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I recently attended the PMRG conference in Phoenix, and came away with several realizations. While much of marketing research remains the same as it has for decades, with full-service marketing research organizations providing qualitative and quantitative research to pharma clients, several specialized offshoots of marketing research have begun to take on lives of their own, or at least morph significantly.

For example, getting access to physicians for participation in marketing research has always been a function performed, for certain projects, by specialized recruiting organizations. But increasingly, physician recruitment, especially for Internet research, has become a specialty function. Epocrates, through its handheld system, uses one approach to recruit physicians ad hoc, while other companies specialize in maintaining ongoing panels of docs who are willing to participate in projects.

Some companies, for example, now specialize in providing efficient ways of compensating physicians, while others have developed a specialty of identifying key opinion leaders for research and social marketing purposes. One of the largest areas of specialization is the measurement of sales force effectiveness, which has now become a multimillion-dollar business with the companies conducting such research either doing it exclusively, or at least having separate divisions that do this work.

At one end of the spectrum, one observes the consolidation of small and medium-sized marketing research organizations into multinational organizations with thousands of employees and a genuinely full range of services. At the other end, one encounters emerging entities that focus on a specific element of pharmaceutical marketing research, often, in fact, on elements that didn't exist a few years ago.

Richard Vanderveer is group CEO, GfK US Healthcare Companies

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