In 2020, asking the question about the future of anything seems fair game, really. But since our expertise happens to be market research, we felt exploring the future of market research is especially timely.
Fortunately, market research has proven to be even more valuable during these turbulent times of a world-wide COVID-19 pandemic – even though it’s meant a shift from in-person research to virtual, but there have been seismic shifts within the industry and the clients who rely on market research. Let’s explore some of them here.
Consumer insight research is more valuable than ever
In the last nine months (since the shelter-in-place restrictions have been implemented in the Bay Area, where we’re based), we’ve done numerous studies, with clients ranging from online e-commerce to real estate developers. Through the interviews, surveys, and ethnographic studies we’ve conducted, we’ve seen some massive changes in how people want to connect with brands – and with how consumers are spending money. The shift we’ve seen in the past nine months has been more dramatic than what we’ve observed in the previous five years that InterQ has been in business. Companies who think that they simply need to put masks on their actors in commercials or offer more sales, for budget-conscious-consumers, are severely missing the mark.
In conversations we’ve had from our qualitative research studies, consumers are, indeed, doing more online shopping than ever before, but how they shop, why they choose what to buy, and the type of experience they’re looking for, is far more complex than any e-commerce quantitative data suggests.
Through tailored customer insight studies, we’ve been able to identify key “ah ha’s” for our clients, and the research we’ve delivered has dramatically increased their sales and brand-affinity scores. Had our clients instead tried to do a more packaged research approach – such as relying solely on online surveys, or reading secondary research, they would have missed what their unique customers are seeking.
People’s emotions are heightened right now: There is a lot of tension in the U.S. and globally, and it’s only through customized research and qualitative methodologies that we can uncover how to best tap into what customers want.
Mixed methodologies work best, in place of in-person focus groups or usability studies
In the past, for the majority of market research studies we conducted, we relied heavily on in-person user experience research, focus groups, and ethnographic observation. Though some focus group facilities have re-opened, most studies have had to move entirely online. As human researchers, rooted in psychology training, this is a challenge: Online research doesn’t give us the opportunity to cleanly capture subtle body language movements, the dynamic of a group in a room together, or unspoken movements that people might make when doing usability studies. In lieu of this, we’ve been relying heavily on mixed-methodology research studies. For example, prior to interviewing participants in a usability study via a video platform, we’ll first have the sample use an app or record their observations on a mobile ethnography app for a week or comment on a mobile diary platform. This allows us to capture in-the-moment feedback. Mobile ethnography apps allow people to screen record on their phone (as they’re on an e-commerce website, for example), respond to questions with video, and to take screenshots for us. Over the course of a week, this gives us extremely valuable snapshots of people’s day-to-day interactions with a product and allows us to track their habits. At the conclusion of the week, we then interview the participants in an in-depth interview or focus group. This combined approach helps make up for insights that we aren’t able to glean through in-person research.
And as for the future of market research? We’re predicting that more mixed-methodology approaches are here to stay.
How will consumer behavior change, post-COVID-19?
A big question a lot of us our asking is: What’s next? After a vaccine is widely adapted, will consumers just go back to “life as it was before,” or will we see lasting changes in how people shop, prioritize, and spend their downtime? There’s no crystal ball to predict this, of course, but one thing is for certain: A lot of continued market research will need to be conducted in order to understand how people will orient themselves as they go back to their offices, do more shopping in person, send their kids back to school, and re-engage socially. Only future market research studies will truly help us understand the reverberations that opening back up will have on consumer behavior.