31 January 2023

Ask The Expert – An Interview with Stephen Godwin

Aneesa Sajid

At Vox.Bio, we’re lucky enough to work with some of the brightest minds across healthcare, life science and market research. One of those minds is Stephen Godwin. With more than three decades worth of experience in the sector, Stephen joined the Vox.Bio team to provide additional strategic support to the most complex of projects.

In this blog Aneesa Sajid, a Senior Research Executive at Vox.bio, ask Stephen a little more about his love of market research, and his experience working with key opinion leaders (KOLs).

Thank you for taking the time to speak to me today. Could you give me a summary of your professional journey?

I did Biochemistry and Pharmacology at Bristol, and I went on to do a postdoc at a distinguished French institution where I worked with extremely good scientists. I was a little overawed by these people…and it convinced me I wasn’t good enough or motivated enough [to be a scientist]. If you’re going to be a pure research scientist, you’ve got to be entirely, totally, and absolutely motivated by the result.

Instead, I joined Merck and Co in market research. I then transitioned to the marketing side, where I became a product manager. I had huge experience with lots of big drugs because Merck was the largest drug company in the world at that time. I then moved to Eli Lily, where I had the privilege of part of the team developing their antidepressant drug, Prozac; when it was launched it became one of the world’s major drugs.

I left because I was offered a job outside the pharmaceutical industry. Everyone said working in packaged goods would be completely different; it was. It was much faster and more exciting. I went to work for a company called Mothercare, and it’s true, things are very fast and different.

And what happened after that?

I went back into the market research world as an agency person. In the 90s, I joined Taylor Nelson. It was the beginning of my interest (professionally) in market research. I started developing my own tools; right from the start, I’ve always been interested in trying to change things, not for changing’s sake, but to push the discipline forward. When you work on something, you can immediately see its weaknesses; if you can’t see the weaknesses, you’re not working on them. Honestly, there’s no such thing as any market research to aid any systems tool that’s perfect. They all have weaknesses. And you’ve got to keep working on the weaknesses.

The first thing I ever did was provide a very big, syndicated service. This was a very big cardio monitor, and it provided a monitor of cardiovascular patients’ diaries. A doctor would provide the diary pages of 25 patients, which would be 250 doctors, so a lot in each country times maybe 15 countries: you’re talking about a considerable amount of data. The difficulty in market research is fieldwork. It’s all about fieldwork, how you find the doctors, how you motivate the doctors to do the work and how you process the data for everyone to understand. And then, I went to the United States to start an office for what was then a bigger group because we had merged with two companies by then.

Interesting! And how did you move into specialising in key opinion leader (KOL) research?

I started getting much more interested in qualitative tools. I love the idea of not only asking a question of what do you do, or what do you think, but why do you think it. We started looking for ways of trying to identify people who will adopt new products or people who, if they adopt a new product, stay with the products, they’re loyal. We were starting to find typologies because why they did it might be more predictive of what they would do next.

I left Taylor Nelson because we were going to have yet another merger and joined a company called Synovate. [About] halfway through my career there, I started doing expert work [KOL interviewing] by itself. That’s all I did. It’s a turnkey operation. You find them, you invite them, you talk to them, you analyse, you pay, you do the whole thing, and you are responsible for the whole thing. And I love that. I joined a small company called The Planning Shop and continued there.

Whenever I do these discussions [with KOLs], the people talking to me are usually quite interested because they are talking about the stuff that interests them, the future. And I don’t think I’ve ever been in a situation where an interviewee or a respondent looks bored. Mostly, you get a really good discussion, and it’s more difficult to stop them talking about it [than it] is to get it going. And often they say at the end, ‘I really enjoyed that, that was interesting’.

Looking back, would you say you prefer client-side or agency work?

Agency, very much. In an agency, if you get it right, you get it right. Agencies can be very exciting and fun, but they won’t always have good years, and the management has got to be good enough to carry on the good years into bad ones, so the bad years don’t feel too bad. Small/medium size agencies are very responsive to people’s ideas, more so than in a company as structured as a pharmaceutical company. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I advise people to go to agencies because there are different types of people, different types of jobs. If you want to go into market research, it doesn’t matter where you start. But it wouldn’t be a bad idea, at some point in your career, to have the experience of the other side. Companies are just as eager to employ good market researchers as agencies are.

What would you say is the one thing you’re most proud of in your career?

I came to the company [Lilly], they said you’re going to be the champion, the product director of a new drug we’re developing, which is an anti-depressant. It was the sort of drug that people used to talk about at the coffee table. I’m very proud [of] all the groundwork that went [into it]; it was gruelling hard, and it was a lot of personal discussion—working with people who didn’t need to listen to me but trying to make them listen. I spent three years motivating, re-motivating, and re-educating some key people.

What excites you most about Vox.Bio?

Vox is an exciting and relatively young market research firm, it has all of the tenacity of a start-up, but is backed by the rigour and infrastructure of its connection with Cambridge Healthcare Research, and their competitive intelligence division, Solici. This means our clients get the absolute best of both worlds, a small agency feel, with a larger agency approach, infrastructure and diligence.