Back to the Future with Tanya Laidlaw (Philips)

In a matter of weeks, even days, COVID-19 completely changed the way we work, shop, socialize and travel. To keep the finger on the pulse of this new pandemic reality, research and insights professionals were challenged to rethink long-standing practices and approaches. It almost feels like we all needed to take a few steps backwards in order to leap forward and navigate through these disruptive times. To understand the impact of the pandemic on the future of market research, we connected with CMI experts from around the world in a series of ‘Back to the Future’ interviews.

In this interview, Jeff Haselum, Global Client Partner at InSites Consulting US, connects with Tanya Laidlaw, Senior Consumer Insights Proposition Manager at Philips, to talk about the shifting brand and research reality.

#Brand activation to recover faster and better

Q: Will brands that invest more in advertising and brand activation recover faster or better after an economic crisis?

“I think there is a fine line for businesses between being perceived as taking advantage of the consumer – just trying to sell products – versus really trying to improve a situation, be it social injustice or a pandemic. So, companies need to ask themselves: why am I doing this, and what do I want to get out of it? Consumers are a lot smarter than they used to be, and demand proof for any action a brand promises to undertake. Thus, it’s important for companies to think through their actions, because consequences can be hard if they just say things and do not act upon them. If you’re passionate and have a reason to speak up or act against something, then it makes a lot of sense to do so. Just feeding off social injustice or a pandemic when you’re not really the solution to the problem does not make sense.

According to me, Philips is doing a good job walking this line. I don’t think we went out immediately when other companies did, because we wanted to see: how can Philips act and what can we do to really improve the situation? For us, that meant ramping up the production of ventilators in our health tech company while taking a step back in some of our personal health options.”

#Research agility is key in CX

Q: In this effort to create stronger consumer connections and experiences, do you think we need to embrace more agile research approaches?

“Now more than ever it is time for us to do quick, agile research. With what’s going on, we know that people’s thoughts, attitudes and behaviors differ from day to day. Therefore, we should get away from big 25-minute questionnaires and move towards mapping consumers’ journey at different moments in time. In these unprecedented times, it’s important to track the same people over time, to see how their logic or irrationality is changing, and how they’re adapting to the new world we live in. But tracking is not enough, we need to get to the ‘why’ questions. Once we know why people are doing what they do, we have a better chance of finding a relevant solution for them. It’s really getting back to the basics and using today’s technology to install dialogues with our consumers and drill down to why they’re doing what they’re doing.

When it comes to previous research and insights from the past, we can still use those, but there is a lot of uncertainty around the research we do right now. We do not know what will still be valid once we have a vaccine: will people adjust back to where they were before, or not? We don’t know whether this pandemic is a big shift or just a bump in the road. Nobody knows the answer. Therefore, right now, I’m not a big fan of large, strategic projects. We might go back there, but now we get a lot more out of those quick agile hits that help us in pivoting as we understand the ‘why’s’ behind consumer behavior. These insights bring us solutions or hypotheses we initially never came up with, and help us to control our budget via a structured process in which we learn, iterate, learn, iterate…

When I think about how this situation has impacted the role of research at Philips, I would say we’re asked to do more with less and get results within a few days, when we used to be okay with waiting four to six weeks for reports. On top of that, I witness a big shift now from large piles of quantitative numbers to more qualitative answers, as it’s no longer enough to know that ‘58% of people are saying x’.”

In summary, understanding the ‘why’ behind consumer behavior is vital to pivot communication and production in the right direction. To fuel these actions, agile research approaches with short turnaround times are key.

Hungry for more? Stay tuned as we will release more ‘Back to the Future’ interviews in the coming weeks! Or get in touch to find out how we can guide you to get a grip on the changes impacting categories, consumers and brands across the globe.

Back to the Future interview series

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Tom De Ruyck
Thoughtleader Future of Research
Managing Partner

Contact Tom