Why Learning from Customers Shouldn’t Go On Hold

Some of our clients—both category leaders as well as emerging brands—are asking us if it makes sense to continue insights work is in this current environment. It’s a natural question to ask, and the answers are different depending on your category and your strategic plans.

When the future seems uncertain, one of the best things you can do for your business is to keep connected with your customers as they face the evolving landscape, adjust their perceptions and needs, and modify their behaviors to meet their own challenges. Your brand’s role may be changing in their lives, and it’s critical to know how your “job to be done” can be emphasized or adjusted to best meet their changing needs.

When the future seems uncertain, one of the best things you can do for your business is to keep connected with your customers as they face this evolving landscape, adjust their perceptions and needs, and modify their behaviors to meet their own challenges. Your brand’s role may be changing in their lives.”

We saw during the financial crises of 2008-2009 that companies that put a hold on learning paid a steep price later for relying on desk research and ceasing to keep a pulse on the market. They were caught off guard by changing dynamics in how people approached both categories and brands.

It’s likely that some impacts will be temporary, for sure. But it’s equally likely that some will reshape the way customers think and act in the long term. With that in mind, we have outlined 10 points that reflect what we’ve shared with our clients about the value of learning during this period:

1. If you have a tracking program, build in modular questions that get at the heart of how this situation is impacting your category.

2. Consider this a chance to balance the long-view needs of your business with information that your brand leaders can act on now to address short-term challenges.

3. Continue to explore broader category questions while also integrating questions about how decisions, behaviors, and attitudes may be shifting in the near term.

4. Use this opportunity to get a glimpse into the future of decision-making and purchasing behavior that may be changing for the longer term.

5. Realize that if behaviors are evolving, this is a good time to capture before and after information, while people can still reflect on what they were doing prior to this situation. In a few weeks’ time their memories will wane and be less reliable.

6. Put mechanisms in place to ensure that you can adequately understand the changes that are taking place in the market now, allowing you to build the right action plans for later.

7. Keep a personal connection by conducting qualitative online (i.e., IDI webcams). Many customers will likely want to engage and share thoughts at a time like this.

8. Capture some benchmark information now on key metrics and behaviors, so you can set yourself up for assessing things down the road to see what has stuck and what has evolved further (or shifted back).

9. While examining the new ideas in your pipeline may not be ideal now, it can be useful to see what sort of benefits and needs your customers are prioritizing in the near term. This can provide guidance for messaging, outreach, and even development for the future.

10. Review how your brand’s purpose currently resonates with your consumers/prospects. Now, more than ever, it’s critical for brands to be good corporate citizens.

There’s no question that the merit of these thoughts should be weighed against the unique situation facing each category and brand. We hope that in sharing these we’ve provided you with some foundational ideas around which to have those conversations about what’s right for your business. If you’re interested in exploring these further, please contact us.