When the COVID-19 pandemic really started to hit home in Australia, the role of conducting research for brands was questioned.
Nature’s point of view from the outset was that no blanket rule should apply: the category, topic and type of research all must be considered when determining whether research could or should proceed.
But there was one area of research that we proposed was as essential – and possibly even more essential – with the outbreak of COVID-19: brand health or sentiment tracking programs.
As we move into the second calendar month in lockdown, we now have evidence to support this.
A review of the data collected across more than 10 of our large-scale tracking programs, covering FMCG, retail, financial services, education and online services, is fascinating due to the remarkable consistency of March trends across each as the pandemic ramped up.
This consistency across categories relates to a nuanced mix of trends across measures, which demonstrates the validity of brand tracking during these uncertain times, and points to the fact that tracking should now be more important to brands than ever before.
The reason for this:
- In just a short time, we have seen respondents’ demographic and attitudinal profiles shift drastically, Specifically, employment status, income, perceived busyness and optimism have all taken a sharp downturn across all of our trackers.
- Claimed store visitation and category repertoires have decreased sharply in categories affected by regulation, on a scale we have not witnessed before. As with the above, the consistency of this trend across our trackers, and its alignment to what we are all seeing when we step outside at the moment, provides comfort that data accuracy remains high.
- Most interesting of all, though, is that despite the significant movements on the above data points, brand engagement and sentiment metrics remain (for the most part) remarkably stable. The consistency on these measures provides a more stable view of how consumers are viewing brands, despite the flux in their claimed behaviour.
The final point is critical in demonstrating the importance of tracking programs into the near future. Unlike big data metrics, which will be influenced by government regulation and economic changes, brand tracking programs can provide brand owners with a more stable and realistic view of how consumers are feeling about them. This means that insights from these programs will better be able to guide brands through the next few months, and even more importantly, set them up for success in the post COVID-19 world.
Amidst the consistency in brand engagement/sentiment metrics outlined above, we have observed some interesting shifts for specific brands on brand perception and advocacy metrics. Interestingly, these shifts have mostly been positive shifts for the relevant brands. Some examples include enhanced trust for industry super funds and improved advocacy for stores/sites with good UX in place. Essentially, this is consolidation of advantages held prior to the pandemic, in areas that now matter more to consumers.
Importantly, the above suggests that brands can continue to engage with consumers during this time and have an (increasingly) important role to play for organisations. Consumers have new and evolving needs, which present opportunities, and those brands that listen can get ahead for the next phase.
What all of the above highlights is one thing: there is no substitute to speaking to consumers about your brand – now more than ever.
Author: Paddy Cain, Partner