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Why now, more than ever, consumer understanding is needed to counteract a downturn

Published 24 Apr 2020 4 minute read

Strategic Thinking

Market research has a vitally important role to play in helping brand and business owners, and their marketing teams, stay in touch with consumers and their customers and understand how their already complex lives – their behaviours and attitudes - are shifting.

Now, more than ever, brands and businesses need to make important decisions – ones that have much greater consequence and can impact their very futures. These decisions, as always, should be made with a sound understanding of consumers wants and needs, and not guesswork or assumptions, and the best way to ascertain this is to ask and observe consumers in their natural environment (or as close as you can get to it).

The smart brands and organisations like P&G are doubling-down on marketing right now in order to move forward and not shrink or go backwards. Critically, they aren’t reducing their budgets or moving to a reliance on instinct and guesswork. P&G have a tendency to do well during times of economic austerity, so it’s worth paying attention to this.

Every aspect of our lives has been impacted in one way or another due to Coronavirus, from the way we work, to the way we eat, exercise, converse and even sleep! As researchers, we have a deeper understanding of the pain points and challenges felt by consumers and by each industry servicing and supporting them. It's normal that researchers, consumer insight professionals and marketing teams are asking themselves questions like: Is now a good time to do research?. Will the quality of the data we collect be good (enough)? Are the behaviours we see now going to be the same as those in 6 or 12 months time? Should we steer clear of discussions around health or travel?

Do (More) Better Research

The answer to the big question is yes, keep doing your research, but do it better and do more of it in an agile and results-driven manner. Bodies like the MRS have made it clear that now is not the time to do face-to-face research and that you should take your research online due to the fact that it simply cannot be done in person right now. It might feel as though consumers have more important things to worry about – and they do – but our own work is demonstrating that they want the distraction, they want to have their voices heard and they want to co-create the future with brands.

Research right now will help brands understand levels of consumer anxiety and unease, and when it starts to lower. Understanding the peaks and the triggers behind them is more important than ever if businesses are looking to pivot and make investments in new products and services. More of the right research will help navigate these new complexities and there’s never been more opportunity to quickly and cost-effectively do research of all kinds – tracking, observing, asking, tasking etc. Continuing to gather and track data, lifestyles and habits will give brands a much clearer path forward as the Covid-19 pandemic starts to trough and the world recovers.

“…we should not shy away from talking about customers and business in the age of coronavirus. It might seem superficially mercantile to discuss brands, pricing and customer behaviour as we stare down the barrel of a pandemic. But the practical reality of global economic trade means that we need to market now for the good of all mankind.” (Mark Ritson)

It’s precisely at this time that brands need to be reacting and to react the right way, consumer insight is needed as without is, the decisions are incredibly risky and difficult to take.

Context is more important than ever

We already know that consumers’ emotions are running high and that their behaviours aren’t the same as those as recently as three months ago.

If you do head this advice and run research now as our clients at Colgate Palmolive are doing, be sure to pay attention to the context. Address who is with them, why they are making the decisions they are, and why they are relating to products and services in different ways. Then help your clients unpick this and identify both the short-term and long-term shifts that may have an impact on them.

Online qualitative research is perhaps one of the most compelling methods that you can be running right now to get the inside track on consumer’s shifting worlds. Our own experiences are that it remains on-point as a way to quickly capture the insight you need to make these critical marketing decisions, and consumers appetite to participate has not diminished. At a time when in-person qualitative research is practically impossible, the online derivative lets you peer into people’s lives over a longer and more sustained period to observe the contexts and capture rich data otherwise not possible.

Further’s team specialise in online qual, so if you need support in how to go about it – ranging from finding the right participants, to designing the research and capturing the data – get in touch.

People want to have their voices heard – they are more open to conversations right now and to share their opinions, so don’t wait around as you’ll miss the opportunity to make a positive change and score highly with a more open, shifting consumer sentiment.

We’ve given some thought to the kind of questions brands might want to ask their customers and target consumer audiences right now. Questions like:

  • How are consumers responding to the crisis?
  • What are the implications for how our brands support consumers?
  • What are the changing behaviours, and how might our brand respond to these?

Some brands have already responded quickly to these challenges, like Morrisons, Deliveroo, Patagonia and Mercedes Benz and are scoring highly among consumers. Others are playing the waiting game (still!). There is still time, and it’s important to build in a period of re-assessment when your teams should be looking at what’s here to stay and what might not be, and how consumer’s demands may ramp up, versus that that will be muted.

Whether it’s your advertising, your content or the very products and services that you provide, consumers want to help you do better and support them more than ever. The modern researcher has all the tools in her bag to help you make quick decisions and take the right actions, so trust them, lean on them, and you’ll reap the wards for years to come.

I’m impressed by the online community in China with Further. The engagement with the community has been phenomenal. Even during the tough Coronavirus period, our online activities and a product trial have been executed flawlessly. It’s been a pleasure to work with this professional research team (Colgate Palmolive, March 2020)

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