May 19, 2020

The Importance of Market Research in Times of Uncertainty

Amid the current coronavirus situation, some organizations may be tempted to implement a “wait and see” approach to marcom. However, now is not the time to cut branding or market research efforts. For healthcare organizations there is an obvious need to focus short-term priorities on the Coronavirus pandemic and its day-to-day impact on human and financial resources, operations, patient care and safety. But this is also a time for “business as unusual” and an opportunity to influence how the market sees your brand by following through on thoughtful and helpful market research.

You may be asking:

Should we be doing research now? Do we feel comfortable with the data we’ll receive from an audience in crisis? Will we achieve adequate response rates? If behaviors and attitudes are affected (which they are), what influence do they have in the research results?

While initially there were concerns about a decline in consumer response rates, as more communities move into lockdown and many people find themselves idling at home, many agencies and research firms are reporting that consumer response rates are holding steady. As expected, healthcare professionals closest to the COVID-19 crisis are very busy. Their lives are changing daily, but some researchers actually expect select physician specialist response rates to increase as patients and surgeons postpone elective and noncritical surgeries.

There is an abundance of online qualitative platforms available to gauge the perceptions of audiences. While there is a risk that consumer attitudes toward health, illness and spending habits may change during this pandemic, properly conducted research will yield genuine data on how people feel now, as well as their aspirations for the future. As long as you are aware of the current realities, the results of behavior and attitude research can help your organization position itself for success after this situation.

For example, through a Harris Poll of 1,058 U.S. adults ages 18 and older, conducted March 20-23, AB&C asked what brands need to do now in order to emerge from the current situation and regain business. We learned that nearly 40% of respondents stated that organizations need to assist those who are most impacted, 27% recommended that organizations offer discounted/lower prices, and 21% suggested that organizations employ more frequent customer touchpoints or increase company transparency (12% suggested “other recommendations” or that organizations offer new products and services). This response highlights the importance of research in directing future organizational communications.

Here are three important reminders before making any decision on a current research project:

1, 2, 3
  1. AUDIENCE–Identify your specific audience and their anticipated participation level; set your sample size smaller if appropriate.
  2. APPROACH–Consider online qualitative research or other forms of research, from telephone and digital to mail and paper, to replace in-person research.
  3. AIM–Stay true to the purpose of your research and ask questions that will help inform your communication strategies. If you want, add a question to the demographic section of your research that asks about respondents’ level of concern or impact from COVID-19 and use this as a segmentation data point.

Consumers are online with more available time now than ever. You can take advantage of this captive audience by listening, learning and measuring. While some organizations may feel compelled to shut market research down and check back when the situation abates, in times of uncertainty, it is important to stay connected with key audiences by understanding the attitudes, behaviors and perceptions of the populations you serve. As a community, nation and world, we will come out of this current crisis, and market research can help us remain true to our mission, vision and values.