Marketing research: much of it meaningless after Covid-19

One of the innumerable victims of collateral damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic is market research.

From minor studies undertaken by individual companies to major tracking questionnaires compiled over many years by leading research companies, results in so many fields will have become volatile at best and more often (I suspect) utterly unhelpful. All those expensive sets of time series data … they’ll still be there, but offering interesting insights into a world that has, for the time being at least, been turned upside down. Old data will be as outdated as the idea of sitting in packed meeting rooms to discuss the latest stats. and graphs.

Usage and Attitude reports, so critical to decision-making in the vast majority of FMCG markets may continue, unless clients see them as broken rudders. Like a ship which suddenly hits the mother of all Atlantic storms, U&A trendlines will be tossed around in wild abandon, signifying nothing that can be particularly useful to marketing planners in their quest to make rational decisions about their brands. Piecing together the inter-relationship of variables such as sales, pricing, promos, awareness, attitudes and competitive advertising expenditure is a pre-requisite in the business of marketing planning.

The typical High Street wasn’t exactly going through a boom time before lockdowns denuded it of nearly all its visitors. Competition for shelf space had never been fiercer as brand managers fought ever harder for their places on supermarket buyers’ planograms. But as the growing trend to online shopping became an overnight, sudden panic to get away from bricks-and-mortar outlets, deciding on next steps needed to be based on day-to-day decision-making, mostly reactive rather than sticking to a longer-term strategy.

And no doubt that’s how it will be in marketing’s new normal, as it struggles with socially-distanced focus groups, Zoom meetings and samples which have to take account of sometimes frightened, sometimes highly-opinionated population profiles.

Research is going to have to be much more fleet-footed, sensitive to unforeseen shocks and ready for unprecedented events. Marketing planning isn’t very good at unprecedented. There are interesting times ahead.

 

 

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