Research is an important component of any marketing effort. And in these times of shifting consumer behavior, it’s more important than ever to keep your finger on the pulse of what your customer perceives about your products, your competitors, and your category. We will come out of this, and when we do, the research you have maintained will have you well-positioned to address your customers and your marketplace.
While it may not be practical to conduct the full range of market research given the rapidly changing buying landscape and uncertain time horizon for getting fully back to business, there is essential research you should be running right now. The most important thing to keep in mind, though, is that any research efforts undertaken now should be led with empathy for the participants and sensitivity to the current situation. Here’s how to determine what research to run and what to pause.
The first step to take when considering which marketing research programs can provide value in this current environment is to review your business objectives and place them into two buckets: short-term goals and long-term goals. Then evaluate each existing research project to determine if it will help 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.”
Any research outputs or insights that inform a time-limited question or objective (e.g., campaign, messaging) are important and 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. Whether you have research currently in place or are just initiating it now, these are the tools you should consider using:
During this uncertain time, be empathetic and mindful of the changing needs and priorities of consumers when designing your research. Many people are facing difficult times now and into the foreseeable future, and you do not want to be insensitive (or perceived as such). And 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 may be better to take advantage of their capabilities to compare historical data from other crises and the context they can provide.
No matter which research methods you employ, make sure that the stakeholders understand that results are meant to guide short-term decisions and that there may be biases due to the crisis.
Research outputs and insights that are designed to inform longer-term business decisions are best paused right now, including:
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.
Whatever your business strategy was a few months ago, it’s likely changed. And in today’s environment, there is a level of assumption that previously set goals on long-term profits and business decisions are being adjusted regularly, and whatever steps you take now would serve to test the waters and benefit future decisions.
So the big question now is 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 return completely back to normal, there is sure to be at least a slow roll back to business again.