The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the world we know in fundamental and far-reaching ways. We have all had to adjust to new social and work practices and, although there is light at the end of a very long tunnel, many of those changes – such as an increase in WFH – will persist for years to come.
The same is true of market research and data collection. Classic, qualitative techniques such as face-to-face interviews and panels have moved to the online space. The ability to read people’s faces during interviews has been lost as a result; micro tics don’t come across on the average low-resolution PC camera. A skilled people reader could glean valuable information during an interview simply by observing body language and listening as much to what wasn’t said as what was.
Surveys have taken on a life of their own, with significant increases in data turn around speed from market researchers, who could create swift insights for clients and brands, suddenly having to adapt to a world where ecommerce isn’t just a nice sideline, but the main revenue stream.
The question today is, how much of that data will remain relevant for more than a few months, and will clients appreciate the need to quickly increase their research as the pandemic – hopefully – begins to abate?
The news on that front is encouraging. According to an article in Information Age, a study by Stravito has found that:
“68% of business decision-makers declared they will be more cautious going forward, and conduct much more research before launching new products and services this year…”
This is undoubtedly good news, but it also begs the question: what about all of the data collected in 2020? Well, that’s where there’s some bad news. The same survey found that:
Increase in market research projects
“…two-thirds (66%) of UK businesses commissioned market research in 2020 which has never been used…”
If this is repeated globally – and we have no reason to believe that the UK is an unusual case in this regard – then there is a massive amount of research in the sector which has never been utilized. The reasons cited for the UK are not uncommon; the pandemic forced huge societal change and that rendered certain data and insights unusable as a result. Issues with communications due to staff working from home were also mentioned but this seems rather more tenuous.
Data, data everywhere
The question for the MR sector, then, is two-fold: what, if any, of the data collected in 2020 remains relevant and how can this be mitigated in the future?
There is no doubt that, as markets begin to open up, new research into buying behavior and consumer confidence will need to be conducted by companies and brands hoping to capitalize on consumers who were unable to patronize them during lockdowns and curfews. That research will then become the basis for business in 2021 and will in turn need to be updated as other sectors unlock from pandemic paralysis.
That leaves the question of what can be done with unloved and unused 2020 data. While ecommerce research will certainly be valuable, given purchasing patterns during lockdowns, some research into consumer behaviour in 2020 may not be. This viability will need to be addressed and potentially followed up on a regular basis in order to provide clients with insight which they can act upon in the short term. However, as sectors begin to re-open, it may well be a case of ‘tabula rasa’ for many researchers as they see previous insights become out of date in real time as vaccination programmes alter consumer behaviour.
However, that behaviour may not be what many expect. In an article for Research Live, Adam Chmielowski discusses how we can emerge from Covid-19. Chmielowski cites anthropologist Gillian Tett, who writes how post-pandemic life might resemble the ‘Schrödinger’s cat’ problem (where the cat was neither dead nor alive): “We expect normality to resume, but also not to resume, all at once.”
Market researchers may wish to incorporate elements of their 2020 data into predictive insights, but each sector will experience its own journey to a 2021 ‘normal’.
MR may wish to take the time to examine how much data can be applied to other sectors outside their research subject, in order to provide a broader insight into consumer trends as restrictions ease. Such exercises will also uncover valid data and insights which may not have initially been apparent. It also offers scope for collaboration and sharing of data with other research projects, where situations allow, opening up new avenues and potential revenue streams.
Smart researchers will be able to apply many of their 2020 insights to other sectors but, with specific research data, it may well be the case that it remains locked away in a box marked “Open During Next Global Economic Shock”.