Opinion: What research to run and what to pause in unpredictable times
Research is an important component of any marketing effort. In a time of shifting consumer behavior, it’s important to keep a finger on what customers perceive about your products, competitors and category.
While it’s not practical to conduct the full range of market research, there is essential research you should be running right now.
First, divide business objectives into short-term and long-term goals. Then evaluate existing research projects to determine if they will inform short-term or long-term objectives. If there’s a need to adjust the research budget, prioritize through the lens of “nice to have” versus “need to have.”
And remember: Any research efforts should be led with empathy for participants and sensitivity to the current situation.
Here’s how to determine what research to run and what to pause:
Research to run
Any research outputs or insights that inform a time-limited question or objective (e.g., campaign, messaging) are worthwhile to understand regardless of what’s happening in the marketplace. To help you understand consumer perceptions, usage of your products and the effect of today’s reality on your segment and your brand, quick studies can help you decide whether to stay on course or pivot. Consider using these tools:
Brand trackers. Brand health tracking is a way of measuring overall strength of your brand and tracking its strength over time. If you have an evergreen brand tracker in place, it can provide information on consumers’ preferences and behaviors by analyzing past and current data.
COVID-19-related research. To gain insights around COVID-19-related campaigns or perceptions, utilize online qualitative/quantitative platforms. Tapping into the online panels may be more fruitful than usual since response and completion rates will most likely be higher due to respondents’ availability and increased online activity.
Social tracking. Social media can provide real-time feedback and information on interests, emotions and vantage points. In times of changing consumer sentiment, monitoring social media can help you pivot quickly.
Media tracking. With day-to-day life changing, people are consuming media differently. Knowing where, when and how they are interacting with content can help you reach and engage core audiences more effectively.
Trend analysis. Whether obtained from third-party sources, competitive analysis or a socioeconomic landscape study, trend analysis will provide a quick view of current consumer behaviors and perceptions.
Sales analysis. Studying retail data changes can help you forecast short-term profits/losses and purchase behaviors.
Be mindful of the changing needs of consumers when designing research. Closely consider respondents’ demographics and psychographics not only at the outset of conducting research but also as the data is analyzed—given the rapidly changing situation, particularly in certain regions at any given time, timing could significantly affect results. In some cases, if there is third-party data readily available, it might be better to take advantage of its capabilities to compare historical data from other crises and the context the information can provide.
No matter which research methods you employ, make sure stakeholders understand that results are meant to guide short-term decisions and that there might be biases due to the crisis.
What to pause
Research outputs and insights that are designed to inform longer-term business decisions are best paused right now, including:
Customer segmentations; evergreen message testing; product concept testing (unless specifically designed to address the problems of today); large brand change/repositioning tests; never-done-before, long-term studies including brand trackers and NPS; and anything that requires in-person research.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should pause all long-term research projects. There are methodologies available to assess past behaviors that could be helpful once the dust settles. For example, a clickstream study that looks back at collected online shopping journey data from certain time periods could help inform long-term marketing plans in the future.
Where to get creative
Be flexible. Use this time as an opportunity to reevaluate custom research projects (which could be costly and time-consuming) and see what can be run as a part of an existing, continuously run study.
Experiment! Use new approaches and methodologies to test and expand on research capabilities. For example, with the increased participation in telephone and online research, this may be a good time to expand the pool and find new ways to use them.
Find new ways to build relationships, test features, or mine for unknown variables.
The big question: When we can expect to resume business as usual? Consistent research during this time—at whatever level is appropriate for your organization—can help provide guidance. As research data comes in, there will be a moment when KPIs start to stabilize into territory you are familiar with, and over the next six months to a year we should see stabilization across industries. Although things may not completely return to normal, there is sure to be at least a slow roll back to business again.