The evolution of market research in the ‘Age of COVID’

Crispin Beale
Senior Advisor

Market Research Society recently released it’s Fast-Forwarding Research report focused on ‘how COVID-19 has reset the customer insight function.’ The report reviews how the challenges presented by COVID-19, including isolation and budget pressures have resulted in a paradigm shift for market research and customer insight. While this has occurred on an operational level, it has also elevated the value of research within most marketing departments given the critical nature of how the actions, preferences, trends and attitudes of consumers are shifting on a regular basis.

The report reviews four critical themes for market research in the ‘Age of COVID,’ including:

  • The industry has risen to the challenge
  • Customer proximity is even more critical
  • The industry needs to be diverse and inclusive
  • Agile judgement is critical

We sat down with Crispin Beale, Senior Strategic Advisor to mTab and Board Director and Fellow with Market Research Society for his thoughts on the report findings and perspective on the recent shifts with market research.

Q: Crispin, MRS’ Fast-forwarding report reviews evolution points within market research like the increased online customer access. What do you see as the most beneficial aspect of how research has benefited from COVID’s challenges?

Beale: “I think the increasing need for immediate understanding is a major benefit that businesses are benefiting from. Dimensions that are impacting markets, and hence customers, are changing so rapidly, that understanding these shifts in real-time is critical to a brand. It’s not just speed of understanding, but also speed of action. Many teams are changing their mindset and becoming more agile with their long term strategy setting and short term decision making. There’s no real luxury to sit on data anymore since it can quickly become obsolete. So, this has largely increased the profile and value of market research in that it is now needed on an ongoing basis. However, with that speed, accuracy is also of paramount importance.”

Q: How are brands tending to address this need for speed?

Beale: “Businesses are moving to shorter planning timeframes and more immediate, real-time strategies. Also, many brands are looking for technology to do the heavy lifting to aggregate and synthesize their data in order to effectively and efficiently analyze it in real time. It can be a challenge with budget pressures, but companies are shifting investments from in-person studies and focus groups to customer insight solutions to extract insights from their increasing digital data sources. ”

Q: What data sets are businesses generally relying on now to gain understanding on their customers?

Beale: “There is an importance to data diversity to gain perspective into the varying dimensions of customers today. This spans internal and external data sets. Looking at internal data sources across the technology stack – online sites, apps, servicing platforms – provide important activity information. Customer surveys and feedback deliver on brand perception and product attitudes. However, it’s also critically important to have a view of the market and competitors, so benchmarking with third party reports and studies is also vital to understand market share and brand strength. So, the typical brand is increasing the diversity of their data in order to gain a real-time, holistic view of their customer so they can effectively engage and motivate them.”

Q: So, where do you see data-driven intelligence going from here?

Beale: “I see the importance of customer intelligence only becoming greater. I also see it expanding beyond the Marketing and Product teams. Every department – from Sales and Service to Implementation and Innovation to the C-Suite  – has to adopt a customer-centric view so they can develop and design effectively to maximize their investments, whilst aligning with the customers’ needs as they shift. Delivering this level of experience and motivation only comes with real-time data-driven understanding.”