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“We’re responding to customers. We’re meeting their needs the way they want to be met.” Meeting customers’ needs. Sounds like a smart idea. And the way they, the customers, want those needs met. Sounds even smarter. At least David Guggina thinks so. The quote, above, is from Guggina, Walmart’s senior vice president for supply chain. You know, supply chain: from production to distribution to you.
From CEOs to CIOs, including a wide array of marketing pros around the world, there exists a struggle to figure out how to adapt business to the changing nature of consumer behavior. That behavior, as with the Great Recession’s financial collapse, has been altered by upheavals in consumers’ lives and livelihoods.
However, the experience of a viral pandemic has been much greater than the economic meltdown of a decade ago. (Remember, it’s called a novel virus, meaning new and never-before dealt with.) Add to this current health crisis a long-simmering challenge to the true recognition of social and racial injustice, and in order to survive, businesses will have to adapt. But how?
Consumers routinely move from status quo to what we’ll call “profectus quo,” meaning progress or growth. That’s what consumers do as circumstances change: They look for new ways to satisfy wants and needs. And business finds ways to match the changes, to adapt to the new. There is no better example in modernity than online shopping, shopping that has seen a dramatic increase during the health crisis.
Now, some would say that business leads consumers or trains them in new practices. Or, as in our example, consumer behavior evolves through the use of new technology promoted by retailers. Granted. But once consumers try something new and find it useful, they often move faster than business in going from trial to repeated use. Happens all the time.
But, here’s the problem: The common denominator of the viral pandemic, coupled with the cause of rejecting racial injustice, prods those who share in the effects of both to take action, to exhibit new behaviors that affect economic participation as well as social interaction. Malcolm Gladwell calls it a “tipping point.” Add the further connectivity of social media and the use of online transactions, and change occurs. Quickly.
One way for consumer-related business to respond quickly to these forces is to engage in timely and cost-effective research. It’s what smart marketers do. In fact, re-employing our Walmart example, the retail giant last year reorganized its leadership to combine the supply chain staffs of stores and e-commerce into one.
The result is a response to customers who want to have the online and in-store experience be uninterrupted and seamless. After all, it’s basically the same consumer who simply wants different shopping choices at the same store, whether physical or virtual.
But research during rapid shifts in consumer behaviors needs to be fast and affordable. One way to accomplish “turning on a dime” is through online focus groups, panel groups and random-sample surveys to discover research strategies for a changing marketplace. The objective is to provide information so that businesses can have the immediate tools to respond to consumers, rather than react to them. And use that response to continue building brand loyalty.
The use of convenient, confidential and cost-effective online technology for consumer research can immediately address changes in consumer behavior. Whether it’s guidance from a focus group among a select group of customers, an ongoing panel group that checks in with hundreds of the same consumers to discover trends, or a survey that measures in percentages a specific universe of consumers to quantify opinions, research can now use the same technology consumers are using day in and day out. It’s all about choice.
Reacting relies on instinct. Responding utilizes experience, awareness and knowledge to make a conscious choice.