Some brands are wondering if they should pull back from research during this most atypical of times. Our experience over the past few weeks suggests the exact opposite: now is the time to seek deeper connections with your consumers.
Social Distancing = Deeper Connection
With the power of video conferencing and a heightened sensitivity to the current situation, Fletcher Knight has continued to field successful online qualitative research and quali-quant research across the US, Europe and Asia through March and into April.
In these last three weeks of online consumer connects, we’ve found that consumers are more than ready to engage. In fact, social distancing is resulting in deeply meaningful discussions leading to deeper insight connection. Consumers are less accepting of the status quo, and more open than ever to new ideas. They have a heightened awareness of trade-offs and compromises and are more interested in collaborating to resolve them. Many consumers are very open to taking a moment away from absorbing the immediate COVID-19 impact and to engage with brands that want to be a part of their ever-changing journey. Brands that want to show up, listen and find solutions even in tough times are being hailed as good partners to engage with.
A note of caution, however – achieving deep engagement virtually is not as simple as just “going online”. We’ve been crafting our digital research methodology for several years – built out of frustration with the online research our clients were then experiencing. We’ve honed our capabilities, tooling from the ground up, using a dual online moderating technique with two skilled moderators resulting in more fluid conversation and deeper observation. This allows us to unpack fresh perspectives with strategic stimulus timed out to provoke new, deeper insights.
Insights Born Of Disruption
Over the past few weeks, our on-screen consumer connections have shown why staying close (virtually, of course) to consumers is so important right now. Here are a few reasons why it can give your brand an advantage:
- Emotional Realness – With COVID-19 upending everyday lives and rote, mindless routines, consumers are more vividly aware of what they do, what they feel, and what they value. They’re able to be more forthright and honest than they are when life is on auto-pilot. This unusual time has stripped free the shiny veneer often shown to the outside world. Greater emotional authenticity can give brands an opportunity to deeply “know” consumers and connect, now and going forward, in a way that is real and true. From a recent health and wellness group we heard: “I’ve had time to really think about what is most important to me right now. It’s clear to me more than ever why I have to take care of myself if I want to take care of my family. Of course I knew that before, but it takes these times for you to act.”
- Brand-Right Empathy – Getting your messaging right has never been more important – or more challenging. Crafting empathetic brand content with real-time consumer input can help your brand navigate nuances and strike the right tone – but demonstrating brand empathy doesn’t mean every brand should be communicating with the same nurturing voice. Brands, like people, play different emotional roles in consumers’ lives, even during stressful times like these. Lysol, for example, can be a trusted authority on keeping the borders of our homes protected – helping consumers “find the facts, not the myths” about COVID-19. Whereas, Peloton can become a physical and emotional booster – offering people fitness (and connection) safely at-home. Brands need to identify the emotional role they can uniquely play – their empathetic identifier in the consumer’s mind – and let that drive their messaging. In some recent wellness groups, consumers acknowledged that self-distancing was challenging their fitness and waistlines. They were open to some straight-talking coaching to help them understand and rethink their behaviors.
- Digital Disruptions – Sheltering in place is forcing consumers to try out new behaviors, learn new skills and potentially form new offline and digital habits that may endure post-pandemic. Consumers of all ages are learning to embrace digital more than ever – and alter how they engage with digital brand ecosystems. Telemedicine, for example, is getting a significant boost out of necessity – for people and for pets. Netflix is setting up digital ‘parties’ for friends to enjoy a movie together, even when they cannot be physically connected. To get ahead of this digital marketing disruption, brands should be mapping consumer journeys based on experiences now, during the pandemic, to understand points where the journey might irrevocably shift going forward, so the brand can still have a role within the journey when the “future normal” takes hold.
Now is not the time for brands to lose contact.
While some brands may be hesitant to conduct research during such an unusual and atypical time, the fact is that your consumer is eager to engage with you. Many will do that via social media – and there’s a tremendous amount to be learned there. But we believe there’s much to be gained through direct, skillfully moderated online conversations with consumers.
Whether it’s through qualitative online research, quantitative tracking or, preferably, both, we believe the brands that stay fully attuned to the evolving reality will be at an advantage versus their competition when we all arrive at the far side of the curve – so we can all emerge from our separations even stronger and more connected than before.