Almost overnight, it seemed as though every company conducting research pressed the pause button. Concepts that had been carefully planned over weeks and months no longer seemed quite right. Events depending on experiential research would no longer be possible. In-person methodologies were being appropriately banned by local legislators in order to promote safety and physical distancing. For many, research stopped. The question, what now?
As experts in both offline and online/digital fieldwork, we know how much care researchers take to choose the most appropriate methodology. Face-to-face techniques are chosen for very specific reasons. Simply transitioning offline studies to a similar online methodology isn’t always possible nor desirable.
But with face-to-face research paused for an indefinite amount of time, researchers and marketers need to reassess the situation. For many, that means re-evaluating research objectives to address massive changes in consumer behaviour. To practice physical distancing, shopper journeys changed with extreme speediness from brick and mortar to eCommerce. As people anticipated job losses, purchases switched from spontaneous luxuries to base priced essentials (with the occasional small luxury thrown in to maintain some sense of normalcy and happiness).
Many brands now need to reassess their research needs in response to an unfamiliar market.
- Small brands could suddenly become large: Companies that have normally served small segments of the population or had low volumes, e.g., sanitation, health products, and home fitness, are seeing growth. But uncontrolled growth is risky. Brands need to ensure they have sufficient high-quality data to make smart growth decisions that will serve them well in the longer term.
- Some large brands could become less relevant: Globally recognized companies in travel, hotels, and restaurants are seeing massive declines. These uncontrolled declines are also risky. These brands also need to ensure that they use high-quality data to make smart decisions that will help them in the short-term and keep them viable in the long-term.
- Some brands may pivot: In some cases, brands have realized they might be able to pivot their expertise to meet current consumer needs. For instance, numerous alcohol companies quickly pivoted their business to manufacturing sanitizer. Luxury clothing manufacturers are switching to making hospital gowns. In these cases, consumer research will help them prioritize which new products and services could remain viable in the long-term, and whether they should make that happen. (Big brands beware!)
With new research objectives in hand, research projects can be rebooted using a variety of digital/online methodologies. Though it’s impossible to truly replicate a shared human experience in someone’s very private home, today’s technology can often get you close to where you want to be.
Consumer access panels offer researchers an excellent source of people ready and willing to participate in a variety of online and telephone research methodologies. Computers, tablets, and cell phones continue to make individual interviews and telephone interviews viable options. Eye tracking and facial coding continue to be key options, particularly for website usability and digital concept, packaging, and shelf testing. And, as so many businesses are vastly upping their ecommerce capabilities, mystery shopping for eCommerce sites is more important than ever.
If you’ve never used digital tools to conduct qualitative research, the opportunities are seemingly endless.
For participants who have access to a portable device such as a cell phone, tablet, or laptop, researchers can:
- Go on a tour of their fridge, kitchen cupboards, bathroom cupboards, or laundry facilities.
- Watch how they situate themselves and their belongings in their car, clean the dining room carpet, wash out a laundry stain, or power wash the deck.
- Learn how families interact with food and each other over the dinner table, during game time, or during bedtime.
For participants who are restricted to a desktop computer, researchers can:
- Have heart to heart discussions about healthcare, nutrition, education, and other important social issues.
- Moderate focus groups, discussion groups, and workshops with family dyads or triads, and random samples of targeted participants.
- Integrate worksheets and cooperative tasks including having many people simultaneously contribute to a shared document.
With the research objective and methodology realigned to meet the current situation, it’s time to conduct the research. Take comfort in the fact that digital methods have decades of testing and experience. Digital tools make it faster and easier to connect people across a broad geography, clients can still observe focus groups and interviews, and travel costs are virtually eliminated.
For many brands, the norms and baselines we once relied on so heavily are no longer relevant. As consumers are adjusting their behaviours to accommodate a variety of safety-inspired restrictions, new baselines are being formed right now, baselines that can only be tracked if we start measuring them today.
Those brands that successfully anticipate possible outcomes and are ready to push the Go button as key moments arrive will be ahead of the game.
If you’d like to figure out how to transition your new research objectives into a digital methodology, please get in touch with us. We’d be more than happy to help you understand the options that could work for you.
You might like to read these:
- 7 ways to reduce your research costs
- The Pros and Cons of Telephone Research
- From field to lab to virtual research methods: How to choose the right degree of external validity for your product shelf-test
- Marketing Research Essentials: How to Reduce the Risks of Marketing Innovation Through Consumer Research