5 Takeaways for Researching in a Contactless World

Jul 20, 2020

As the Coronavirus has shaken the world the last 4 months, market researchers have been forced to adapt to a contactless world at a moment’s notice. GutCheck CEO Matt Warta recently moderated a discussion where insights leaders from Verizon Wireless, New York Life, and Hormel shared their experiences, challenges, achievements, and perspectives for adapting their research during the pandemic. Here are five key learnings from that conversation to help you and your team both now and as you look ahead to the future.

1) Agility is essential in crisis and beyond.

Taking an agile approach means much more than just being fast. At GutCheck, we define agile as the ability to iterate, re-assess, and adapt quickly and intelligently based on continuously evolving information. A few key fundamentals of agile market research include:

  • Research designs based on iterative audience feedback vs. one phase of research that is waterfall in nature.
  • Adaptive planning based on consumer and stakeholder feedback during short cycles – such as two weeks – as opposed to following a rigid plan and time-boxed approach.
  • Focus on a working deliverable instead of a static, overly-engineered deliverable.

With our current reality changing by the day, adopting an agile approach not only prepares you to adapt to scenarios out of your control, but it also helps you be better positioned for continuous improvement and growth.

2) Missing out on in-person research isn’t a deal-breaker—it’s an opportunity.

Some could look at the pandemic and see the inability to safely conduct in-person research as a major downside. In Devin Harold’s case at Verizon Wireless, the loss of in-person research labs created many sudden hurdles, but also many new opportunities. Instead of connecting with respondents face-to-face in a controlled environment, the shift to telecommunication has given his team the chance to take a true look into their consumers’ living environments and the ways they use products in their own home.

Moving to a completely virtual setting has brought new research technologies and new ways of gathering data to the forefront. For Heather Vossler, Director of Insights & Innovation at Hormel, this change forced her and her team to expand their research toolkit and allowed them to explore additional capabilities in some of the online tools they were already using. In Heather’s case, social listening was an area she tapped into more than ever before to gather data quickly and effectively.

Another way to conduct qualitative research when you can’t actually meet with respondents is to run an online focus group. This option enables you to quickly recruit participants no matter where they are in the world and gather actionable insights much more quickly and at a fraction of the cost of an in-person focus group.

3) Your consumers are people first.

As we attempt to analyze our consumers during these times, it’s important to remember they’re real people with real problems. Issues around employment status, economic outlook, education for their children, and the threat of COVID-19 are some of the harsh realities that have taken precedence in their lives.

Charitie Dantis-Gayo, the Market Research & Insights Corporate Vice President at New York Life, stresses the importance of focusing on the core of human behavior and understanding current feelings of her consumers. Instead of drilling down into specific purchase behavior, it’s imperative that we take a holistic view of consumers to understand how they’re dealing with these challenging times, how their everyday lives are changing, and the state of their mental health. To provide real-time updates in this area, GutCheck launched an ongoing Consumer Mindset Index that seeks to understand behaviors and mindsets of American adults, far beyond just their role as consumers and buyers.

Here are some of the findings from our most recent wave of research:

  • 43% of respondents say their top concern is jobs and the economy, while 30% of respondents say their top concern is health and healthcare.
  • 23% of respondents anticipate that life will return to normal in 2020 (a decrease of 15 percentage points from our previous wave of research).
  • 60% of respondents say we are likely to have periods of widespread unemployment or depression in the next 5 years (up 6 percentage points from our previous wave of research).

4) It’s critical during this time to use audience insights to drive strategy within your organization.

With consumer behaviors and attitudes changing by the day, there is a great opportunity for insights to play a lead role in driving strategic planning and decision-making within organizations. Charitie, Heather, and Devin all explained the steps they’ve taken within their organizations and shared tips on how insights teams at other companies can follow suit:

  • Charitie (New York Life) first amassed a large amount of quantitative data on current consumer behavior, ensuring that each region of the country was accounted for. Her next step was to boil down and syndicate that continuous flow of data into a custom COVID-tracker specific to New York Life’s business. By developing this tracker and demonstrating that her team has a constant pulse on their consumers, she has been able to have a bigger seat at the table within her organization and provide valuable insights to cross-functional partners.
  • Heather (Hormel) and her Insights & Innovation team formed a cross-functional unit within her organization featuring other departments – like Data & Analytics – to conduct daily meetings around shifting consumer behaviors. Those daily meetings then turned into weekly roundups in an effort to deliver timely insights to other stakeholders within Hormel. The biggest piece of feedback Heather and her team received was that there was too much data coming in and there was a need to prioritize the information that was most important and influential. In response, she formed a real-time library that her organization could access that contained key insights and trends, customer search data, and an ongoing forecast of where things could be shifting to next.
  • Devin (Verizon Wireless) captured first party data in the form of consumer pulse checks. His team partnered with other company stakeholders to better understand customer concerns and behaviors to make necessary changes to improve their products and services. Devin also pointed out the need to address consumer behavior in the near-term while not losing focus on what might lie ahead moving into the second half of the 2020 and into 2021.

5) We’ve moved to a new normal.

If we could only focus on one key takeaway from this discussion, the most important one would be that you need to continue your research and stay connected with your consumers during this time, no matter how challenging that may seem. Waiting for the dust to settle is simply not an option given the changes that will continue to unfold this year and beyond. Now is a great time to leverage the power of agile research to tap into your consumers’ attitudes and behaviors and prepare yourself to navigate all the twists and turns our world has in store.

To help you with your plans as we start the second half of the year, we made a guide on how best to conduct research in a time of disruption. If you have any additional questions or research needs, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our research experts—we’re here to help!

Written By

Cameron Snyder

Cameron Snyder

Demand Generation Manager

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