The Role of Market Research in Times of Uncertainty, Crisis and Change
After being in the market research industry for nearly 30 years, I’ve been involved with research and insights through several recessions and other types of crises. When there’s uncertainty, there’s confusion. There’s also a lot of curiosity.
For marketers, it’s easy to be unsure of what to do in an uncertain environment. There is a tendency to pause or cancel projects and initiatives—which is understandable. In terms of market research, there’s sensitivity about not wanting to bother people and concerns about resources (both cash and time). And, because it’s an unusual time, there are questions about whether gathering insights today will be useful later.
But there are compelling reasons for marketers to conduct research during crises and times of uncertainty. There also are guidelines to consider as you think about whether it makes sense to collect these insights.
Leverage Your Understanding of How Customer Mindsets Have Shifted
Uncertain times often are characterized as being highly dynamic. Your customers’ needs, priorities, concerns and perceptions all may have changed dramatically from just a few months ago—or even in the past few weeks.
You may find yourself in a new reality in which you need to refine your messaging because the foundation upon which you based that messaging has shifted considerably. You may have built content, marketing messages and brand positioning based on certain emotional end benefits.
For example, in the past year, your customers may have been motivated to purchase because of their desire for convenience, their position as an authority or some other emotional underpinning. But today, anxiety is high and other emotional drivers are affecting your customers and potential customers.
Conducting research empowers you to understand your audience, support them and even strengthen their own industry position. And this leads to the second issue to consider.
Become a More Proactive Marketer
By getting insights today, you improve your ability to prepare—both your company and you as a marketer—for the next major change. If you know how your customers react to change, what’s on their minds and how their behaviors and attitudes have shifted, it can make you a more proactive marketer in the future.
Global swings, major industry changes, new regulations, new competitors: All of these require you to get insights to reduce risk, both now and in the future when other changes occur.
You also can deliver massive value to your customers by sharing research findings. By communicating your learnings with your audience, you give your customers greater confidence in their decision making along with powerful information on how they can navigate their own businesses.
Navigate the Opportunities
Uncertainty can breed an incredibly sharp turnaround in messages people need to hear and product and services they want. Companies that have survived uncertain times often do best when they pivot.
Getting answers and insights from your target audience can support your need to pivot when your customers are facing this situation, too. But pivoting can be challenging and overwhelming, making the need for insights especially critical. To support a successful pivot, here are some insights you need to collect:
- Customer demographics: The demographics of a new target audience may look different from your current customers. Consider variables such as age, income, company revenue, presence of children and job titles.
- Major concerns: Get a sense of the degree to which your customers are thinking about various issues, but also try to identify primary concerns. This can help you focus on how to best position your products to meet their needs.
- Your products: If you’re pivoting, the needs of potential customers may require you to provide something very different. By collecting that information, you can see how you can continue meeting your current customers’ needs while exploring new opportunities.
- Customer journey: Research the buying triggers of a new audience and how they may differ from the triggers and customer journey of your current target market. A new target market may have very different milestones than our current audience, and new customers may have a very different sales cycle.
- Value proposition: What do you need to offer so your products resonate with customers’ needs? This is when it’s critical to not focus as much on product features, but the benefits they provide. This can vary dramatically between current and potential customers.
- Media they consume: Which social media channels do they use? What sources of information do they consume? How can you change your marketing to fit these channels?
- Your competitors: Do you now have different market competitors? How do they advertise? What vocabulary do they use? What’s their tone?
- Behaviors, Attitudes and Perceptions: Are your prospective customers aware of your company? How do they perceive you and your competitors? Which competitive vulnerabilities can you capitalize on? How often do they purchase products in your category?
Needed Intelligence to Move Forward
How you can capitalize on the current situation is an uncomfortable thought. But, at the end of the day, businesses need to find ways to move forward and evolve. Understanding how your market is thinking and feeling provide actionable information to ensure the livelihood of your company.
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