Last year saw dramatic shifts in the world of consumer insights and market research. With face-to-face research such as focus groups and ethnography shut down, marketers shifted to online platforms and streaming services for many projects, and postponed others indefinitely.
Many companies shelved big, foundational initiatives they had planned for the year – such as consumer segmentation studies – for fear that their applicability would fade as soon as the pandemic lifts. Those projects were replaced by droves of agile studies as teams tried to stay on top of changing consumer needs and behaviors.
So, what can we expect this year? We reached out to insights leads at a number of our clients. They represent some of the biggest brands in packaged goods, alcoholic beverages, financial services and healthcare.
While they all agreed that there is a lot of uncertainty about the year right now, most offered a few predictions that they say will frame the insights story for 2021. Here are three predictions that they mentioned most consistently.
Prediction #1: 2021 will be about finding the signal in the noise
The pandemic accelerated the trend toward continuous engagement with consumers. Companies now – through a variety of resources – have a constant, minute-by-minute flow of data from and about their consumers via agile platforms, communities, social listening, CX monitoring and other resources. Insights teams ramped up these efforts during the pandemic to stay on top of rapidly evolving trends.
But the ability to collect mountains of data in a ceaseless flow has had an unfortunate side effect. It makes it more difficult to find transformational insights. While data collection has become immediate and constant, meaningful, deep analysis has not kept pace. Companies may have a constant stream of data. But that doesn’t mean a constant stream of insights that matter to the business.
As a result, insights teams in 2021 will turn their attention to analysis. They’ll still need information quickly. But they’ll need to know what really matters. They’ll need better ways to find the signal in the noise.
Dashboards and analysis software can only take you so far. It takes trained strategists and storytellers to find what really matters and convey it to internal stakeholders in ways that impact the business and inspire action. The pressure will be on insights leads and their vendors to work smarter, delivering to their internal stakeholders the information that matters most when they need it.
Prediction #2: They’re gonna need us even more
What’s the new normal? No one knows. So, the importance of consumer insights will be ratcheted up in 2021. The pressure will be on insights teams to stay on top of the changing world and participate in decision-making. That’s good news for insights teams, especially in organizations that hadn’t fully embraced insights yet. Internal stakeholders will be less able to wave off new research and claim “we already know that.” The world has changed. Companies can ill-afford to rely on historical data to make decisions.
But there’s one drawback. Teams won’t get more time to do this. The need for agile insights will be just as strong this year as it was last, maybe even more so. Companies will need to move fast and if insights teams want a seat at the decision-making table, they’ll have to keep moving fast as well.
There will be an opportunity within many companies this year for insights to step up and assert its importance. And for those companies that already have an insights-driven culture, the pressure will be even greater to get it right. As companies try to find their footing in our new world, they’ll turn to insights teams for answers – and we better be right!
Prediction #3: Travel will still suck
Well, we’ve all had a year off from the grueling routine of airport-facility-hotel-airport. We learned how to connect with consumers online. This year, at some point, many of us will jump back into travel. And guess what. It’s still gonna be the same old grind. For that reason, face-to-face research won’t snap back to the pre-pandemic levels. The genie is officially out of the bottle. Insights teams have realized that online platforms offer ways to connect with consumers without the time, expense and exhaustion of travel.
We’re all for a move toward more online qualitative. In fact, we’ve been doing online qual studies for more than a decade. And the pandemic has taught many folks a lesson that we’ve been driving home for years: rich insights are possible even if you’re not there in person. Face-to-face qualitative will be increasingly relegated to projects where there’s a need for clients to have a deeply immersive experience, such as ethnography. But for many types of qualitative projects, clients will now think long and hard about whether the entire team needs to fly to Des Moines for two days, sit in a dark room and gorge themselves on M&Ms.
So, there you have it, three things to expect in 2021 based on our conversations with insights leads at some of our biggest clients. But what do you think? Let us know what you expect to happen in 2021.