 steps of market research before launching a new product. Retrieved from https://leadersinheels.com/business/7-steps-of-market-research-before-launching-a-new-product/

Tyson, G., Doyle, K. (2010). Preparing the Market for a New Drug with an Effective ‘Medical Affairs Launch’. Retrieved from http://pharmaceuticalcommerce.com/brand-marketing-communications/preparing-the-market-for-a-new-drug-with-an-effective-medical-affairs-launch/