Jumper Cables For Your Brand? Yes, They Do Exist.
5 Things You Should Be Doing Now To Restart Your Business
by Felicia Rogers
I was recently honored to join an Insights Association Virtual Town Hall panel discussion entitled “Reopening Research.”Being part of this conversation really fueled my thinking on the activities and types of research we should all be doing now. It seems everyone is at least beginning to ponder, if not already acting on the question, “How do we restart or get back to something more normal?” This question applies in our personal lives as well as in business.
On the business side of things, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the CEO, the Director of Operations, the CMO, the VP of R&D, the Brand Manager, or the Strategy & Insights Director. Maybe you’re wearing these very shoes or maybe you’re supporting someone who does. The big question, as we all begin moving forward again, seems to be, “How do we jump-start our business?” What questions should we be asking? What actions should we be taking? What can we really expect from our customers, shoppers, or consumers?
The truth is there’s no easy answer to these questions and no one really knows what the future will look like. But the good news is there are steps we can all take toward answering these big questions. Of course, there are internal considerations like company financial stability, sourcing and distribution challenges, and staff health and safety. These are all factors in a “go forward” strategy. In addition, companies must look to their end users to obtain a clear understanding of current attitudes and needs. To address these critical issues, consumer insights are, perhaps, more important now than ever before.
As such, here are five key areas to explore with customers as we look to the “next normal” for products and services.
- Brand Health
- Shopping Behavior
- Advertising Messaging
- User Experience (UX)
There’s almost nothing more important than the overall health of your brand. If the brand itself is anemic, business will be weak, sales will slump, and profits will vanish. Brand health research is critically important throughout the lifecycle of a brand. This research can take several forms.
If you have been running a brand health tracker for any amount of time, it’s important to continue it now. It may be tempting to hit the brakes on your research program(s) for budget reasons or due to uncertainty. However, this is a critical time to monitor consumer awareness and perceptions of the brand, especially since your users may have tried different brands during the pandemic.
If you haven’t been conducting brand tracking research, that’s okay. It may or may not be the right time to start such a program. But conducting a robust point-in-time quantitative study could be important to gain an understanding of some of the same key awareness and image metrics used in traditional tracking research. In addition, getting a handle on the competitive landscape can be critical. What do consumers think of your competitors? What usage and brand substitution activity has recently happened in the category? Might these brand trade-offs “stick” in the future? Some measurement of brand health in the context of the category is critical to moving forward.
It’s no secret that retailing has been turned upside down by COVID-19. Some stores have been forced to close, at least temporarily. Others have remained open to sell essential goods. Overnight, retailers and shoppers alike faced a new reality in terms of health, safety, availability of some products, and a huge spike in ecommerce. If you are a retailer or you're selling through a retailer, this has affected your daily life and your business. So what now?
Most people seem to agree life will not go back to what it was before the pandemic hit. This means shoppers will be mindful of the potential dangers lurking on shopping carts, in crowded store aisles, and even on packaging. The interactions between store associates and shoppers can also be risky and may be seen that way for quite some time.
What will consumers expect from the in-store experience going forward? How about curbside pickup? We need to be very carefully exploring shoppers’ attitudes and expectations. This means qualitative research is important. Deep conversations should take place to uncover shoppers’ fears and expectations, including those they may not even recognize or be able to articulate. Good qualitative moderators can use techniques to bring these issues to the surface – almost like a therapist does. Once we have a handle on the issues, both big and small, work can be done to address them to reassure shoppers they will find what they need, will be able to do so conveniently, and will be kept safe in the process.
Think for a moment about how ads have changed over the past few months. Advertisers who were swift to react quickly started addressing the pandemic and its impact head-on. In fact, this became so commonplace that I recently heard someone comment that all advertising sounds the same; you can’t attribute a brand to an ad right now. Brands find themselves asking what to say and how to say it. Again, everything changed overnight, so virtually all advertisers need to be tapping into proven copy testing systems to ensure their media dollars are well spent. Every aspect of the creative is important: the overall strategy, the headline, the body copy, the visual imagery, and the call to action. Pretesting new campaigns with target consumers is the only way to ensure the creative has a fighting chance of driving positive results.
User Experience (UX)
UX is often thought of in digital terms. But it’s actually a broad idea that can include physical experiences in a store, interactions with a customer service associate, use of a website or app, or a host of other touchpoints. Getting all of these points of contact right is critically important. Think, for example, about one digital mechanism for a user experience: a brand’s ecommerce website or app. A good one makes the shopping and ordering process easy, even enjoyable. A bad one causes shoppers to jump ship and explore the competitor’s offer.
Here is another area where good exploratory research is extremely helpful. Website or app usability testing, done in real time with shoppers, is a powerful way to see these systems in action. What do everyday people experience as they use the technology? Is it easy to navigate? Are users able to quickly and smoothly find what they need? Or are there frustrations? Points of confusion? Barriers? Issues that may cause them to quit? All of these can be pinpointed and shared in detail with the development team to optimize the site/app and its effectiveness. In a time when a higher proportion of retail spending is likely to remain online, no retailer can afford to deliver a less-than-optimal digital experience.
Finally, as life continues to change in the coming months—possibly years—most companies will need to innovate. Whether we’re talking about products or services, packaging, store displays, customer service, or even channels of distribution, the world we are living in now is going to necessitate some differences. Lots of new ideas need to be developed and vetted for high-level interest. Then they’ll need to be fleshed out more fully and tested for potential success in the marketplace. Proven procedures exist for developing and testing new ideas, such as Decision Analyst’s Imaginators® and our concept testing research systems. These types of resources will be invaluable as companies seek to not just address the immediate needs of consumers but also to remain fresh and relevant as time goes on.
So as you ask yourself or are being asked how do we get ourselves pointed toward success given all the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, these are some key areas where you can leverage consumer insights as if they were jumper cables. Plug into a good research partner whose engine is revving, turn the key, and start pumping the gas. Pretty soon the energy will start flowing and you’ll start generating answers to all the important “what now?” questions.
About the Author
Felicia Rogers (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an Executive Vice President at Decision Analyst. She may be reached at 1-800-262-5974 or 1-817-640-6166.
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