The pandemic is opening a window to a more earnest and insightful approach to marketing research. All we need to do is go beyond the mask.

COVID-19 has advanced our internet-everything culture, along with the role of online research. Daily pandemic-polls, consumer behaviour research, brand perception studies, and COVID-19 data-driven insights fill our feeds.  

Qualitative, face-to-face research is taking a hit from the pandemic. There's no room for social distancing in focus groups or one-on-one interviews. The role of a talented moderator in any scenario is their ability to read people. Interpreting body language, facial expressions, and feeling is critical to hearing what people have to say. Add a facemask to the mix, and you eliminate the ability to read the room, probe provocative questions, or get to the heart of the matter. Well-documented research by professor, Albert Mehrabian, suggests that communication is only 7% verbal and 93% non-verbal. Non-verbal language is 55% body language and 38% tone of voice. Therefore, a facemask eliminates nearly 45% of context in conversation.

Not reading people isn't only bad for your poker game; it's bad for business. Great advertising rarely lives in the black and white of quantitative survey response, but rather, in the nuance between the lines. It's the feelings and reactions people have to our ideas that motivate them to act. If we can't capture a guttural, emotional response, and rely solely on quant, we could head down a dangerous path.  

But focus groups have never really been the best qualitative answer. From moderator bias to respondent bias to the sterile overly lit rooms, responses aren't natural. In our experience at Full Punch, the most insightful marketing research never comes from a quant study, an animatic, or a focus group, but from the real world, spending time with people in natural environments and making observations about products and experiences as they intersect in their lives. As Jim Stengel says, if you want to understand how a lion hunts, don't go to the zoo. Go to the jungle. 

The pandemic is forcing us to pivot and find better ways of getting to insight. In our internet-everything culture, we realize that we can live life without stepping inside a grocery store, shopping mall, bank or boardroom. Virtual meetings, one-on-one or in a group setting, enhance the marketer's ability to dive into the world of customers and gain instant, intimate and meaningful responses. Zoom has opened the virtual door inside a customer’s home. We can sit around the virtual dinner table, have real conversations with people, and even take a tour of their garage or inside their fridge at a fraction of the cost and time. In group conversations, respondents can ask questions, follow instructions, and respond to each other through chat features. Studies have proven that people are more honest and more willing to disagree online than face-to-face. Research at Cornell University suggests that we lie twice as much in the real world than we do online, making the virtual world a perfect opportunity to explore opinions, feelings, and to gain a genuine reaction to creative ideas, free of moderator bias.   When we consider what's the best that can happen, the pandemic helps marketers get back to doing better, more insightful research.

Published by Jack Dayan
As Partner and Head of Strategy at Full Punch, Jack brings intelligence, expertise, and ingenuity to help companies define their brand values and make them shine. His strategic and creative work has been recognized and awarded around the world, and clients find his collaborative and agile approach to brand planning a welcome break from the traditional.

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