As the gravity of the COVID-19 (“Coronavirus”) situation continues to sink in, LRW has been flooded with requests on how to address business needs and proceed with market research projects in a pandemic world. As you might imagine, these are fluid and unprecedented events that require a lot of flexibility and innovative approaches. For perspective on how fast everything is unfolding, it was only last week when many of us could still work in our offices and hold in-person meetings; now some U.S. cities are on or seriously considering complete lock-downs.
In order to meet the needs of our global network of clients and partners, we are recommending the following research guidelines as of March 17, 2020. We will continue to monitor new developments and will offer new updates in the coming days and weeks.
Many of our clients have asked if it is insensitive to solicit survey responses in these times. We don’t believe that it is. We’ve found that respondents welcome the benefits that survey invitations provide: the distraction/entertainment value, the sense of control/influence, the incentives, and/or the feeling of normalcy this activity provides.
You may have a really hard time gaining cooperation from healthcare professionals, first responders, and parents of children whose schools have been closed (though on the bright side, paired parent/child interviews may be easier than ever before!). But most other types of people, especially younger adults, are likely more willing than before to participate, as their out-of-home options dwindle and their Netflix queues lose their luster.
At the time of this writing, it is safe to assume that face-to-face qualitative and quantitative interviewing just about anywhere in the world poses significant risks both to the safety of researchers and participants, and to the representativeness of the results (since contact and cooperation biases may be substantial).
If you need new qualitative research – and I’m sure many of you do in this uncertain time — you should design it as an all-digital option or expect to wait weeks or even months before you can proceed. There are numerous outstanding digital tools available to replace focus groups, in-home ethnographies, and shop-alongs these days. Web IDIs and online communities, for example, are great ways to gather focused insights on your brand and its category.
If you need to work with people who are not already digitally enabled, consider making your incentive to participants a free mobile device (with included data). If you need to work with elderly people who will not be comfortable with these tools, consider either not doing it (they are likely very scared right now) or consider recruiting caregivers to conduct paired interviews.
If you need new qual or quant research that really requires an in-person element, and the need is not urgent, it is wise to develop the guide or survey and get ready to launch as soon as it’s prudent so that you have a jump-start on competitors who may be slower out of the gates.
If you have an ongoing tracker, you should almost certainly continue it so you can observe the shifts in current behaviors and beliefs related to your category and observe the impacts of your advertising decisions (to cut, invest or shift focus).
If you have an ongoing tracker with an in-person component, you should investigate whether it is possible to gradually transition to another method, in order to reduce the impacts on your trending. If no digital method is feasible, establish a process for reassessing the situation on a regular basis, while leaving yourself exit ramps to pull the plug at any juncture.
In anticipation of its expansion across the globe, we have been adding to all our trackers some questions about the impact of COVID-19 on the respondent’s life, so that we’ll have a chance to diagnose shifts in the data, It’s too soon to report on those questions, but stay tuned. Additional custom questions in your tracker may not be helpful, since survey changes always risk the trendability of your research. If you have key questions about the impact of the virus on your category, which the existing tracker content can’t answer, they are probably important enough to warrant custom research.
From what we have seen to date, and it is still very early to be making data-based conclusions, online surveys remain a viable option among nearly all populations in nearly all markets.
In addition, researchers should consider online anthropology studies, which examine how people interact, engage and explore their interests within the digital space. By analyzing people’s unprompted online conversations, businesses can understand how attitudes about their categories are shifting during the pandemic. Most importantly, online anthropology provides actionable insights at scale and speed (think: days or weeks, instead of months), which is absolutely critical given the speed of global events.
In the days and weeks when the public acknowledges the virus’ threat to the market, in-store or omnichannel buying behavior reflects stocking-up and panic buying more than anything else. If your goal is to learn about that type of early onset behavior in country A or state X, so you can apply the learning to geographies that will be hit next, get started now because there’s no time to lose!
But if you are trying to understand equilibrium behavior, you should probably press pause on data collection, but proceed with preparing the research, so that it is ready to launch as soon as you feel the market has reached its “new normal.”
Finally, keep in mind that global events this seismic are going to result in long-term behavior change. New habits and brand loyalties will be formed, so it is not reasonable to assume that everything will simply go back to the way it was. What you used to know about your category may soon be wrong; it’s time to start refreshing as much of that learning as you can.