In pharma, “foresight” has become the new “insight”. More than ever before, insights teams are faced with the mounting pressure to identify winning opportunities for pipeline assets earlier and earlier in the discovery cycle. This increased emphasis on future success has big implications for market research: companies can no longer rely on modified, in-line research methods for pipeline exploration. Instead, insights teams must approach pipeline research with a distinct, precise philosophy that truly considers the factors that propel and/or inhibit future-focused research.  

But pipeline research can be tricky. The truth is that humans are simply not good at thinking about their future selves and find it difficult to consider how they might behave, even a few months out. Yet, when it comes to pipeline research, we expect physicians to authentically declare their treatment preferences 5-7 years in the future. How can they possibly be successful?

Resolving this tension boils down to smart research design. Insights teams must embrace – not evade – the ambiguity of future-focused research. This is easier said than done, as it requires a shift in mindset. Rather than relying solely on the high-speed, agile methods that have become a staple in post-launch asset exploration, pipeline research must be expansive enough to welcome the ample possibilities of future scenarios. With all the cards on the table, only then can you pinpoint the most actionable future opportunities for your brand.

At Shapiro+Raj, we’ve identified three critical components of pipeline research that allow you to do just that:

  1. Adopt a future-focused mindset.

Our pipeline research is inspired by principles of future casting. Future casting helps eliminate hypotheticals by focusing on signals and patterns, rather than predictions, to reveal a variety of possible future scenarios. These scenarios become the foundation of research, serving as realistic guardrails for physicians to consider when, why, and how they would utilize your asset(s) in each future scenario. This rigorous exercise diminishes unknowns and provides the clarity needed to guide future decisions for your brand.

Of course, ensuring respondents are in the right state of mind to discuss the future is critical to success. Provocative projective techniques help physicians ease into future-oriented conversation by promoting patterned thinking. For example, Signal Spotting exercises encourage physicians to consider how various treatment developments throughout history helped shape the future landscape. First, physicians recall launches in life sciences that shook the market, then, they consider whether there are signals of those patterns happening in the current treatment market, and what they could mean for the future. This exercise, and others like it, makes it easier for physicians to adopt the necessary mindset to thoroughly assess your asset in the future market.  

  1. Prioritize empathy and understanding.

Pipeline research places heavy emphasis on the future market drivers that will fuel success for a brand. But amid that complex exploration, it is important not to lose sight of the universal human truths that drive decision-making. Yes, perhaps there is a white-space opportunity for your asset in the future market; but if the asset conflicts with physicians’ fundamental beliefs and ideals about how they treat their patients, that opportunity loses steam. That’s why, at the end of the day, it’s important that pipeline research explores the human-centric, patient and physician needs associated with your asset. This emphasis reveals opportunities to create relevant solutions for the humans utilizing your product, regardless of what the future may hold.

  1. Pull in the right minds to answer the right questions.

To get the most out of pipeline research, it is important to consider your audience. Instead of pursuing a conventional representational sample, an attitudinal-based screener can strategically shape your recruit. For example, at S+R, our proprietary PROsicians™ recruitment algorithm groups physicians based on their openness to information and innovation. This reveals four distinct types of physicians, ranging from the open-minded “Dr. Forward Thinker” to the laggard “Dr. No-no”. In pipeline research, each physician type has a specific role to play; future-focused physicians can provide an enlightened perspective on how the treatment landscape may evolve, while laggards can identify specific roadblocks that more open-progressive physicians may overlook. By carefully considering the role of each physician type in your research agenda, you can achieve a full picture of risks and opportunities for your brand.  

In summary, by embracing uncertainty, prioritizing empathy, and strategically leveraging the right audience, pharma companies can gain an expansive understanding of future scenarios and customer needs.

At Shapiro+Raj, our empathetic, future-focused approach has empowered clients to set their pipeline assets up for success, and we’d love to do the same for you. Reach out to us today at [email protected] to learn more about how we can help you invent and shape your preferred futures.