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I’ve been really impressed with the way our company and our clients have reacted to this crisis. First and foremost, we’re taking precautions to slow the spread. We, as well as our clients, moved quickly on things like suspending travel, replacing in-person qualitative with on-line approaches, and working from home. So far this has kept our staff and our clients free of the disease and allowed us to tirelessly meet our clients’ rapidly evolving needs and deadlines.

I’ve also been impressed by the way our clients have reacted from a business standpoint. With all the scary news and panic buying, it is impressive that our clients have reacted to the crisis seriously and thoughtfully. While it might seem insensitive to talk about business issues in a crisis like this, the reality is that we need a thriving economy for the well-being of everyone.

Every recession is different and this one is perhaps the most different of all. It came on more suddenly and was driven not by economic factors like inflation, commodity prices or financial institutions collapsing. With that said, such downturns are not unprecedented. They are referred to as “event driven” recessions. Unlike normal recessions, the event driven variety tend to be short lived with fast recoveries. According to the Goldman Sachs article the stock market typically takes just 15 months to fully recover from an event driven recession as compared to over 100 months for a structural one (such as the financial crisis of 2008). It is important to understand that while it takes 15 months to get back to where the market was pre-bear market, the recovery starts much earlier than that; it might have already started.

 

SO WHAT SHOULD YOU BE DOING RIGHT NOW? 

Simply put, even as the crisis grows you need to plan for the upsurge to come. In the short term, you need to understand what consumers are thinking and when that thinking will change. Most critically, you need to understand how to connect and the tone your audience will accept from you so you don’t alienate them. Longer term you need to understand how this recession will change behavior. We do so many discrete choice conjoint studies that I tend to think in terms of “features”…so what product and service features will change forever due to behavioral changes? For example, more on-line usage is a no-brainer given the success of this extensive national experiment in remote working.

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feature-prioritization-in-the-officeOn a day when I am packing up my office to work from home as a measure to combat the spread of Covid-19, I am faced with a dilemma that we frequently see in research – the need to differentiate the must-haves from the nice-to-haves. We have no idea how long our work-from-home mandate will last, so I’m planning for the long haul.

Technically, I could take home all of my personal possessions, but it’s a lot. I do not work light. My work office is more crammed with stuff than my home office is: an array of plants, pictures, mementos, décor and awards. Colored highlighters, pens and markers. None are mission-critical to my job, so they’ll stay behind (with the exception of one plant that I can’t bear to part with).

But then I have to make the decision as to which work-related items I must bring with me and which ones will enhance my work-from-home experience but aren’t absolutely required. Do I need my pencil sharpener? Note pads? Date book? Spare mouse? Speakers? What about my folders? All of them? Which ones?

I only have so much room in my vehicle, and only so many trips to the parking lot that I’m willing to make. So I need to determine the nature of each of these items and then decide: if it’s critical it goes in the “take” pile.  If it’s nice to have, then I need to weigh it (literally) against the other nice-to-have items and take some and leave the rest.

In feature prioritization research, we ask participants to tell us what features they would like to see in a product, whether that’s a consumer good, a service, an app, or another type of product. The problem with just asking it that way is that the sky’s the limit – there’s no space issue, no concern for how many trips they have to make to the parking lot. So we place limiters on the exercise, such as having each item add cost, or telling them they can only have 5 features. This helps separate the critical features from the rest of the pack. But it still doesn’t tell us which are the nice-to-haves; items that could provide differentiation from what else is on the market, but aren’t considered table stakes.

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image-technology-in-qualitative-quantitative-research
 
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “picture?”  Possibly one of the most widely repeated phrases ever: “a picture is worth a thousand words.”  It’s trite, but it seems to me that the triter a statement, the truer it’s likely to be.  While we can argue the number (and it’s probably not 1,000), we can agree that a single image may communicate far more than a single word.
 
Our world relies on images to convey meaning efficiently. Think of directional street signs, public restroom doors, and Ikea instructions. As technology has matured, we have become a society educated in icons: just look at your cell phone’s home screen and you’ll see universally understood symbols that navigate to your phone, text messages, emails and countless other functional tools. That navigation would be much more difficult if it were based on words.

not-included-in-product-feature-prioritization

Many of our clients ask for our help with feature prioritization as part of the product development cycle. This typically involves using a choice-based research method, such as Max-Diff, our proprietary Bracket™ or Conjoint analysis. We ask consumers to choose which features are the most meaningful to them by pitting the features (or in the case of Conjoint, pitting products containing various combinations of these features) against each other.

In most cases we focus on the development aspect of product development, which generally means adding features or enhancing those that already exist.

But sometimes, it’s not a matter of adding to, but rather subtracting from, what’s already there.

Consider the case of today’s mobile phones. The phone part of my mobile phone is actually pretty low on the list of the features I use – e-mail, text, and Internet access are way more important to me than making or receiving calls. While phone capability is still a must-have, I wonder how long it will be before the “phone” part of “mobile phone” will no longer be table-stakes in smartphone design.

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TRC-is-GRIT-TOP-50-market-research

For the third time, we've been recognized by GRIT as one of the 50 most innovative market research firms in the world. I'm humbled by the endorsement that our clients and peers have given us. It is especially gratifying since we are smaller than most of these firms and don't have the budget that they do for promoting themselves. It got me to thinking about what it is about TRC that overcomes these disadvantages.

Obviously, I could point to innovations we've developed like Bracket™ (a better way of ranking lists of items), Smart Incentives™ (using gamification to drive respondent engagement), advances in conjoint (too long to list here) and our agile suite (rigorous quantitative economical and fast solutions). I know the amount of time we put into developing these and the value they have delivered, but what I hear from clients is that this is only part of what makes TRC special.

Clients consistently tell us that they appreciate working with senior researchers who seek to find the solutions not to a research problem, but to a business problem. When their problem demands a solution such as the ones above, they value it, but they know that our goal is not to dazzle them with the latest tools we have come up with, but rather to do so by getting them the answers they need.

For example, in the last year we have had two clients in very different industries (CPG, Healthcare) come to us with very different problems (sorry I can't share that). To solve both of them we used an old technique (Multi-Dimensional Scaling or MDS). This tool was not designed to solve the problems they had, but by breaking the problem down it was clear to us that it was the right tool to do so. In both cases this solved their business challenge and in one it allowed us to do so at a fraction of the anticipated budget.

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