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Using insights to navigate a crisis: 4 ways market research teams can respond to the COVID-19 pandemic

Kelvin Claveria
Kelvin Claveria (@kcclaveria)..

The COVID-19 pandemic’s human and business impact have been unprecedented, far-reaching and quick. As governments enforce social distancing and put in place bans for non-essential travel, people and businesses are dealing with significant disruptions in their day-to-day lives.

Marketing, insights and market research—just like most industries—have been affected significantly. Insight associations, including the Market Research Society, have understandably  banned face-to-face tactics for the time being. Many consumer-facing marketing campaigns are on hold. On a more macro level, business leaders are struggling to keep up with consumer mindsets, behaviors and emotions, which seem to be evolving day by day. 

During this time of great uncertainty, the first priority for everyone should be their health and the wellbeing of their loved ones. And while it’s important not to be overly opportunistic, insight professionals are in a really good position to provide enormous value to their organizations at this time.

Here are a few ideas on how market researchers can help companies navigate their way through the coronavirus crisis.

Bring the voice of the customer closer to business leaders

Gartner recently shared some guidance on how Chief Marketing Officers should handle the COVID-19 situation. A big recommendation from the management consulting firm is to continuously monitor shifts in consumer sentiment and behavior.

“Maintaining customer-centricity is of utmost importance during times of stress, greater needs and quickly changing expectations,” Gartner advised in a press release. “Marketing leaders must not only monitor customer values and sentiment against a global backdrop; they should also improve real-time listening to detect shifting customer sentiment so they can react immediately.”

Maintaining customer-centricity is of utmost importance during times of stress, greater needs and quickly changing expectations.

Understanding the aspirations, motivations and lifestyles of consumers is innate to market researchers. This is an expertise that researchers should use to bring timely customer insights to CMOs and other business leaders.

“Now – more than ever – we need to understand what people are needing, feeling, thinking, [and] hoping,” said Joaquim Bretcha Boix, ESOMAR President, in a recent message to the data, insights and market research community. “We are the experts in understanding people, and it is now and in the coming weeks that governments, institutions and company decision makers need our advice on how people’s behaviour is evolving.”

In a separate message, Insights Association CEO Melanie Courtright emphasized the need for continuous learning, adding, “If we are to advise decision makers within and outside of our companies, we must have the pulse of the population. It’s more important than ever to keep collecting data!”

Leverage virtual technologies

One could argue that the pace of innovation in the insights industry could be faster, but many companies have made great strides in integrating do-it-yourself (DIY) and cloud-based technologies to their market research technology stack. And while focus groups and other in-person tactics still have a place in the industry, there have also been huge investments towards online platforms that allow companies to capture qualitative and quantitative insights. In the last decade, for example, mobile surveys and insight communities have become more than market research trends, emerging as must-have tools for companies.

It is a good time to get ahead of the curve and double down on virtual solutions.

Those online and virtual market research platforms come in very handy now. Leonard Murphy, Executive Director and Producer at GreenBook, says that online tools are even more crucial during the coronavirus crisis as research and analytics teams re-calibrate their roles for this crisis.   

“It is a good time to get ahead of the curve and double down on virtual solutions to mitigate against [face-to-face] declines and ensure you have offerings that can compete in the era of automation and DIY,” Murphy writes in his analysis. In a crisis like COVID-19, market research’s role is to “provide clarity on business questions in ways that are aligned to business realities,” Murphy adds—something that can be done using virtual tools.

Messaging-based technologies, in particular, can play a big role in getting real-time feedback at scale while people are practicing social distancing. Stuck bored at home, people will be using their phones more than usual, and they’ll be leveraging messaging apps to check in with their loved ones. The ability of phones to notify people in real-time provides a compelling case for using messaging apps to capture in-the-moment insights on consumer sentiment.

Think beyond the pandemic

This might be hard to fathom right now, but the coronavirus crisis will eventually pass.

As John Presutti, UAE National Representative for ESOMAR and CEO of Market-I Research Services, and Brent Balloch, President of Babylon Strategic Communications, recently wrote in an article for Research World, the chaos around COVID-19 will eventually subside as governments get the virus outbreak under control. No one knows for sure how long the crisis will last, but we know from history than pandemics eventually run their course.

That said, it is possible that COVID-19 will have a lasting impact from a consumer mindset and behavior perspective.

“Fundamental changes in psychosocial attitudes and behavior will endure long after the pandemic ends, redefining how people interact not only with each other but also with the brands that surround and dictate their lives,” Presutti writes. “Organizations large and small must act now in the face of the COVID-19 crisis to develop and implement strategies to remain connected and relevant to their consumers.”

Fundamental changes in psychosocial attitudes and behavior will endure long after the pandemic ends.

Given the potential long-term impact of the coronavirus crisis, researchers should think of ways of getting ongoing and accurate customer data and feedback. To accomplish this, Prusetti and Balloch suggest employing agile research methods, building a cross-functional team and establishing an iterative process.

Lend a hand to others

There’s no better time to be kind and helpful than during a crisis. As experts in capturing and analyzing qualitative and quantitative data, market researchers have talents and expertise that other people could use at this time.  

HR and C-suite level executives will be looking for ways to get ongoing employee feedback.

For example, many companies are suddenly dealing with an all-remote workforce—a significant change that can be stressful for both business leaders and employees. HR and C-suite level executives will be looking for ways to get ongoing employee feedback, whether through a formal employee engagement survey or more informal virtual suggestion boxes. In this case, market researchers can lend their expertise in developing effective surveys or chats. Researchers can also provide access to the insight platforms they use to make employee engagement more seamless.

Conclusion

In what is hopefully a brief era of social distancing, companies need real-time customer insights more than ever. Now is the time for market researchers to adapt agile technologies and approaches.

To help companies navigate the coronavirus crisis, Rival Technologies and Reach3 Insights have partnered to create an online community of American and Canadian (16+) consumers. We will be sharing reports from this community on a weekly basis. We’re also inviting marketing and research leaders to share their questions. We’re calling this program “Consumer Closeness in the Age of Social Distancing.” Please visit this page to learn more and to sign up to get the reports.

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