Inc. Magazine once described a pivot as allowing businesses to “grow beyond their initial dreams by re-imagining their assets and talents, thinking more broadly about the customer problems they solve, and...seizing the new high ground.” In a time when we are being forced to change our daily routines and, in many cases, change the way we do business, it’s a good time to think further about the concept of pivoting.

This can be especially important when we look at tracker studies. Now is the time to pay close attention to what consumers and businesses are doing and thinking. We must actively seek an understanding of the forces that are driving change so we can make the best decisions. I maintain that one of the best ways to gain insights during times of change is by optimizing tracker studies.

Trackers are critical in times of change

At their foundation, tracker studies are meant to depict changes in markets and consumer groups over time, rather than an ad-hoc snapshot of a single point of time. The primary benefit of a tracking program is to add perspective to the business by measuring important metrics like brand awareness, customer satisfaction, consumer sentiment and marketing effectiveness over time. We can likely all agree, never has there been a time of greater change in each of these sorts of metrics than there is right now.

This kind of continuous feedback can help us all navigate massive change and see exactly what’s going on with our audiences. Trackers also allow businesses to identify areas of opportunity and serve as a single source of truth to better explore the business questions.

Current state of tracking research

When those of us who’ve been in the industry a long time look back on our careers, we remember tracking programs where we loaded binders with hundreds of PowerPoint slides in a mad dash to meet the pending arrival of FedEx.  A global brand tracker could take three months to field and produce a report. This timing is completely unacceptable and we no longer have the luxury of time.

Reporting on tracker studies can be looked at in light of three broad solutions.

  • Death by PowerPoint. This is the one we are all running from (or that we should be). Collecting the data, processing the data and “copying and pasting” results into PowerPoint for reporting, and using different platforms to do each step. What could go wrong?  We all know the answer because we have been doing it this way for more than 20 years. There is also a tendency to have multiple databases and no single source of truth. PowerPoint can be automated to a certain extent, but it is cumbersome and managing changes in the data is challenging.
  • Fully automated dashboards. Automating is a great solution as we face a need for faster and faster delivery, and it is already being applied effectively to some steps of the market research process. Having a fully automated dashboard solution for tracker studies is an interesting concept, but doesn’t really work well in real-life. Right now, it is next to impossible to build out a dashboard solution that answers all the business questions that come up. At best, you can get to 70% automation, but it is costly.
  • Blended solution. There are companies working on approaches to automate key findings across an entire data set. However, the reality is that we need to automate the core online reporting and dashboards (KPIs), coupled with the ability to further explore key opportunities and issues with a robust analysis and reporting tool. The key here is to have a “single source of truth” that allows for automating the mundane and enabling exploration. 

In short, many current processes are slow. We need to make the move from large and unwieldy to agile and automatic tracker studies in order to keep up.

Practical steps for evaluating your tracker program

How are the current changes affecting consumption and perception of your brand? How will these massive shifts impact key metrics in the future? These are important questions an ongoing tracker can answer. Right now, companies need to pivot their core tracker programs to identify things like:

  • Cost efficiencies: Ask yourself “how can we automate the mundane reporting and focus more time and resources on data-driven decision making?”
  • Quality improvement: Legacy programs rely on copy and paste from system to system (typically SPSS to XLS to PPT), which leads to endless human error points.  Creating a single data source, or single source of truth, that feeds your KPI dashboard and allows ad hoc analysis from one data source, is critical. 
  • Speed to insights: Forming a direct connection to data and gaining the ability to automate KPI dashboards to guide your ad hoc analysis, is key to uncovering insights quickly. An ad hoc analysis tool gives you the ability to quickly answer business questions and disseminate the story across the business, ideally by electronic means.

So, how do we pivot these mammoth trackers?

As we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, it is going to be critical to have a base understanding of the business, processes that can be automated, and tools to further investigate the data. Between your survey tools and reporting tools, most of the data processing can be automated.  With reporting tools, the load, labeling, reporting and dashboards can all be automated. Pivoting away from a disjointed multi-step process and using smart automation holds clear benefits for everyone involved.

  1. Review what you really need from your trackers. Now is your best opportunity to focus on the vital KPIs related to understanding the current change and the ongoing success of your business. All of your benchmarks will change so why not get rid of the other tracking noise that’s nice to have but not critical?
  2. Ensure you have the right combination of tools and people. The right solutions, that automate the mundane, time-consuming tasks of market research, will free people up to focus on interpreting the data that is really important. When your team is spending less time getting the data pulled together and into stories, and allowing the machines to do the heavy lifting, you can quickly uncover the insights you need. Right now, in the middle of a global crisis, fast is more important than ever before.

The struggle is real, as they say. We must find ways during the pandemic upheaval to not only find economically solid ground, but also create avenues for lasting value for our business. As we seek stability in a time of tremendous transition, tracker studies can be a lifeline. Seek expert advice that can help you pivot your programs and implement best practices so that we all come out of this crisis stronger. Let’s seize the “new high ground” and end up with the data and insights we need for future success.