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Harnessing consumer and market insights post-pandemic


  • The power of consumer behaviour
  • Should brands continue to be nimble and flexible?
  • Innovation meeting known customer needs

At the Festival of Marketing earlier this month attendees were challenged to think about how the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to affect marketing strategies moving forwards. Everyone will agree that the pandemic has taught us things about ourselves and what we value most which we had never taken the time to pause and reflect on before. This is true for the general population the world over and we cannot underestimate the power of these feelings and change in consumer behaviour as a result.

One session that I attended was aptly titled: “Is it possible to future-proof your marketing strategy?” with speakers from Lenovo, Boots and Habito. While a lot of the commentary was not dissimilar to what I had been reading and hearing over the last 15 months, it was another thing to hear, first hand, Peter Markey, CMO at Boots, tell us that Boots’ online and app sales are up over 100% as a direct result of the pandemic. Indeed a June 2021 report from Ofcom found that British consumers spent a total of £113bn online throughout 2020, a rise of 48% on the year before.

Why is this important? While Boots’ uplift in online sales is remarkable, it lost out on in-store sales as shoppers were buying most of their purchases in supermarkets during the various lockdowns. What will be interesting to follow is how Boots harnesses and leverages these insights and data as we continue to move out of pandemic life. Will Boots continue to expand capacity and invest in its online business and catch up with online beauty rivals like Superdrug and Asos? Watch this space…

Key to the above figure is the nimbleness and flexibility that Boots has tried to adopt over the past year. We’ve all said this: we could not have prepared for what COVID-19 has thrown at us, even now, no matter how much we plan and prepare there is no way to know for certain how to navigate the future. But brands need to be flexible, adaptable and listen to customers – not just in times of COVID but #IRL too. In order to do this, brands should consider what flexibility they can build into their plans from the get go. Clearly some channels would be harder to move at the last minute than others if required – i.e., TV – but having a degree of flexibility will empower marketing teams to jump at opportunities and also address challenges in a more agile way.

There was also a lot of chatter about innovation meeting known customer needs. We pride ourselves on the techniques we use to understand our clients and their specific audiences. From our bespoke measurement framework, CC Insight, which analyses the impact of our activities through audience awareness, affinity (understanding) and action, to the bespoke personas that we have created to better understand motivations, levers, frustrations and influences, depending on demographics. These tools inform our marketing strategies and activities, whether in a pandemic or not, but understanding changing customer and audience motivations and levers over the past year has been so important for us and our clients.

While I’m all for – and can see the value in – platforms which provide real time insights, such as social listening tools, I’m not quite on board with one comment which came from the Festival that these new tools and methodologies are more insightful than traditional tools – for example focus groups. Focus groups allow for rich discussions to take place between participants, stimulating ideas and also allowing for flexibility in questions. Of course, some participants may be more reserved in focus groups and therefore will convey what they say they do, as opposed to what they actually do (which the data gathered by real time insight tools would show). However, the value of this qualitative research is unmatched in quantitative research. Even in lockdown we continued to run focus groups when needed, holding them virtually to draw out valuable insights from target audiences. I argue that there is room for traditional and new methodologies to work together to better understand customers’ needs and therefore drive innovation.

So, my final takeaway? Brands need to continue to be light-footed in their approach as they have been over the past 15 months; ready to tackle challenges thrown at them and able to adjust strategies in line with changing consumer and market insights to respond to opportunities and move into adjacent spaces for innovation.

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