The current unrelenting economic uncertainty means that the need for continuous insight has never been more pressing. Figures for the third quarter released at the back end of last year showed that the economy contracted by 0.3%, when many pundits were expecting growth. We are experiencing the longest economic contraction in half a century and talk is now about a W-shaped recession. So, what does this have to do with market research? The answer is – everything.
Do you know how your customers are feeling as the situation drags on and on and how it will affect their future behaviour? Do you have detailed plans concerning the development of products/services that you might need to be marketing in six to twelve months time? Instead, wouldn’t it be great if you knew where your market was going and how consumers’ thoughts were being moulded on an almost daily basis? Well, you can, but not if your insight is always gleaned from looking in the rear-view mirror by, for example, undertaking tracking surveys twice yearly as opposed to more frequently. What you have to do is immerse yourself in research on an almost daily basis, formulate numerous scenarios and adapt to the changing circumstances.
Let’s take an example. The majority of the public still view financial institutions with barely disguised hostility. What will happen if bankers’ bonuses unleash another wave of public outcry? Will advertising attempting to portray banks as friends of the consumer have any traction? Furthermore, as a well trusted brand, Tesco’s entry into market could make bigger waves than many think. There is also the danger that a new bank might appear which enshrines in its ethos a sensible and well publicised wage structure for its staff. What financial institutions need is an almost constant update of their customers’ dispositions, and, based on this, a number of alternative plans ready to action when the time comes.
The above is just an example using the financial sector. Think of your own market and there probably are pressing problems which, whilst possibly present before the recession, are now being exacerbated by it; all the time this being accompanied by an accelerating change in your customers’ mind set and behaviour. When challenges do suddenly emerge from the mist you need to have plans in place so you can react immediately. Keeping ahead of the pack is not a question of spending more market research pounds but of thinking ahead and spending them more wisely.
A technique we have found to be particularly fruitful is micro-tracking. For this we recruit a small number of client customers and talk to them every week, by ‘phone, or on-line, and explore their views on what has recently happened in the news, what their family and friends are doing/feeling, how it has affected them and what effects it might have on their future behaviour. We then run larger less detailed surveys every month to check key findings.
Micro-tracking can be supplemented by the creation of an on-line forum or notice board with access provided via a link from your website. Also, look to monitor blogs about your company and your competition, continuously, not just in response to some new marketing activity. In some instances frequently reconvened focus groups provide a rich seam of information concerning the way customers’ thoughts and behaviours are being moulded by events. These techniques can also be supported by analytics to gain even more insight, for example, by the use of ‘what if?’ models and other modelling techniques such as competitor analysis.
The key is to continuously collect and use data from a variety of sources which, when analysed together, provides pointers as to the direction in which your consumers and your market is moving. This data can then be used to formulate a number of possible scenarios each with an ascribed likelihood of occurrence. Armed with this information you will be able act immediately, not six months down the line when it might be too late.