Research is never conducted in isolation. Respondents have lives, families and distractions, both positive and negative. We intervene and ask them to participate so there is always context for their responses.
In normal circumstances, clients always wonder how external factors impact responses. Are certain countries more behaviorally inclined to emotional responses? Does the day of the week in which a survey is launched impact results?
Does a survey deployed during the Christmas holidays get a worse or better response rate: people are busy with their family so they might not be responsive or people are looking for things to do to get away from family, so we might actually fill a study more quickly.
Obviously, the current circumstances are unprecedented in terms of the negative impact on global consumers. So, we need to be sober and thoughtful about how we approach any demographic for research. But now more than ever, we will need to understand consumer sentiment and the drivers of behavior . . . if for nothing else but to guide brands in communicating sensitively to influence consumer choices.
Many stakeholders are asking us for evidence that we can validate the reliability of research being conducted during this pandemic. Brands need confidence that methods deployed during this time will still yield reliable decision support as they plan to access and interpret consumer insights that shape their strategies and help them to adapt.
To serve as trusted advisers, researchers and their suppliers have expertise enabling efficacious scrutiny and technique for detecting anomalies in data being collected. Brands need pragmatic guidance and assurances from reliable partners regarding methodologies and timing of projects, even if that means recommending delays or alternatives to doing new research. Brands collaborating with trusted research partners must practice sensitivity to the way we are collectively approaching respondents for research being planned or being conducted during this unique time.
We have four questions that we are being asked most frequently by clients at this moment:
1. How can we be sure that alternative online methodologies are as reliable as the in-person metrics we typically rely upon
The best option for brands considering online alternatives to face to face research is to partner with suppliers who are conducting rigorous side-by-side evaluation of methodologies, past studies and sharing the results. This really should be typical best practice and part of ongoing validation of innovations and new services under any circumstances, but certainly relevant now.
That presupposes that you are working with suppliers with expertise in both in-person and online methodologies. This way there is real data to rely on and their evaluations are not skewed to any, even well intended, self-interest.
At PRS IN VIVO, we have always incorporated validation steps to evaluate the differences between any new services and our core methodologies to ensure quality and reliability. An example are the results we have compiled on our legacy eye-tracking methodologies deployed during in-person studies versus online tools like EyeFlow.
The point is a trusted advisor will know and be able to articulate the differences, because they have bona fide validation methods, and they will be transparent about the pros and cons.
2. Are there categories that are being more negatively impacted by the crisis? Are respondents’ answers reliable or predictive considering the crisis?
For purposes of these questions, we will limit our answers to product and shopper experience, which is our area of core expertise.
The reality is that we are using all the techniques we use under any circumstance to ensure data quality in our results. In collaboration with our panel providers, we monitor patterns, response rates and times. We look for things that would reveal suspect respondent behavior and we evaluate verbatims while looking for anomalies or indicators of departure from what we have seen in more normal cycles.
It also helps if you are dealing with agencies with deep global experience, so the analysis is based on experience with cultural norms. Our recruitment specialists, as always, are monitoring response rates and with few exceptions we are seeing remarkable stability in online studies.
As the pandemic has moved from acute to the beginnings of return to normalcy in China, we have been able to monitor how online shopper behavior has been evolving and compare that to behavior in the US. And as things return to a new sense of normalcy and supplies in grocery (both online and brick and mortar) stabilize, we will continue to evaluate the categories based on data being collected across all studies to detect any variables that brands should be aware of.
3. What are some research alternatives we could consider until things settle down and the circumstances resolve?
Wherever there is data that can be mined without querying new respondents, insights can be accessed that aren’t impacted by influences on consumer sentiment as a result of the COVID-19 virus. There are numerous agencies with highly creative and innovative tools for uncovering insights using data analytics without asking a single question.
There are two solutions PRS IN VIVO is lucky to be able to provide clients:
- We deploy AI mining of our extensive pack and shelf database, coupled with internal expert evaluation, to predict effective new packaging solutions
- Passive tracking of shopper web behavior pre-purchase enables us to understand the online shopper path-to-purchase.
These won’t answer all brand questions. But correlation with results from other research approaches provides one more way we can help brands during this critical time. And the best agency partners will even tell you when it is time to do nothing, and help you plan for more opportune times to make research dollars work harder.
4. How can behavioral science help us understand the Drivers of Influence at work in consumer activity during this time?
It is our profound conviction that the absolute best medicine in this time of challenge is a strong behavioral framework to help make sense of how brands can relate empathetically to consumer concerns. Our Drivers of Influence identify the behavioral heuristics we see impacting virtually all activity and no more so than now.
- “Scarcity” or “Loss Aversion” has had a huge impact on shopper behavior, perhaps irrationally as in the hoarding of products like toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
- “Fairness” has emerged as a brand attribute and “Reciprocity” may lead to brand loyalty in the future for companies likely to be remembered for altruistic activities considering the crisis. Brands like Diageo and the perfume manufacturer, LVMH, have converted some of their manufacturing processes to make hand sanitizer.
- Interestingly enough, “Saliency” or the recognition of “brands used most often” is likely to be less of a factor when a favorite brand is unavailable. A substitute emerging brand may build a new following based on the positive consumer “Emotion” of a need met in challenging times.
The point is that brands will need agencies with deep expertise and a validated behavioral framework for any research to make sense of consumer choice that can be the foundation to marketing and product strategies when the crisis is over.
There will undoubtedly be challenging times ahead, but our pledge to you is to practice empathy, rigor and collaboration. We will keep learning, sharing and banding together to do the rights things: for our clients, for the consumers you serve, for our employees and the world in which we are all citizens.
If we can help, please reach out, even if it is just to explore the factors impacting your brand. We are here for you now, and in what we hope will be a better future.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like any further information on the data mentioned in this article or the Drivers of Influence.
Alex Hunt is the CEO of PRS IN VIVO, a BVA Group company, which provides behaviorally driven consultancy in shopper and product experience. Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexHunt84 and Instagram @AlexHunt71214.