There has been a lot of talk recently about how we are settling into a “new normal,” and figuring out what that means for us as individuals. What will matter to us? What aspects of “before COVID-19” will return and what will be forever changed? How will we re-prioritize what is important to us? As business leaders navigating these uncertain times, it is critical that you ensure that your products, services, and communications are truly useful and meaningful to your customers.
But how do you do that? Is it appropriate to conduct market research right now? Will the results be meaningful? How do you keep your businesses afloat without seeming opportunistic or tone-deaf?
At the Connell Group, we have been reflecting on how to best gain insight from customers during these unprecedented times. As with most things, the answer is: it depends. With current technology, both quantitative and qualitative research have potential.
But the issue isn’t really about tools. It is about the underlying business question, the reliability of the insights you will gain, and the approach you take to ensure that that your customers understand and respect your intentions.
We hope that you find the following perspective useful.
Trackers, or studies run longitudinally to understand a category/brand/customer, are intended to be a snapshot to track perceptions, attitudes, and needs over time. Therefore, pausing trackers now would cause a gap in longitudinal data metrics that could potentially hinder strategy efforts in the future. Additionally, it is critical to understand how COVID-19 is affecting your category/brand/customers both in the immediate term and in preparation for how things will change in the new normal.
Net, we recommend continuing longitudinal tracking studies.
The only segmentation work that we would recommend running in today’s environment is as it directly relates to COVID-19, and identifying new segments based on “high need” customers. If the intended purpose is not directly related to the current situation, it would be better to postpone. The essence of segmentation work is based on the measurement of needs, pain points, or behaviors of a customer in a typical environment to identify unique personas.
Since we are not currently in a typical environment, those needs, pain points, and behaviors may be heightened or depressed due to the current situation. Therefore, you could end up basing a long-term strategy on a segmentation rooted in a heightened and non-representative snapshot of time.
Brand Positioning or Category Landscape: It Depends
Since the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting every industry to some degree, it makes sense to understand how your customers’ priorities, expectations, and needs are changing so you can continue to support them.
Therefore, we do think it’s appropriate to conduct this type of research now, as long as it is done with appropriate empathy, and without any appearance of opportunism. We are leading research like this now, helping our client determine how best to evolve their brand’s positioning to maintain relevance and connectivity to their customer base who could benefit from their services during this difficult time.
For some categories, however, proceeding with this type of research may not make sense. Given that people are in a heightened state, their feelings of what matter may only reflect a short-term view, rather than a long-term perspective. For those categories, the data collected may not give you the insights you need to build a long-term strategy, or worse, be viewed as tone deaf.
Innovation Research: It Depends
Now, it is more important than ever that new products or services are viewed as truly useful or relevant. Complicating that question is the appropriateness of researching less relevant offerings at this time. Will customer needs, attitudes, or perceptions be so askew that it will negatively bias the results of the research? If so, it would be better to postpone the research (and possibly the launch) to get results more reflective of customers attitudes.
Of course, it is critical that research initiatives be conducted with empathy and viewed as relevant so as not to be seen as opportunistic.
Given the current situation, people’s thresholds are heightened and atypical for most categories or use cases . Therefore, the results may not be representative of longer-term attitudes.
For example, someone may have a higher price threshold for items they see as more beneficial for our current situation (i.e. security or collaboration tools), but their spending for personal items may very well decline. We believe that “nice-to-have” or “luxury” items will not benefit from the price elasticity observed under normal circumstances.
COVID-19 is at the forefront of everyone’s thoughts, even in the context of products and services. These are unprecedented and uncertain times. When thinking about how your brand should connect with customers, supporters, and prospects, empathy and relevance matter more than ever.
With that in mind, we hope that this information has been useful. At its core, it is very straightforward. Pay attention to what your customers truly need from you right now. These are unprecedented times, so listen closely.
Need help understanding how your customers have responded in these uncertain times? Get in touch and let’s start a conversation.