Back in 2019, before the world was turned upside down, Kirti Singh, CAIO at Proctor & Gamble, said that “every consumer or shopper question we ever dreamed of has been asked and answered.” Three short months later, our world came to a standstill and we began questioning everything we thought we knew about normal consumer and shopping behaviour.
All of a sudden, lockdowns made physical research next-to-impossible. Online research methodologies were called into question because of the uniqueness of the situation – how can we draw inferences in such rare circumstances? How reliable is survey data when consumer behaviour is so distorted (how much toilet paper does one household need?).
At the same time, companies had to re-examine almost every single strategy on the books. Product portfolios came under scrutiny: if we’re not selling single-serve chocolate bars at gas stations, how can we position a value pack at the grocery store instead? Which products should be marketed during a pandemic, and how? How should we adapt messaging to speak to the times and empathize with consumers’ worries and concerns?
In a nutshell, organizations are faced with a three-pronged dilemma:
Our industry-leading clients echoed all of these concerns and more in a survey sent out to insights executives in May. They cited the increased need for collaboration among teams, the need for insights to act as a key strategic partner during the crisis, and the need for a centralized hub on COVID-19 knowledge.
They also highlighted that the face of research had changed, and how difficult it had become to gather reliable insights from our customers. Looking forward, they understood the need to do more with less… because even though the hunger for relevant data has increased, the availability of new research has decreased. On top of all of that, with most teams working exclusively from home, research that was once ring-fenced for face to face presentations by the insights team needed to be communicated virtually.
Organization with market insights platforms in place have been able to make the most of reduced budgets to produce timely, impactful research for their remote workforces. At Fonterra, the global dairy cooperative that accounts for about a third of the world’s dairy trade, for example, insights teams were bombarded with over 20 pieces of insights work per day, but their COVID knowledge zone helped them pivot quickly and provide the necessary information to the business.
Says Tim Opie, GM Global Insights & Strategic Planning, “teams were able to identify the opportunity for sustainability amidst COVID – an insight that might have been lost otherwise”.
At Dyson, said Tom Fitzgerald, Senior Insight Manager, markets operating in different lockdown phases needed reliable information on the retail landscape and the impact on digital efforts. “The COVID knowledge zone on our Searchable platform quickly turned insights into stories that helped us make the right decisions in the right markets at the right time.”
Toyota compiled their COVID knowledge zone in record time, and then grew the story, and network of contributors organically. It’s allowed them to see how the crisis has created an opportunity for the firm—and how it has increased the use of insights overall.
Jon Ciarletta, Director Consumer Insights & Analytics said that “the democratization of data has also allowed members of cross-functional teams to set up robust frameworks for the next steps of this pandemic cycle.”
For a number of firms like Vodafone, Pernod Ricard, General Mills, Nomad Foods, Bayer, Proximus and Mondelez, the pandemic kicked their insights platform rollouts into high gear. Their distributed workforces meant that a virtual insights platform was the only way forward, with the technology providing a “virtual watercooler” to share the most important information. Insights teams were able to listen to the feedback from users and adapt content and workflows in an agile way.
Despite the uncertainty and upheaval, insights professionals can find a silver lining to this pandemic. As Unilever’s B.V. Pradeep said, “insights managers will be smiling as we emerge from this crisis because we are amidst the world’s largest experiment in behaviour change… the insights industry lives on and thrives on changes in consumer markets – because there are insights there.”
At the same time, we’ve observed a groundswell of support and interest in the storytelling trend that is transforming the delivery of insights from project results to synthesized insights from multiple sources in stories.
As we enter the winter and most countries go back into lockdown, organizations across the world are accepting that this cycle of public health emergencies may well be the new normal. We’re learning to grapple with remote workforces, social distancing and a brand new world of market research. Insights platforms are essential to navigate that future.