Happy New Year! Taking a look back at last year, everything was going smoothly in the world of market research, until it wasn’t. COVID -19 hit us hard and those of us in Market Research were not spared. Faced with the uncertainty, we began to check in with our clients to see how they were faring as well as begin thinking about how we move forward. In the early part of the pandemic no one knew what was really going on and how long it would last and because of that we began to see, or ongoing clients slow down their amount of work they were doing, and we began to also see no new clients coming in. Some clients were reaching out to their customers and employees to see how they were doing during this time, but mostly research was put on pause. After a long, few months’ things started to settle, and our clients started to realize this was the so called new normal and they need to get back to work; we even saw an uptick in the new business as well. I spent a good portion of the end of the year researching the impact COVID -19 has had on the market research industry. Based on my experiences and background, here are my predictions for the industry in 2021.
1. Move to online research – specifically more qualitative research
Online research is not something new. We have been doing it for years; moving mail and phone surveys online — which not only reduced the time it took to complete surveys, but significantly reduced the cost per project — and then moving from traditional in person qualitative to an online qualitative environment. Prior to the pandemic, a lot, if not the majority of, qualitative research was probably done in person compared to online. Since the pandemic, the balance has shifted and now that we are in 2021, I don’t see that new shift changing anytime soon.
While we agree that there are certain times that in person research is beneficial, at KLC we believe that most qualitative can and should be done online. There are a lot of different methods you can use when conducting online qualitative research including real-time focus groups (set at a specific date and time), asynchronous focus groups (allows for participants to work on their own time), and online ethnographies. Another qualitative option is to build an MROC or a Market Research Online Community which allows you to use a variety of online qual methodologies and tools. With an online community you have the ability to have an on-demand group of people who you can tap into over and over again using a variety of online tools and methodologies.
2. Mobile – shorter, easier
With the trend moving to more online research, and participants not having to be in person, we are going to see participants wanting to participate wherever they are. Participants no longer have to set their schedule to be a specific place or time, rather people can participate from home, from their car, while they are out and about, etc. With that in mind research must be designed with a short attention span mentality. No one wants to sit for more than 5-10 minutes at a time – and they may not even want to sit! All research activities should be mobile friendly, shorter and a simple as possible – of course depending on the project.
3. Faster than ever consumer insights
More so than ever we are hearing a need for faster insights. Often when asking our clients when they need results, they tend to laugh and say yesterday! We see this trend becoming more prevalent in 2021. Companies and brands can no longer wait a month or more for research results. Besides the need to know now and make decisions now, things are constantly changing, and waiting too long will prove a lot research obsolete. Conducting large, long surveys and even in person qualitative takes too long; from setting up the project, finding the right audience for the research and fielding and reporting. So, can we speed up the access to relevant insights? Going to back to research shifting toward a qualitative focus, using an online community CAN speed up access to insights. As I mentioned earlier you have already built this on demand group who are ready to help you out. This allows you to jump right in, access your customers and view the results practically in real time. At a minimum, you are able to eliminate the upfront time of a research project.
4. More frequent touchpoints
This leads directly into reaching out more often. Since we are anticipating moving to shorter projects, there will be a need to touch base more often. Studies that used to require 30+ minutes of someone’s time may be better broken into three 10-minute activities.
Another reason for more frequent touchpoint will be because things keep changing so quickly. A lot is still uncertain. It will be important to understand how behaviors are shifting over time. You will not be able to rely on one or 2 bigger projects per year – you will need an ongoing pulse of what is happening.
5. Customer Experience is at the Center of it ALL
Now you may be thinking, you cannot reach out that often to customers – they are going to get annoyed and not want to help. We have already started to see and will continue to see – the customers want to be heard and they want to help. In recent work we have done with some clients via their online community, we are hearing over and over from members that they are looking for something to keep them distracted from their everyday lives. They want to be utilized and the appreciate being heard by companies and brands. This is really a win-win all around as companies and brands want to know who their customers are, and the customers want brands and companies to listen to what they have to say.
6. Smaller budgets, bigger asks
As mentioned earlier, a big impact from COVID -19 was the initial freeze on most budgets, especially market research. Once it was clear that COVID was not going anywhere, many began to slowly conduct research to understand how COVID was impacting their customers. Budgets were cut, but the need for information was more than ever. This year, we will continue to see smaller budgets but a greater need for insights. Some companies will look to only focus on a small number of initiatives while others will look for ways to still conquer all of their initiatives but in new ways. Some clients will work with what they have and try to leverage relationships with the vendors they already have; others will look outside of their current toolbox for a solution that allows for more to get done for less.
7. Smaller client staff, more partner opportunities
Along those same lines, many companies unfortunately had to reduce staff. Internally they are getting more asks, but those that were fortunate enough to keep their roles, cannot keep up with all that is requested. Some may be thinking with lower budget a DIY option makes more sense, but with less staff to do the work, can that really work? How will they get it all done? In 2021 the shift to more of a hybrid service level of research support will gain traction. No one wants to or is able to pay for a full-service research partner, but no one has the time to devote to a DIY option. The hybrid solution allows for the best of both worlds. Finding a partner that is willing to adjust to your needs will be important. At KLC we allow our clients to do as much or as little as they would like – and that could change per project depending on what else is going on internally for them.
I am hopeful for 2021, specifically when it comes to the online market research. While some things may look and feel different, there will always be a need to understand who your customers are and what they want. It should be an exciting year and I look forward to coming back next year for a year in review and thoughts for moving into 2022!