Have you stopped to notice ALL that has shifted since the pandemic started?

Every profession is feeling the impact and the Insights and Marketing Research communities have experienced drastic change. Much of this impact feels challenging and difficult in the moment. However, even though a number of our colleagues have been furloughed or laid off, there is a clear and positive trend with the potential to create a significant shift in the industry.

Our industry has been grappling with a lot of change over the years, and COVID is driving us forward faster in many ways.

This article pulls from numerous conversations with friends, colleagues, and clients in the industry, as well as several industry panels and webinars. All of them have presented consistent themes about the changes that have (and continue) to take place.

Here are five (potentially) positive impacts the pandemic has had on the insights industry. They are "potential" shifts because it will be up to us as leaders within our company and industry to maintain and direct them in a post-pandemic world.

Let's start with research methods...

Have they really changed? Not entirely. Largely we’ve experienced accelerated adoption of virtual techniques. Certainly this has driven some teams to try virtual methods that they may not have otherwise used. But, we've seen other existing virtual tools and practices expand (Zoom, Telehealth, etc.) because the pandemic forced more people to change behaviors and adopt new ones.

An influx of use often leads to further enhancements, ideas, and innovation. Although this is a natural progression, we'll likely see an acceleration of new technology and methods post-pandemic. 

Primarily, though, the increased use and experimentation with virtual methods will enable better discrimination between when to use face-to-face vs. virtual methods. The industry will now have a better sense of what we miss when we’re not face-to-face and what we gain when we’re virtual only - and where we can benefit from both.

The potential: Take time to reflect with your team and clients. After completing a virtual study, what worked and what was difficult? It's worth at least 15 minutes. What did you miss from a F2F alternative? This type of reflection will help align internal teams’ variations between methods and lead to creative ideas that will bridge these gaps and enhance the experience.

Prioritization and Agility

While at first glance these may not appear to belong together, the current shifts in budgets and the criticality of each decision, has brought them closer. As with many others, insight teams are being asked to do more with less. That drives the need for prioritization, and insights is playing an integral role in determining where to invest. A part of that function includes smaller-scale iterative testing - both in terms of internal iteration AND leveraging DIY (i.e. SurveyMonkey) or rapid customer testing - before moving into broader learning investments.

The potential: Agility and iteration is a great practice. Take the lead in driving strategic learning prioritization and agility. This often requires difficult decisions and firm stances. It's hard work that's worth it.

Speed, speed, speed

Typically, when the weight of a decision increases, we're able to find time to slow down so we can fully consider and prepare. However, things within the pandemic change rapidly, and consumer/buyer sentiment can change just as fast. Executive teams and marketers need insights NOW!

We've seen a move toward faster insights over the years, and the teams that have tested solutions are glad for their preparation. Insights leaders are pushing the limits of their platforms and partners to meet the rapid demands of today.

The potential: This can certainly take a toll on everyone involved. Solid insights at a fast pace isn’t an easy (or fun) task. Right now, we need to meet the needs of the business. Eventually, it will be the role of the insights team to help internal teams know when they need to slow down, set expectations, and yet maintain the ability to move quickly when the business needs it.

Better relationships and human insights

We all have socially distanced for way longer than we wanted. But, this has brought a new type of connection into the business world. Flashback to the pre-pandemic days - in the office, rushing from meeting to meeting or call to call. We too rarely paused to get to know the other people we were meeting. Now, with everyone at home and on video, we get a glimpse into everyone's real life. This is hugely rewarding, and we all know the tangible benefits that come from having better relationships with your team.

While we're building more meaningful and connected relationships with our co-workers, we're also able to do the same with our customers/consumers from a research perspective. We get to see their lives from a different angle when we talk over video, while at their home versus at a traditional facility.

The potential: Be a champion for using tools to connect and build more meaningful human relationships with both co-workers and consumers. This is a simple step that will make you/your team better, more approachable, and influential in collaborative discussions.

Flexing our influence

Most important, we're being called on and relied upon more right now than before. Some insights teams have never had the spotlight on them this bright before. In times of uncertainty, leaders rely on data to inform their decision making. We're the experts at that. However, this is the moment to shine a light on what we've all been working a decade to achieve - turning data into action.

“Our points of view are our currency.” - Natalie Watson, Sr. Customer & Market Insight Team Lead at Chick-fil-A during recent WiRE event

The potential: Make an impact! Along with the data, all insights professionals need to be prepared to bring their point of view on what the business should do next. No matter what your role was in the project, be ready with a point of view. Be prepared with a story that is clear and defensible. This might be a natural rhythm for some, but it's not natural or easy for everyone. Leaders should coach others on how to do this, especially in the midst of the pandemic; and those who aren’t accustomed to doing this, it's time to step up boldly to provide brave and expert consulting

We would love to hear from you. What else have you experienced? What else would you recommend an Insights team do to keep the momentum once we're out of the pandemic?