2021 is already proving to be another year of uncertainty for global economies. In addition to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, there remains political restlessness in the US and Europe and continuing strained trade relations between Australia and China. International travel is still off the cards, social distancing remains, and remote work and education are still a reality for many.
This ‘new normal’ and its associated volatility are deeply impacting individuals, not just businesses. Consumer behaviour has undergone profound shifts and will continue to do so. Businesses need to remain in touch with the changing needs of consumers if they want to survive. They need to ask questions about how consumers are perceiving their brand at different points in time, and whether this perception is changing due to the constantly evolving status of the pandemic.
There are three central ways that companies can better serve their customers, at a time when uncertainty is the only constant.
1. Conduct regular research
The only way to truly understand consumer sentiment is to continuously connect to the market. By running quick research studies, businesses can ensure that they are constantly in touch with accurate consumer insights. The rapid pace of change caused by COVID-19 and associated world events has caused consumer viewpoints – and therefore data – to change quickly. The age of COVID-19 has created extensive change at speed, and datasets can become outdated within weeks or even days. It’s crucial for research to be analysed, published and acted upon as quickly as possible.
This approach is new to many organisations who have previously compiled larger studies over the course of several weeks or months. At Pureprofile, we know this issue only too well. In December 2019, we were preparing to publish a major travel insights report. After the research was collated and analysed, Australia found itself in a very different tourism market, with the bushfires of January 2020 causing a drop in domestic travel, and the pandemic grinding domestic and international travel to a screeching halt in February.
Like many businesses, we were forced to find a way to quickly adapt to the new environment. With the survey data suddenly irrelevant, and the travel situation changing every week, we had to access new data every week.
2. Switch to short-form studies
Now that businesses must operate at a much faster pace, short-form surveys are a valuable way of staying on top of consumer intelligence. Studies of this nature include a short questionnaire about current events and insights are generated and distributed in a matter of days, if not hours! In 2020, we used this approach to create a weekly infographic series with country-specific data related to COVID-19. By quickly gathering and distributing results, the insights showed just how much new outbreaks, lockdowns, travel restrictions or any other unforeseeable restrictions were impacting consumers.
Like many organisations, COVID-19 meant our business had to adapt to new circumstances. In July 2020, we collated the entire suite of weekly infographics from the previous three months and used the data to retrospectively understand how the events of the time impacted consumer sentiment. It painted a clear picture of how people were spending their time and their money, and tapped into how they were feeling throughout the period. The result was a true demonstration of just how rapidly things had changed over a short period of time, influencing not just behaviours but also attitudes and values.
3. Harness the power of brand tracking
By using smaller studies to measure a brand’s fluctuations in consumer sentiment, businesses are able to collate real-time insights, fast-changing attitudes and spending behaviours. This can be particularly helpful when a brand is struggling to understand why performance is lagging or can be used to pinpoint reasons for stronger than anticipated performance.
Brand tracking is able to measure uncertainty by collecting information at critical points over time, rather than at a single moment. Underperformance can be identified quickly and a strategy can be adjusted accordingly. Marketers are able to discover what part of their research strategy is working so that their overall brand health can be determined accurately.
The impact of COVID-19 is far from over. If businesses are going to have any chance of long-term survival, they need to be able to act on current consumer perception as it evolves. “Quick dip” research is critical. It delivers real-time context to longer-form research projects, and gives marketers a clear path to understanding the constant shift of human behaviour.
Author: Anna Meiler, Head of Sales & Marketing, Pureprofile.