As cliche as Heraclitus’ words were, it’s even more true now more than ever: the only thing permanent in life is change. The Covid-19 pandemic has indeed changed every aspect of human life: the way we think, work, and the way we do business. Ready or not, the world is adapting to the ever-changing “new normal” in this Quarantine Age.
For marketers and brand owners, uncertainty can quickly turn into confusion, amidst the many moving parts and hurdles we need to go through to reach the light at the end of this seemingly unending tunnel: infection rate surges, extended lockdowns, the global battle to acquire vaccines (and ironically, against vaccine hesitancy), among other things. And before confusion turns into anxiety as the world enters another crossroad in this pandemic, it maybe worth your while to read the crossing sign: stop, look and listen. When things seem to go haywire, the best way to untangle is to go back to basics. Start by listening to your target market.
What really does the overused term “new normal” mean, and what does it mean for your business? Needless to say, it comes with challenges, but changes also come with opportunities. Now, more than ever, market research plays a crucial role in making sense of it all. In fact, the ability to make timely data-driven decisions by being equipped with real-time actionable insights may prove to be your best ally in keeping your brand afloat in these challenging times. If used strategically, it may even help grow your business despite the challenging economic climate. But in a time of isolation, physical distancing, and aversion to anything that can lead to super-spreader events, how is market research even possible?
This pandemic has changed the way things are done. Businesses are forced to embrace work-from-home set-ups, court cases are heard through video-telephony platforms and even kids are adapting to online learning classes. Market research is no exception given its very dynamic nature, quickly adapted to changing consumer habits, technology advancements, and evolving market landscapes. By leveraging on innovation and technology, such as mobile applications, social media engagement dynamics, and cloud-based big data analytics solutions, best practices have been quickly established to ensure that the new way of doing things is just as reliable and effective (and in some ways, even more, cost and time-efficient, becoming less logistically demanding with faster turn-around times), while still hinging on key market research principles.
The pandemic has also presented an opportunity for market research to test its muscles to rapidly adapt to changes in how market research initiatives are planned, monitored, and completed. The ongoing pandemic forces companies and research agencies around the world to significantly alter how market research is done in accordance with how brands adapted and changed their tactics and communication plans with the intent of securing consumers with ever-changing habits and behavior.
Quantitative studies or surveys can now be effectively deployed to a pre-profiled online market research panel, that is well-representative of the target market. The pandemic has further accelerated digitalization and even forced technically challenged individuals and households to go online, as part of the new normal. Standard market & UAI studies, brand health monitoring and even hybrid versions of product, concept and ad tests, post-launch evaluations, and even mystery shopper studies have been successfully done through mobile-based or online data collection, with reliable results, as attested by experienced marketers who gave it a shot.
As for qualitative studies, focus group discussions, even in-depth interviews, have been successfully facilitated online through Zoom and other similar platforms, depending on the requirement, coupled with best practices in security, confidentiality, participant qualification processes, to keep the integrity of the studies in check. Of course, Murphy’s Law can take effect when technology comes into play, with its own set of challenges and connectivity glitches from time to time. With this in mind, again, go back to basics: always have backup plans. This may mean planning for respondent buffers, conducting technical checks prior to the actual sessions, stricter qualification screeners, among other practices, to mitigate risks to your study design and methodology, given the limitations of the “new normal”.
Let’s also note that the success of these methodologies also heavily relies on the research tools and design and the experience of those facilitating the studies. Defining who are the target market profiles you want to ask is crucial, but keep an open mind and be cognizant in examining the results of the studies for new possibilities, such as new markets to expand to or new markets that are just within arm’s reach for your taking in the new market landscape. Market research may help uncover those eureka moments or inversely, the sobering realizations about the changing landscape of your market, as brought about by the pandemic.
Now that the world is on reset, it may even be a good thing to ask: how relevant is your brand nowadays? It’s tempting to easily dismiss non-essential category brands, but you’ll never know unless you ask: maybe, it’s still relevant, but in a different way nowadays. Or if it really isn’t as relevant anymore, how can you pivot to make it still relevant to the market?
Market research should also help you diagnose the current market stance, determine or track trends in consumer behavior: how consumers choose, buy and consume products. It is imperative for businesses to monitor these shifts and unlock new trends to serve, as foundations of short-term and long-term strategies. It is also necessary to validate, calibrate and re-assess existing plans and create strategies that complement the current habits of consumers.
The changes brought about by the pandemic certainly mean shifts in consumer behavior, and understanding these changes by being in touch with consumers (and even adapting to changes in doing so) may prove to be more rewarding than just “survival” in these tough times. More so, it may even prove to be transformational in further strengthening your brand in the longer term, way beyond this crisis, which we all hope to be over soon.