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The effects of the pandemic on business continue to shake up industries. They may differ by category and demographic, but the effects are obvious to anyone thinking about the future of their business. With no precedents to draw on, brands searching for direction from backward-looking research won’t find what customers need in the past. Not only that, but what appeared to be solid strategies for dealing with this new environment just last spring likely already needs updating. The only practical approach is to figure out what’s right for YOUR business through research that reflects where the consumer is going by using up-to-date tools like trends, foresights and insights.

How to Track Your Customer’s Future

These 3 tools are essential to understanding how you can stay in sync with your customer and continue to adjust your business strategy to survive and thrive.

Trends. Trends are often misunderstood as simple, fluffy cocktail chatter. True trend analysis is not about what’s hot and what’s not. Trends are an indicator of change and a look into the mindset of the consumer. Proper trend analysis can be used to confirm hypotheses, enhance tactics or identify new strategic business opportunities. It’s what you do with the information that matters, like with these trends:

–       Mobility: Urban biking had been on the rise but surged in numbers and sales as people looked for safe mobility solutions. Cities are responding by creating ”slow streets” or “safe streets” freeing up space for bicyclers.

–       Media: Podcasts. After an initial pandemic slowdown, podcast downloads are growing again. Capitalizing on the popularity, Quake has launched a new series drawing listeners with brand name star power. 

Foresights. Foresights enrich understanding, reveal possibilities and build better strategies with powerful research and insightful thinking.

Combine cultural understanding, consumer research and market analysis for a perspective that provides a framework to tackle all kinds of potential outcomes. By taking a rigorous approach to foresights, you get a platform to explore opportunities, a way to challenge status quo thinking, a chance to educate a business unit on all aspects of the business and category, plus it results in a high level of preparation for changes in your current business, category or economy.

For examples, look at these forward-thinking companies:

–       Innovation: Nestle: Anticipating the backlash from negative press on sugar some years ago, Nestle invested in research and found a way to structure sugar differently, so products could use less without losing the sweet taste.

–       Work Life: Twitter and Facebookquicklyput the pieces of the future together as the pandemic unfolded, announcing that workers could now work from any location. Forever.

Insights: The goal of all this research and planning, of course, is insights. Insights are an analysis and interpretation of facts, research, and opinions of behaviors and attitudes used to connect with a customer in a more resonant manner to increase sales, improve a customer’s experience, or develop products for unmet needs.

Many different types of qualitative and quantitative research can be employed to divine insights that help distinguish demographic characteristics, purchasing motivations and brand perception. These brands have acted quickly on insights:

–       Fast Casual: Early in the pandemic, Panera recognized the immediate shortage in pantry items and started selling scarce staples like butter, eggs, flour and produce.

–       Hospitality: As bookings nosedived, Airbnb quickly assembled an engaging series of online events hosted by experts in an array of topics like history, cooking, photography, sports, and meditation. 

Be Ready for Anything

These research techniques can be used to continue to confirm your business strategy or evaluate new developments as the environment evolves. Closely following and carefully analyzing where consumers are going is the only way to navigate this new terrain.