Since the onset of COVID-19, our team has been committed to helping brands pivot, strategize, and innovate during a year where nothing was guaranteed. As we head towards 2021 — another year of uncertainty, no doubt — our goal hasn’t changed. We love partnering with brands to help them not only get by, but thrive and grow. To that end, we’ve recently released a number of eBooks and reports with strategic recommendations from our experts on how to best prepare for next year. Here, we’ve culled the top tips insights teams need to know heading into 2021. Read on to get a leg up on the competition.
Takeaway #1: Make sure your brand Isn’t caught off guard again.
COVID-19 has created entirely new ways to categorize consumers into groups. Take fear, for instance. The different levels of fear shoppers feel around the pandemic will dictate their shopping habits and preferences, what their customer journeys look like, the messaging they’ll respond to — you get the idea. Or geography: the differences between markets have always mattered, of course, but they have the power to create entirely disparate experiences now. Someone who lives in New York City is facing very different shopping and public health environments than someone living in the suburban Midwest.
What to do: Do your research earlier — so that you have it when you need it. This time last year, nobody was actively preparing for a pandemic. But once brands were forced to invent new ways of doing business on the fly, the need for deep customer insights quickly became clear. We’re not saying you need to anticipate every crisis, but you do have to understand the detailed characteristics and drivers of your various customer groups. That’s how you’ll be able to meet their needs even in a volatile situation. Of course, that’s only useful advice for the next catastrophe. If you’re still struggling now, don’t wait to conduct the necessary research to understand your customer groups in the context of our current moment.
Takeaway #2: Deeply understanding your employees is more important than ever before.
Our research found that 76% of Americans respect essential healthcare workers more than they used to, and 75% report respecting essential retail workers more than they used to. Clearly, consumers have recognized the sacrifices these people have made during an incredibly
difficult time, and will be more likely to buy from brands that go the extra mile in protecting their employees. All of which points to the fact that what it means to manage a brand has changed: the job now involves thinking about how to properly protect employees.
What to do: Dimensionalize your workforce. In the same way you need to deeply understand your different customer groups, so too must you understand the varying needs and drivers of different employee groups. Conduct internal research to understand the daily experience of workers across geographies. If your goal in the future is to keep your employees safe from the minute they step out their front door, for example, you’ll need to understand which employees use public transportation and which don’t, which must use elevators and which don’t have to, etc. Again, you’ll see major differences between employees in New York and those in the Midwest. And that’s an easy example — the more you know, the more you’ll be able to provide the kinds of tailored protections that actually keep people safe (and in turn earn brand loyalty).
Takeaway #3: Listening to (and analyzing) real customer conversations is essential.
2021 will be a year filled with uncertainty, and understanding consumer attitudes and behaviors will become more difficult to read and anticipate. Brands will need to drive consistency and depth in customer listening, analyzing unprompted online conversations about topics ranging from the pandemic to social justice issues to understand how different kinds of uncertainty are impacting people’s behaviors.
What to do: 1. Listen to real conversations, not social media activity. Keep it real. 2. Avoid focusing exclusively on your brand. This should be an exercise in understanding people, not tracking brand health. 3. Go light on technology. This is the time for humanity, not technology.
Takeaway #4: Seamless integration of digital and traditional qualitative research is essential.
Next year, we can expect to see the continued prominence of digital solutions — but in combination with more traditional face-to-face techniques. The hope is that this will lead to cohesive, carefully considered research plans that maximize the advantages of each strategy (and not an unplanned jumble).This approach will make the insight generation process more agile and more iterative, which should allow for deeper and more seamless integration with other essential marketing processes (naming, branding, UX development, etc.).
What to do: Be open-minded, be adventurous, and work with market research firms that look at issues holistically and focus on business issues (and not just capabilities).
Takeaway #5: Be ready to throw away your old assumptions — and innovate your insights strategy.
In all likelihood, in 2021 we’ll see a continued push for agile/speedy methods and sprints, greater integration of multiple data sources, and the growth of “smart qual.” And given the many COVID-based category disruptions there have been, there will also likely be a need (and hunger) for broader “future of” studies. All that means that brands need to evolve and adjust fast. Those who want to be category leaders need to take bold risks and innovate to an extreme degree.
What to do: Start by throwing away your old assumptions. See consumers’ new COVID-influenced, digital lifestyles as an opportunity for your brand, rather than a challenge. Look for inspiration outside your category. Study changing consumer behaviors. Redefine what experiences are/can be. Don’t think small.
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