Jumper Cables For Your Brand? Yes, They Do Exist.
5 Things You Should Be Doing Now To Sustain Or Restart Your Business
by Felicia Rogers
In the very early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was honored to join an Insights Association Virtual Town Hall panel discussion entitled, “Reopening Research.” Being part of this conversation fueled my thinking on the activities and types of research that would help get businesses moving again after the pandemic brought the world to a screeching halt.In late 2023, we find ourselves again in a very precarious economy. Recent earnings reports have been lackluster, if not disappointing. For anyone running a business or a brand, the big question is “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 this is a very tough season and we’re not receiving positive news or predictions about the foreseeable future. The good news is there are steps we can all take toward answering these big business questions. And now is the time to be diving into them.
In lean times, when brands are struggling, the temptation is to cut marketing budgets and cut research, insights, and strategic consulting activities. I would argue this is not the time to cut those activities. In fact, it’s prime time to start asking the important questions to help shape plans for the next 12 to 18 months. When times are tough, companies must look to their end users to ensure a clear understanding of current attitudes and needs. To address these critical issues, consumer insights are crucial and not something to be sacrificed.
As such, here are five key areas to explore with customers as we look toward 2024 and beyond for products and services.
- Brand Health
- Shopping Behavior
- Advertising Messaging
- User Experience
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 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 out of 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 to save money as inflation has hit households hard.
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 conducing a robust point-in-time quantitative study could be important to understand some of the same key awareness and image metrics. 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.
Retailing and shopping changed substantially with the onset of the pandemic and many of those new habits, practices, and policies have stayed around. Ecommerce is more important. Curbside pickup is here to stay. Some elements of the in-store experience have been updated in the past few years as technology has advanced (frictionless shopping for example – walk in/walk out without interacting with a sales associate or a POS system).
What do consumers like and dislike about the changes they’ve experienced? How could we improve shopper experience while improving efficiencies? There are many important questions to ask, and we need to continuously explore shoppers’ attitudes and expectations. This means qualitative research is important. Deep conversations should take place to uncover shoppers’ concerns 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. 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 able to afford the things they need.
Think for a moment about how ads changed quickly at the start of the pandemic. So many addressed the “new normal” and the concerns that they all started to sound alike. In trying times, we often work to create timely messages to address consumer needs, like acknowledging hardships or promoting value pricing strategies. These could be great strategies, but exactly how do we execute them to win? When there are multiple messages that could resonate but we’re not certain which one is best, it’s wise to tap into a proven copy testing system to ensure medial 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.
As I heard a speaker point out at a conference just last week, the insights from experimentation are in the development of hypotheses. These come from robust research, not from A/B testing. Finding the answers to “why?” is often very important in message development.
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. With a large proportion of retail spending happening online, no retailer can afford to deliver a less-than-optimal online experience.
Finally, as the world continues to change and go through roller-coaster-like economic cycles, most companies need to innovate. Whether we’re talking about products or services, packaging, store displays, customer service, or even channels of distribution, different ways of going to market will always be necessary. 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 consumer needs in the here and now, but 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 over the next year and beyond, these are some key areas where you can leverage consumer insights like jumper cables. Plug into a good research partner whose engine is revving, press the start button, and get the engine going. Pretty soon the energy will start flowing and you’ll start generating answers to all the important “what now?” questions.
Note: This blog was updated in November 2023 following its initial publishing in June 2020.
About the Author
Felicia Rogers (email@example.com) 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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