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Conducting Research in Times of Uncertainty

Alex Palermo, Vice President

As I write this, we are in the midst of a national emergency and a global crisis. Societal shifts that would have seemed unfathomable a few weeks ago are now the new norm. It’s no longer a question of whether this pandemic will have a lasting impact but for how long and what kind of impact it will have. It’s as if we’ve all been asked to pause and hit the reset button on our daily lives, only to hope to find some semblance of normalcy when this is all said and done.

This is not the first time C+R has gone through tough times. In fact, we are celebrating our 60th anniversary this year – which means we have survived multiple recessions (including the Great Recession in 2008) as well as the days and weeks following 9/11. Our business has changed a lot since then – from paper and pencil to online and mobile methodologies – and it continues to evolve. But what has not changed is our unwavering commitment to you – our clients. We are here for you in times of uncertainty. It is our promise to provide you with guidance, thought-leadership and even companionship – from a social distance, of course!

Here are a few of the recurring questions we have been receiving from you, and the responses we have been offering so far (keeping in mind our perspectives may shift as the situation evolves). We thank you for reading, and we appreciate your partnership as we navigate our new normal together.

Q: When will we be able to conduct in-person qualitative research? Should I be planning any in-person research right now? 

A: As of early March, we have suspended all in-person qualitative research and are switching existing projects over to digital methods (such as digital ethnos or digital shop-alongs). In some cases, we are postponing the previously scheduled in-person research until later in the year.  At this point, it is unknown when in-person research will be able to resume. 
  
Overall, most of our in-person methodologies can be switched to an online alternative while still addressing the original objectives. Our “live” (in-person) qualitative team is versed in our online methodologies and approaches and takes into consideration the project objectives and topics being addressed for each study to determine if it’s appropriate to still field the study during this time, or make tweaks to the topics/questions and the best methodologies to use that are already in our toolbox. Whether you’ve worked with C+R for traditional qual or using our online methodologies, everyone on our qual team is versed in online methodologies. So, you can certainly reach out to the analyst team you’re accustomed to working with to discuss options.
 
Q: Should we be conducting any market research at all during this pandemic?  Are people in the right frame of mind to be responding to research right now?   

A: Similar to pandemics that have happened in the past, we find ourselves in a stressful time. and unprecedented times.  We realize that although the COVID-19 pandemic impacts us all, it impacts each industry and market research project differently.    
  
Not unlike our historical commitment to conduct custom research, we are taking great care to work with our clients on a case-by-case basis to determine whether now is the appropriate time to field primary market research.  
  
In many cases, we are confident that previously planned research can continue, but we’re also very conscious of how results could be impacted for each research project, and we work with our clients to advise honestly, and adjust appropriately. 
  
In addition, we are conducting our own “research on research” to ensure we are being mindful of any impacts of COVID-19 on the quality of our data, as well as the current mindset of our respondents.  In fact, we conducted a live consumer panel last week to help our client understand how consumers are feelings during this time. We have another planned this week.

So, the answer to this question is “it depends.” The reality is things may never go back to “normal,” and even if now doesn’t seem like quite the right time to be conducting research, it may very well be an important time in history to capture consumer sentiment. Regardless, we will work with you and guide you through these decisions thoughtfully, making sure the research can still live on within your organization.
 
Q: If I do conduct research, how will my response rates be impacted?  
  
A: Through our “research on research” efforts, we are monitoring our response rates post-pandemic to compare back to studies that fielded prior to March 2020.    
  
In many cases, we expect response rates to increase given that many non-essential businesses are closed, and employees are at home and seeking a distraction.  Again, this will differ by type of respondent as well as by industry. As of now, our sample partners are reporting a 10% uptick in click rates on online surveys. We have yet to see a measurable impact in completion rates since not everyone who wants to take a survey will qualify.
  
Q: How will my results be impacted?  
  
The impact of COVID-19 on consumer behavior is likely to leave a lasting mark.  At this point, we are uncertain of the degree to which consumer behaviors and attitudes have already shifted and – more importantly – the extent to which those shifts are permanent.    
  
We’ve created a task force of individuals at C+R who are dedicated to understanding the impact COVID-19 will have on our industry. We are recommending adding COVID-19 attitudinal and behavioral questions to all surveys to help measure the impact on an ongoing basis. Our goal is to keep a finger on the pulse of the situation and to help you and your team determine how best to respond to the rapidly changing consumer climate.
  
We realize this is a fluid situation.  We plan on continually reassessing the impact of COVID-19 on our market research projects and on consumer behavior in general.  We will be keeping you updated through periodic emails, blog posts, webinars and information found on our website.  

In summary, if this blog post did not answer your specific question, give us a call or shoot us an email. We are open for business as always, and we are here for you during good and challenging times.
 

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