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The great change accelerator: How COVID is shaping the future of corporate researchers

Kelvin Claveria
Kelvin Claveria (@kcclaveria)..

It’s been 12 months since COVID hit, and during this time, we’ve seen massive changes in the consumer landscape. Like many departments, insight teams had to adjust—and they had to do so quickly. So what’s in the future of the insights industry in 2021 and beyond?

A new report from the Insights Association, the Market Research Society and Australia’s the Research Society provides some compelling answers. Titled The Great Change Accelerator, the report distills key themes from roundtable discussions involving both client-side researchers and vendors, and reveals what’s ahead.

According to the report, COVID gave opportunities for corporate researchers to provide real value during the pandemic—but there are also major challenges ahead. Here’s a look at the themes highlighted in the report.  

Insights increasing influence

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, insights professionals became a beacon into how consumer behaviors, routines and habits were changing. Organizations that already invested in innovative market research technologies were able to get their pulse on what was happening on the consumer landscape in real time. 

Key macro trends in 2021

During COVID, the need to understand the dynamic consumer landscape helped insights earn a seat at the table.

“Some corporate insights leaders in our roundtables reported that research became the center of their organization rather than an adjunct to marketing,” the report notes. “Insights was viewed as crucial and a focal point in the business."

The critical question for insight teams now is this: how do we hold on to that seat we earned? 

From our experience working with global brands like Diageo and REVOLT TV, video feedback can play a role here. Videos not only provide rich, contextual qualitative insights, they also capture the attention of decision-makers.

As Andrew Reid, our CEO and Founder here at Rival, recently explained in an Entrepreneur article:

“Executives love to see real people interacting with their brand. So when you’re presenting top-line data, make sure to show videos that bring your research to life. Your stakeholders or client may not open that slide deck again, but they’ll never forget seeing the face of their customer, fan or viewer.”

Foresight over hindsight

Much of market research focuses on analyzing past consumer behaviors. But that’s changing quickly in many forward-looking brands. 

Now tasked with immediate business challenges, corporate researchers are being asked to use data, analytics and voice of customer programs to forecast future trends. These needs pushed the demand for strategic foresight and coupling it with present-day insights. 

“Agility is important,” the Change Accelerator report notes, “but strategic planning is essential.”

Predicting the future is no easy task—so how should corporate researchers approach it? Having innovative market research tools and the right approach to getting accurate and authentic customer feedback is key. And, of course, it needs to be done with the speed required by global brands today. 

hurry-up

“Insights must perform at the speed of decision making in the board rooms,” the report notes. “ That’s the only way they can keep their seat there.”

More iterative, agile research

With in-person focus groups not a possibility during the pandemic, researchers had to switch over to online market research tools. 

At the same time, there was a huge need to deliver insights fast—after all, customer behaviors and preferences were changing at a pace and frequency we’ve never seen before. 

“Researchers report doing more digital ethnographies and video qual now,” the report says. “They also have been forced to find creative solutions to do other work online—mocking up products, for example. Success with this quick adoption of online qual tools has led clients to be more willing overall to try new technologies.”

It’s a good bet that moving forward, companies will ask— even demand—that corporate researchers gather and share insights quickly. So how can your team keep up?

Investing in mobile market research methods that capture in-the-moment feedback from customers can help. For example, with a Mobile Community, you can get real-time answers from a group of customers who’ve opted in to provide feedback. Mobile is powerful because of its universal appeal and immediacy—it’s a good bet mobile-first methods will continue to be a market research trend in 2021 and in the years ahead. 

Meeting the demands of continuous learning

Since we're in a very fluid consumer environment, researchers have to be flexible with their scope of responsibilities and how they work. The need to continuously learn means many client-side researchers had to mobilize to create agile research programs that enabled them to move quickly, fail fast and iterate.

Corporate researchers in this roundtable report highlighted a shift from being the “Oracle” to the “Music Conductor”. That shift in mindset requires insight professionals to rethink what research looks like. It doesn't have to be long and academic by nature. Instead, it should focus on what your team wants to know in the immediate future. This embracing of the now requires speed in research. In-the-moment research excels here. 

Deciphering what’s here to stay

While brands want continuous learning to understand what’s happening now, they’re also seeking more permanent solutions. They need behavioral analysis and expertise to find out what consumer habits are here to stay and what will revert back.

As we contemplate the post-pandemic world, researchers are being asked to predict the future—to provide foresight on what’s next

“Managing the brand requires a human connection,” the report notes. “This has moved the insight function to a more central point within the business. Empathy for the customer has become much more important and a more complex task. Especially when we are now interacting at a distance – how do you better understand your customer when you don’t have proximity to them?”

Conclusion

As the Great Change Accelerator makes clear, all eyes are on insights these days. Will corporate researchers rise to the challenge?

While the future is unpredictable and uncertain, one thing we know for sure is this: uncovering insights that drive business outcomes and deliver competitive advantage requires having access to the authentic voice of your customers. There has never been a better time to re-examine the ways we engage customers and make sure that the market research technologies we use are in tune with how people live their digital lives. 

Find out more about how insights leaders are tackling key business challenges and shaping the global market research industry by reading our ebook The Future of Insights is Conversational.

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