COVID-19 has completely disrupted our sense of normalcy. Collectively, we’ve hung our hopes on our ability to create a “new normal” post-COVID with some semblance of life before the outbreak. But, life during this pandemic is not normal, nor will it be in the months ahead. From industries to schools and everything in between, routines have been fractured, lives altered, and jobs lost. As a market researcher working in an industry that thrives on consumer interaction, I can speak best to what I’ve seen while navigating this space and how I think the market research industry will respond to the looming uncertainties ahead.
Unemployment in early March 2020 hovered around 4%. But the numbers shot up later that month when companies started cutting jobs as the economy began screeching to a halt. Close to 10 million people filed for unemployment benefits. Those numbers have skyrocketed to over 33 million people unemployed in the United States due to the effects of this worldwide pandemic, and many more employees have taken substantial pay cuts. The uncertainty of the nation’s economy and consumers’ personal finances has, understandably, altered consumer behavior.
Shopping, dining, and travel have shifted online. We see a bump in e-commerce, online food ordering and delivery, and virtual travel experiences. For market researchers, this represents a considerable shift. Tracker studies are typically conducted to reveal the purchasing behavior of consumers so brands understand how to target them better. Due to COVID-19, however, the vast majority of trackers are canceled or on hold, and the data may be of little value post-COVID. The methodology of the survey (trackers) does not fit the current vertical that consumers use to make their purchases. For that reason, new tracker methodologies are being implemented to discover and map new purchasing behaviors.
The traditional model of advertising has also been negatively impacted. Advertisers are canceling or pulling back on campaigns, leaving gaping holes in once prominent placements. One of the most noticeable absences is in sports. The pandemic has silenced stadiums around the globe. With no live games to air, networks are looking to other forms of content to draw viewers, like ESPN’s “The Last Dance.” But networks are still struggling to monetize viewers, despite consumers sheltering in place, which has sent TV viewership soaring.
YouTube, on the other hand, and other digital streaming services have surpassed network TV in ad revenue, due in part to a pre-COVID streaming entertainment trend. COVID has just accelerated it.
Essential to survival during this time is ad measurement, which enables marketers to use digital tracking technology to help determine consumers’ exposure to digital advertising. Metrics like viewing time, video plays, impressions, reach, clicks, just to name a few, are all data points we, as researchers, use to weave together the fabric of consumer behavior. At ThinkNow, we are currently using ad measurement methodologies for streaming services, online purchasing, and travel.
It is hard to imagine life post COVID-19 because the cloud of uncertainty is blocking our view. For companies and brands, this uncertainty hinders their ability to predict where to spend their advertising dollars and optimize return. Ad measurement enables market researchers to leverage digital data points to understand how consumers make purchases now in the wake of the pandemic to inform marketing and media strategies. I foresee more ad measurement studies for the hotel, airlines, automotive and retail industries as they work to regain market share.