What’s been happening out there

What started out as weeks has now evolved into months of unprecedented disruption in consumer behaviors and priorities. Driven by product availability and other dynamics of COVID-19, many consumers have:

  • Purchased from new product categories
  • Made brand and/or product substitutions
  • Become less price sensitive
  • Changed some of their selection criteria when choosing brands
  • Tried new services for the very first time like online shopping in general, online grocery delivery, and curbside pick-up
  • Current market dynamics have driven many consumers to buy categories and brands that they might never normally have used, and this shift has occurred in a very short window of time. When shelves return to a more natural state, what impact will these brand experiences have on your category or brand?

Will consumers stick with the new brands or categories they’ve tried or revert to what they were buying previously? Now that consumers have been able to evaluate a larger proportion of the category, will they base their future choices against brand loyalty, an out-and-out value proposition, or other factors? Will selection criteria change, and how?

Businesses need to understand their consumers, their sentiment and their behaviours during “normal” conditions, but it is essential during this pandemic because of how quickly perceptions and habits are changing. If you are not tracking consumer behaviour and the trends, your business is going to miss a huge opportunity at best or suffer consequences.

How to Move Forward

Now is the time to reevaluate your research strategy. While it is not the time to extrapolate and project for all of 2020 how people will spend their time, shop for or consider new products, or consume media, there are certain projects that should be started or continued. And anything that projects normalcy now needs to be treated with caution. But the ability to stay connected to customers and take faster, more impactful decisions that make a positive difference in daily lives has never been more important.

Here is what we suggest brand and companies to not stop doing:

  • Tracking (brand or other forms) –Determine relevant updates to current tracking programs to ensure consistency, as well ensuring topical questions are leveraged in current programs. You need to understand how opinions are changing regarding your brand. Now is not the time to wait a year to see impacts on your brand. Test sentiment and perception now— and keep testing.
  • Communications & Advertising testing –Pre-test, Pre-test, Pre-test. Customer opinion is changing by the minute. You must test all messages before launch to ensure that they resonate and have the right tone, sensitivity and reflect well on the
  • Consumer sentiment research – Either through one-off pieces or tracking, look to understand current needs and opinions as they
  • Opportunities in new markets/territories – Develop projects to understand new market opportunities as needs and markets continue to change. Communities can help
  • Changing/transition programs –Update your research abilities through the use of online qualitative or quantitative research, rather than telephone or face-to-face

Because during volatile periods, it is more important than ever to gauge the views of your audience. The faster the pace, the more frequently you should consider listening to your audience, testing messages (and not just once – frequently), understating behavior changes, and possibly learning which competitors they’re using.

Businesses need to pivot in a smart, efficient manner. Amidst the pandemic crisis, the need to maintain customer closeness is greater than ever. As circumstances and sentiments shift rapidly around, speed is critical and now is the time to act.

Luca Bon