Insights in the Time of Coronavirus: 5 Strategies For Insights Professionals & Their Stakeholders

Insights in the time of coronavirus: 5 Strategies For Insights Professionals & Their Stakeholders

By Grail Insights | March 24, 2020

In light of the COVID-19 threat, “business as usual” has vanished, as we adjust to a new “usual” every day. Companies around the world find themselves reprioritizing in response to business impacts that were unheard of just weeks ago.

At Grail Insights, we recognize that this is bigger than business. Like so many, our conversations with clients and colleagues have shifted to concerns over parents, friends and relatives in vulnerable circumstances, managing work from home, childcare.

We are all now a part of something much bigger, an unprecedented collective venture whose success will rely entirely upon acknowledgment of our most basic responsibilities to each other.

Part of that success will be to respond rapidly and appropriately as a community of insights professionals. As a community, we are in a position to keep informed decision-making very much alive, and to provide flexibility and ingenuity to meet our clients’ business concerns in these most unusual of times.

Situations are changing daily and industries are impacted in varying ways. But here are some common themes, based on the counsel we’ve provided to clients and the actions we’ve taken in recent weeks.

#1 Press pause on some projects; look for a flexible approach for others

As research partners, we need to be both frank and resourceful. Many clients are concerned about how to continue supporting their stakeholders, whether high-level initiatives should be expedited or paused in such a volatile environment. The environment for conducting research has changed, but the underlying dynamics haven’t: stakeholders are still looking to their Insights teams for answers.

On a purely practical level, that means canceling those groups in Cleveland, Hamburg, or wherever. At Grail, we’ve moved upcoming in-person projects to a digital qualitative methodology, of which there are many. Every method has benefits and limitations--whether online focus groups and interviews, message boards, online communities, web-based ethnography and social listening techniques--but that broad tool chest can address most insights needs.

Insights leaders should be looking at altering both scope and approach. Are there adjustments that might yield at least some answers now? We suggest that clients and their research partners look at whether a methodology adjustment could drive a “some answers now, some later” scenario.

But . . . if that’s just not feasible, hit the pause button.

In some cases, we see a risk in making decisions based on data gathered in a time of extreme uncertainty. In these cases it is best to suspend the research. If you need to pause a study, keep a close eye on the fluidity of the situation so you can advise your stakeholders on the right time to start again.

#2 Look at how COVID-19 is affecting purchase lifecycles

A key factor in knowing when to hit the brakes and when to keep going is how the current environment impacts your customers’ purchase lifecycle. While it may seem as if the entire economy is grinding to a halt, that’s not uniformly the case--and different sectors find their consumers in a very different place. There are a number of industries for which the current crisis actually accelerates the purchase journey--and sends it into a perpetual loop.

Take, for example, the wealth management industry. As we saw in the 2008 financial crisis, a financial shock does not simply move investors out of the purchase journey. Rather, when investors are watching the markets every day (if not every hour), they are actually locked into a perpetual purchase journey. Every day an investor maintains the positions in their portfolio, they are actually making a decision not to sell. Every time they sell out of a position, they’re making a conscious decision regarding what to buy (even if it’s cash, in the form of a money market). Wealth managers need insights to help define how investor goals are changing, which asset classes are falling out of favor, how information needs are different than they were in a normal market.

#3 Watch for changes in how consumers buy

Demand for some consumer goods remains steady, if not increasing. But, unlike prior economic shocks, coronavirus is changing how we buy. While some elements of your insights agenda can be paused during the crisis, an understanding of channel dynamics may suddenly become essential.

For manufacturers, where and how are consumers sourcing your products now? Your channel strategy may need a swift adaptation. And acting now to meet the needs of consumers could have lasting benefits for your business. The nature of this particular crisis has vast implications for numerous businesses, where we may see major shifts across brick-and-mortar, one-time e-commerce and web subscription services. Some of these shifts may be largely temporary (e.g., Tesco’s need to hire 20,000 employees as Britons shift into sheltering at home) while other categories may make permanent gains (e.g., meal subscription services like Blue Apron).

#4 Keep an eye on brand sentiment and move to rapid response monitoring of markets and consumers

At Grail we are already working with clients who are in quick response mode. We are helping them with market monitoring and tracking to stay on the pulse of consumer sentiment. Perceptions and behaviors are changing daily and your stakeholders may need quick bytes of information to monitor a fast-moving situation.

When we get to the other side of this crisis -- and we will -- some brands will emerge as compassionate and innovative leaders. Others will be exposed as uncaring and inept. Knowing how your customers are feeling and responding to corporate actions ought to be part of your plan. How your brand rises to this challenge could shape perceptions for decades.

#5 Keep your organizations informed through secondary sources

Your stakeholders are uncertain. Maybe even a bit scared. Reliable and up-to-date information can help us feel in control. As Insights professionals it is our responsibility to provide timely market, competitive, and cultural data from secondary sources that can help stakeholders gain visibility on the evolving market landscape.

A daily dose of reliable, quick-turn secondary insights can go a long way to reduce stakeholder anxiety and keep your organizations empowered. Although we are recommending delaying or reconfiguring some primary projects, we’re seeing a lot of value coming from rapid secondary market analyses and competitor and category scans.

What next? Let data light the way forward

As Grail priorities go, helping our clients adapt to the needs of the hour is second only to keeping ourselves and our communities safe. We hope these observations provide some modest reassurance that it is possible, indeed critical, for business leaders to continue making timely, data-driven decisions in a time when business is anything but usual.

We know from past recessions that consumers tend to reward themselves as they emerge from periods of austerity. The key is to prepare for that moment: what’s the right product configuration, the right promotion, the right messaging strategy to grab a disproportionate share of the renaissance?

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