Dealing with disrupted insights

How can marketers keep up with changes in consumer behaviour when it changes on a daily basis due to COVID-19?

Brands are looking to keep communications channels open to make it through COVID-19 pandemic, but that can be easier said than done when consumer behaviour is changing on a daily basis and typical touchpoints for learning about those changes have been disrupted.

“In times of economic slowdown or recession, we know that brands that stop advertising and talking to their customer base always come out of an economic recession in poorer shape than those brands who keep their shared voice high,” notes Mark Tomblin, founder of Thinking Unstuck, a Toronto-based planning consultancy. He says brands need to think long-term, and not be hamstrung by the fact that traditional channels or plans have been disrupted.

“Even if you can’t get people to come to the store to take advantage of a coupon, a lot of brand activity is not about getting you to do something today, but pre-disposing you to do something at some point in the future,” he says. “If I was a brand, I’d be asking myself what I could do to put a metaphorical arm around my customers to let them know what we are doing to help them, because people still want to hear from them.”

Research companies are busily developing new methodologies to track consumer behaviour quantitively, but Tomblin says more direct routes, like data from point-of-purchase, will be especially useful, due to automation and the fact that it can be collected in near real-time – and are expected to be a more accurate reflection of day-to-day behaviour now that panic buying impulses have slowed down. He also anticipates that bigger companies will be looking to reduce structural inefficiencies and acting like a smaller company, “shortening the chain of command, reducing the number of people making decisions and just going for it” to act more nimbly in response to market conditions.

On the more qualitative side, Nicole Kealey, chief strategy officer of customer experience management company Vision Critical, recommends that businesses tune into their customer listening channels – social and otherwise – for real-time remarks regarding changes in customer sentiment and expectations. To take it one step further, a customer advisory board convened over digital channels can provide timely and useful feedback, as well as track how behaviour and sentiment changes over time.

While they don’t provide the same quantitative data as other measurement tools, Kealey says surveys and insight communities allow companies to engage directly with their constituents in a more proactive way. They can proactively seek their input and feedback on how purchasing decisions are changing in the light of our current economic and world situations, as opposed to waiting for purchase info to come in and react after the fact. They can also identify signals about when more changes might come.

“Clients that were already using these customer experience and insights tools are getting a recent and regular pulse on how their consumers are thinking and feeling, day-to-day,” Kealey explains. “For companies that aren’t doing that, it’s something that can be ramped up in days and weeks – as opposed to months and quarters.”