Listening to Consumers in This Season of Uncertainty

Listening to Consumers in This Season of Uncertainty

By now, every one of us is dealing with the harsh reality of the global health crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. This much is clear, a season of uncertainty has begun. Amid the turmoil and stress of serious health concerns, social distancing, and economic upheaval, Americans across the country are finding the need to create new means of connection and community with one another. At the same time, businesses are also dealing with unprecedented challenges.

One of the many questions marketers are asking themselves is whether to continue moving forward with their customer research initiatives or consider pausing them. Marketing research should always aim to instill a sense of confidence in participants’ minds that the company conducting it has consumers’ best interests at heart. While marketing research may not be the most urgent priority at the moment, communicating with customers through this crisis via research is still recommended for a host of reasons. Most importantly, consumers appear to still be interested in participating. Judging by the responses we’ve seen most recently, consumers continue to willingly share their thoughts, opinions, and time. Until that willingness to take part changes, we encourage marketers to stay the course with their current and most pressing research initiatives. That said, there are certain target audiences for whom it will be appropriate to halt research efforts.

Times of Crisis Can Bring Out the Best in Us

This isn’t business as usual. It’s business as it should always aspire to be. People dealing with crisis and uncertainty look for a sense of normalcy wherever they can find it. By continuing to reach out, communicating with your customers, and seeking their feedback, you’re letting them know you haven’t stopped working to improve their experiences and helping solve some of the problems of daily life.

That doesn’t mean that all marketing research during COVID-19 should move ahead unchecked. Here are a few types of research offering the greatest value to customers and marketers alike at this time.

  • Tracking Studies: Tracking research, by definition, requires continuity to keep its value and purpose. Continuing to track metrics like key brand and ad awareness, perceptions, product and/or service usage behaviors, or attitudes and beliefs during this time will help you gauge both the temporary and potential long-term impact the crisis will have on consumers. While there may be significant shifts in responses based on the current situation, this data can serve as a benchmark for future comparison to assess the longer-term impacts on your brand. More importantly, it may reveal urgent concerns or issues needing immediate attention, that you might not otherwise become aware of. For some organizations, now may be the time to add a temporary module dealing with consumers’ needs and experiences about the impact of the pandemic.
  • Online Qualitative Studies: Before rushing to postpone upcoming qualitative research projects, it’s well worth considering all available online options to capture rich, in-depth feedback, whether among individuals or groups. Early indicators suggest that consumers are willing to take time to interact online, engaging in conversations about their experiences with the brands, products, and services they know and use. While nominal, the opportunity to earn an incentive for their time and participation is likely to be even more appreciated than usual.
  • Point-in-Time Feedback: The need to gather timely feedback on potential new services or urgent communication messaging may be particularly valuable at this time. For instance, consumers are deeply concerned about their financial well-being during this period. Banks and credit unions may find value in getting quick feedback to vet potential initiatives such as temporarily waiving fees, options to help with mortgage hardship, or needs for assistance with setting up online or mobile banking access. When considering whether to conduct a new study at this time, marketers need to be pragmatic in their approach to collecting consumer feedback by acting with the utmost empathy for all involved.

Preparing for a Brighter Future

Marketers, by nature, are experts at thinking critically and running through parallel scenarios. You are always looking to understand and deliver what your customers need most, not just today, but into tomorrow. Leaning into your ability to quickly pivot as situations and circumstances change will be key to navigating the challenges marketers currently face. This season of uncertainty will eventually pass. By continuing to reach out, listen to your customers, and act swiftly to meet their needs, together we will not only make it through this unprecedented crisis, we will emerge smarter, stronger, and have forged deeper customer relationships as a result.