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The future of market research after COVID-19

Market research before and after COVID-19 checklist - they are the same except after COVId-19, don't bang on about the new normal

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Why read this? : We look at what COVID-19 restrictions mean for the future of market research. Learn how you can still get close to customers without being in the same room as them. And how there’s lots of research you can do without being face-to-face. We show how empathy underpins customer understanding and what that means for the future of market research. 

The future of market research after COVID-19

The mass speculation about what life will be like after this pandemic gave us some food for thought this week. Everyone seems to have a different opinion on life after Covid-19.

In particular, we’ve been thinking about the future of market research after Covid-19. 

Because market research drives customer understanding. And customer understanding is where marketing starts, right?  

Man and a woman wearing face masks and keeping arms distance away from each other

But with everything else that’s happening, how do you understand what’s going on with customers? With a health crisis in play, marketing doesn’t seem that important.

In our view, people have lots of questions right now. But there’s very few answers. We just don’t know what’s going to happen.

Nobody does. 

How can they? The future’s uncertain. That’s the harsh reality we all have to face right now. And yet, that future uncertainty doesn’t seem to have stopped every Tom, Dick and Harry marketing pundit, guru and agency spewing out a bunch of content on how to market your business in the “new normal”.

Urgh. 

You must get those social ads and e-mails too, right? They’re driving us crazy. Because the only thing we know customers want right now is to NOT get emails talking about the new normal. 

If you don't have good answers, then keep quiet

Seriously, if we see another sponsored badly executed Facebook ad, we could lose it.

You know the ones?

A badly staged image of some grinning buffoon we’ve never heard of. A key message which tells us with just one click for their free download, they’ll solve all our social media content / SEO / e-Commerce positioning needs.

Like every other marketing agency / guru ad that offers the same thing.

A woman with a finger over her mouth making the shhhh signal

Don’t these guys check out what the competition does and try to find something better? We’re going to start leaving poo emojis on their Facebook pages, seriously. You’d think those guys would use the downtime to work on their creative skills.

Anyway, all the various agency strategists, entrepreneurial gurus and assorted other numpties on social media feeds are doing right now, is making themselves look like self-serving, pompous dickheads. And we have more than our fair share of those in the marketing world already, thanks. They’d clearly fail our marketing agency evaluation checklist.

So, if you don’t have good answers, then just keep quiet. Please.  

Our sensible colleagues in the world of market research

This brings us to our more sensible colleagues in the market research world. You expect them to have good answers. But, they seem very quiet at the moment.

We guess they’re spending their time in the world of Zoom conferences and education webinars at the moment. As we all are. That’s if you count LinkedIn as a reliable source for what people do during work hours.

The future of market research - consumer proximity

But for an industry which prides itself on consumer proximity, how’s the world going to look when the people you want to get close to, don’t want to get close to you?

When they don’t want to get close to anyone outside their immediate household?

When they still back away from people in the supermarket queue. Or at the pedestrian crossing. Because let’s face it, who knows where those people have been? Or how unhygienic they are.

Market research before and after COVID-19 checklist - they are the same except after COVId-19, don't bang on about the new normal

As our tongue-in-cheek market research checklist shows, with this new normal, we don’t think there’ll be too much change from the “old normal”.

With one major exception. Because, when market researchers talk about proximity, they mean “mental” and “emotional” proximity more than “physical” proximity anyway. They want to get in consumers’ heads and hearts. Not physically touch them.

Maybe those weird ethnography research projects when you go into someone’s house and poke around in their cupboards will take a while to get going again? But to be honest, those always feel weird anyway. Even weirder than focus groups, and that’s saying something. 

But no, for market researchers, mental and emotional proximity is what matters.

A lot of market research is already socially distant

And let’s face it, much of what market researchers do is already socially distant.

Yes, qualitative research through focus groups and depth interviews usually needs some face-to-face time. But, it’s usually only the interviewer who is physically present.

Everyone else is behind a one-way mirror, eating snacks. Or they watch the video afterwards. 

So, in reality, it’s only qualitative research which is really affected. For everything else, methodology changes will likely be minimal after COVID-19.

Blond woman partially hidden behind a leafy bush

Look at most quantitative research gathering under the old normal. Doesn’t most of that happen online or by phone these days? When was the last time someone stopped you in the street to answer a survey?

Secondary research - it's all online

Then you’ve got that fall-back of any market researcher or small business on a budget. Secondary research. Except that’s all online too these days.

Honestly, when did you last go to a library to look something up?

There’s vast amounts of free information out there either looking at Google Trends or sifting through your digital data.

There’s no physical proximity when you do surveys on your website to get customer feedback

laptop google search

Hell, you don’t even need to be on the same continent as your audience to do this research. 

No, we think from a pure methodology point of view, Covid-19 impacts on market research will be minimal. 

So from a methodology point of view, the future of market research doesn’t look that different. But what about the role and importance of market research? Will that change?

Market research and consumer empathy

What will change is getting into the heads and hearts of your target audience with market research will become even more important. 

And that means the future of market research really depends on how much empathy your business has for what customers need.

How do market researchers start to build that empathy with customers, after what’s arguably the most globally impactful event since World War 2?

Covid 19 empty shelves with a sign saying customer limits of essential items like bread and water

When you have customers who’ve lost jobs. Who’ve had to manage complex family and relationship matters at a distance. Who’ve had to live their lives from their couch, and within a 5km radius of their house for the last few months. And who, when they go to the supermarket, find empty shelves stripped bare of essentials. 

So, the challenge then is how do you build empathy with those consumers?

We said at the start, that this isn’t an “after COVID-19, we have all the solutions” post. We don’t. Nobody does.

The same common sense rules need to apply

But we do think some common sense rules apply. And they were the same common sense rules which applied in the old normal. People are still people at the end of the day. Even if the context those people find themselves in has shifted.

Use your market research to understand where the customer is at in their life. They give you their time, so you should use that time wisely and with respect.

From what we see, most people are just tired of the restrictions. The challenges. The constant stream of bad news. It’s energy-sapping, isn’t it?

We can’t even begin to comprehend what’s happening on the streets of America right now. The challenge for the future of market research and in fact, marketers and businesses is to bring something more positive into the lives of their customers. The bad stuff, they get that on the news and their social feeds every day.

Bring value and positivity

So, look for ways to bring some value and positivity to your customers. How will you meet the needs of those customers?

If that means you spend an hour mocking up an equivalent to the tongue-in-cheek market research checklist we put together, then great. At worst, it helps you practice your Adobe Illustrator skills.

Then maybe bang out a short blog post with the hope it’ll stop at least one marketer banging on about the ‘new normal’.

Maybe that’s a good thing to do in the new normal? 

Close up of a hand with thumb up

Check out our market research skill guides for more on this. Or get in touch, if you need help building your market research skills to grow your business. 

Photo credit

Distancing : Photo by Chris Greene on Unsplash

Quiet – Shhh! : Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

Woman peeking out from bush : Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Google on a laptop : Photo by Benjamin Dada on Unsplash

Empty Shelves : Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

Thumbs up (adapted) : Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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