A global pandemic shouldn’t be the only time we research consumer’s needs

Ben Bisco - Strategy & Planning Director,

As a result of the 2020 pandemic, our client’s customers became strangers to them. They suddenly faced a series of questions they never expected to have to ask; Was it okay to still advertise? What can we offer them right now? Should we offer support right now? What is it we give customers again?

You might laugh at that last point- of course brands know what they give customers. But do they?

As Lucy Jameson puts it, ‘The gym who thinks they sell a space to work out are currently closed, the ones who realised they sell motivation and belonging are finding new audiences and revenue online, which may help them stay afloat. There’s a lesson for us all in there’ (Source: Most Contagious report 2020).

We can look back and see the very different ways organisations reacted when the pandemic began, and the world shut down. Some hunkered down along with the world and went into preservation mode - 40% choosing to delay purchases in order to wait until the situation becomes clearer and cut  20% carried on and 8% delayed purchases because they changed focus (Source: GWI work data Q2 2020).

When the pandemic began, H&M, Ford and Brew Dog adapted to become a PPE supplier, a ventilator manufacturer and a hand sanitiser producer respectively in a matter of days.

Such sudden changes are much for difficult for the less high-profile brands, where staying afloat seems a challenge, never mind doing a 180 on what they produce overnight. The brands where intervening on the frontline feels tenuous and uncomfortable.

How did brands adapt to new customer needs?

Corporate catering service City Pantry created an employee wellbeing survey, to help businesses have insight into how their employees were coping with the pandemic. Inspired by Iceland, they designed a virtual field in which users could scream and let out their frustrations. On the more practical side, car insurance company Admiral issues refunds to their customers as car use dropped dramatically. All of these brands could appear superfluous when you’re forced to stay at home, but they maintained relevance during Covid thanks to these campaigns.

The beauty of all these campaigns is how closely and quickly they managed to  tap into the new set of consumer needs. They recognised that management would want to understand the implications of the pandemic on employee wellbeing. That people stuck at home dreaming of escape would welcome a satisfying way to have  their frustration heard. And an insurance company paying out without you having to do anything? Quite possibly the best insurance brand loyalty generating activity since the meerkat toy collection launched.  

How can I optimise my customer research process?

The question is, how do you get to these laser focused customer-centric ideas? The best way is to ask your customers how the pandemic is affecting them. What are their attitudes and actions? What do they think the future holds?  There are numerous ways to get answers to these questions whether that’s through in-depth interviews, biometric labs or panel insight tools (we use all the above).  

This might sound daunting if its not in your standard arsenal, it really needn’t be. Agencies like twentysix are always on hand to help, and tools like Global Web Index (one of our faves) make finding nuggets of insight a doddle. GWI uses data from 2million+ interviews with real people to find out what really matters to them. They even offer out  some of their data, like their Zeitgeist study, for free.

But, while responding to the pandemic has been vital, consumer research shouldn’t be something that happens just for a crisis. It should be something you do continuously so you can respond quicky to the next change in consumer behaviour whether that’s due to another big crisis (but let’s hope not eh?!) or something more mundane, like whether your audience is partial to a sea shanty… 

Covid might have felt like it turned consumers into strangers overnight but the many nuanced cultural, societal, and political shifts that happen every day are the main culprits in making, breaking, sustaining, or declining a brand’s relationship with its target audience. And the way to know about, understand and react to these nuances is with data-driven, always-on research.

If you would like more information on how to improve your data and research process, please get in touch.

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