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Is it unethical to do market research in a time of crisis?

Covid-19 is changing consumer behaviour. Companies need to listen to their clients, but is it ethical to continue consumer research amidst a crisis?

Is it unethical to do market research in a time of crisis?

The coronavirus pandemic, on a local or global perspective, is changing consumer behaviour. To stay relevant, companies need to listen to their current and future clients and react sensitively and quickly. But is it ethical to continue consumer research amidst a crisis?

In what has only been a few months, the COVID pandemic has changed the way we shop, how and where we work and which ways we want to pay for our purchases, just to give three examples. It seems fair to say that consumer behaviors are changing more rapidly than ever before.

This puts a lot of pressure on brands and companies. To stay relevant, they need to stay in touch with what consumers need and want. It’s not a small challenge in turbulent times, when a lot of us don’t even know what we want and need ourselves!

Be sensitive and respectful

Market research is one of the best ways to get these answers. Typically, market research is conducted via online surveys, in-person interviews or focus groups. The new, sensitive situation changes the picture and raises ethical questions.

Giving up on consumer research completely isn’t going to do any good for your business. Instead, listening to your clients will strengthen their respect and remind them that you’re always there for them, even when their needs change radically.

“Businesses still need to make decisions and they can’t make them in a vacuum”, states Pranay Jeyachandran, deputy marketing director of Incite Marketing Planning in Marketing Week’s interview.

Naturally, the safety rules and regulations need to be respected. Even in regions that allow in-person contact, this might be the time to move completely over to online surveys and virtual focus groups. In-person interviews can be replaced by video calls.

This sensitivity will not only improve your image, it will also be more cost-effective and quicker. In addition, you can get a more diverse panel together a lot more quickly than with in-person interviews, because you are not stuck with a certain location.

Listen carefully but analyse even more carefully

Listening to consumers carefully is a must, especially amidst change. However, asking the right questions and making the right conclusions is even more important.

This means that people aren’t always the best predictors of their future behaviour. Market research shouldn’t be used to ask people to describe exactly what kind of products, services or pricing they are looking for. It’s more productive to try to find out about their feelings, thoughts and needs.

A good way to get rich data is to combine several methodologies, such as diaries and interviews or online surveys and virtual focus groups.

The good news is that people are very accessible and available for consumer research. The online survey reply rates have stayed strong, and also recent big changes have made people very aware of their choices and behaviours. This acuity can result in great insight.

Innovate quickly and correct the course when needed

Big changes have brought along one more big perk: due to rapid changes, innovations flourish, and the innovation cycle has shortened dramatically in many industries. This allows for companies to try new things out more easily than before.

Consumer research data is an invaluable source of information for these innovations. Use your customers’ insight, hopes and fears to draft new solutions and services, get them out quickly and correct the course when needed.

This way market research can help you tackle an unprecedented situation and make you rise as a winner.

Photo © Artem Beliaikin / Pexels