With the easing of stay-at-home restrictions throughout the country, there have been signs that the US was finally emerging from a forced hibernation. In June, the US economy added 4.8 million jobs, and consumer spending increased 8.2 percent. But as we approach mid-July, infections are once again on the rise in many cities and states, prompting greater confusion in consumers’ minds about just how safe it is to re-engage with “normal” life.
With all this uncertainty, one thing is for sure. Customer needs, priorities, and behaviors have shifted with the pandemic — permanently, in many cases — and researchers know they need to invest in new insights to understand this new consumer mindset.
Without knowing when or if things will truly return to normal, it can be challenging for businesses to know when to kick off new research ventures. So what can brands do to prepare for business as un-usual? Here are three questions every brand should ask itself as it collects critical business insights during COVID-19.
Let’s say you’re an established brand, maybe even collecting robust data in a brand health tracker on a regular basis. One option is to add a few short questions to the next wave or two of your existing research.
That’s right. No need to pause your longitudinal research until the situation passes. In fact, if you have the resources to continue running a tracking study during the pandemic, you should.
Whether or not you add custom questions to understand things like income, employment, or behavior change, you’ll be able to cut your data down the line to quickly glean insights about how your customers changed in 2020.
In the long run, doing this can help you make decisions related to real estate, staffing, and more. If you’re a movie theater company, this could mean understanding when your customers will feel comfortable meeting in public places again. Once you have those insights, you can plan to re-open locations based on anticipated demand.
You’ll also get a head start on the competition by getting a pulse on the success of any COVID-19 solutions you have in place. Maybe you’re a restaurant chain trying take-out options for the first time. The sooner you understand how your customers are responding, the sooner you can make decisions about whether to re-direct resources to develop and strengthen the new business model you have had to implement on the fly.
What should you do if this sounds like you? First, make sure you’re consistently collecting good data. Consider continuing existing trackers, or explore alternative approaches to get a read on your customer base — like deep listening through online anthropology.
Customer needs change all the time. But maybe you work in an industry that’s been particularly impacted by COVID-19. Tech, utilities, healthcare, and hospitality are just a few examples of verticals that have had to make drastic changes to survive the mass shift towards staying—and working—at home.
Consider the surge in telehealth solutions, improvements to public sanitation and transport, drive-thru options, and more. These few sectors were lucky to launch quickly and enjoy wide adoption, but quick-cycle product development isn’t the norm for a very good reason: it’s easy to fail.
The best way to properly understand how such a big lifestyle shift has impacted your customers’ needs is to launch a custom study. If you have products in development, or just a bunch of ideas for potential solutions, a concept test can help you sort out which ideas are most likely to be successful. Don’t waste time and resources launching new products that could be dead in the water right away or that might be forgotten as soon as lockdown is lifted.
Take a moment to think about who your customer was pre-COVID-19, and how their lives might have changed since then. Even better: organize a virtual focus group. Once you have a pulse on what’s changed, channel resources into new product development, and consider a custom concept test to identify the winning ideas.
We’ve talked a lot about identifying lifestyle changes. But how do you know whether a change is based on a necessary, short-term adjustment, or actually a small innovation that could change the way we do things forever? Remember a time before credit cards were contactless? Remember a time before credit cards? Some changes, even small ones, are big enough to disrupt the status quo, and it’s at times like this when game-changing ideas can come out of the woodwork.
Now is a great time to look closer at the way your business has adapted to survive COVID-19. Pinpoint those changes in your business model, and test whether they have the potential to last post-COVID-19 and beyond. How do you do that? With a habits framework study.
Say you’re a coffee shop or a retailer. Your customers are staying home right now. They’re also shopping more online, and want faster, contactless checkout services. Some of these habits are actually driving innovations in the way you conduct your business, and even in your industry as a whole. While picking up purchases through a glass divider hopefully won’t last forever, mobile payments and live order-tracking could remain in demand long after COVID-19 becomes a thing of the past.
If you’ve had to make big changes in response to consumer habit shifts during COVID-19, consider doing research now that helps to identify which customer behaviors are likely to survive after the pandemic. This will help identify solutions you can develop to thrive into next year and beyond.
Times are changing fast, and it can feel overwhelming trying to predict the longer-term impact of the COVID-19 crisis. Whether you’re a big brand with years of customer data, or a small start-up finding it difficult to adapt to your customers’ changing needs, insights are your friend. Don’t waste time and money on strategies that won’t last. Instead, invest what you can in research to identify the decisions that will help your business survive—and thrive—both during and after the pandemic.