Just before Christmas, the "crisis edition" of Herbert's World! Although: Actually, Herbert wants nothing more than to cheer you up, motivate you and direct your attention to the essentials. Remember: Things are only as bad as you tell yourself they are!
Have fun reading, whether right here on this page or on the portal of our dear colleagues at marktforschung.de (in German)!
Crises upon crises - Rien ne va plus or now more than ever?
2022 is drawing to a close. Thank God, you might say! Because what a year it was! There were, no, there are more crises than would fit into a quartet game. And each crisis format has its very own joker with which it can outdo its competitors: Virus trumps health, war trumps state order, inflation trumps consumption, China trumps supply chains, political extremism trumps democracy. And the climate ... yes, the climate trumps EVERYTHING, of course!
The only thing missing is the landing of UFOs with a bunch of aliens. That would at least be something new.
But back to the earthly issues: What does such an inscrutable, inconceivably complex mix do to a society? What happens not only in the minds of citizens, but also in the minds of corporate decision-makers? And what if things actually get even worse? Is general fatalism then the order of the day in business and thus "management by hope"?
Here is a truism: companies love security, orientation, foresight. These are all needs that do not weaken in times of crisis like these, but become much stronger. Because head in the sand - no one can afford that. As market researchers, we are therefore more in demand than ever to keep our perspective in the chaos of the crisis and still enable our corporate clients to make the right strategic decisions. Or to use a nice metaphor: Especially in stormy seas, market research is more than ever like the compass on the bridge. Therefore: Market research trumps uncertainty! We are a protective shield and advisor at the same time. Ahoy!
But wait. Can we even do that at the moment? What if even WE lose sight of the horizon because of all the sea spray? Yes, I love maritime metaphors! But seriously, are we sure that market and opinion research will still deliver serious and valid results in such volatile and unpredictable times? Or, to put it another way: might our clients not even believe that, in the event of renewed calamities, the shelf life of our results is like that of an open carton of milk in the summer heat? And quite honestly, nobody really needs clumps in their milk!
Complexity and multidimensionality? Yes, with pleasure! I don't want to scare anyone here, but a little self-reflection never hurts. Anyway, I respond to my own question with my own healthy self-confidence - as follows: Of course, these are challenging times. But hasn't market research already mastered quite different crises? Complexity, multidimensionality and opacity - only then we feel completely in our element! And as the saying goes, "If it were easy, anyone could do it". Exactly!
With traditional as well as digital methods, our industry has all the necessary working tools and, above all, a wealth of experience to analyse target groups, track down developments, recognise patterns and translate them into strategic recommendations for decision-makers, even in chaotic times.
Business as usual is not appropriate. Nevertheless, these are not times like any other. On the contrary, we too have to meet the current challenges with special efforts. What is most important now? To get even closer to the test persons, to model the personas even more precisely, to price in possible future or crisis scenarios even more precisely and, last but not least, to hold our clients more accountable than before to go through the entire process together with us.
We are all familiar with the mechanisms and parameters of how people form their opinions, judgements or thinking, and these are basically also valid in times of crisis. But now the context is even more important. Because this exerts a considerable influence on people's behaviour, depending on how they are individually affected by the crisis scenarios.
Anticipating different realities. Of course, it has always been the case that our research findings can only be meaningfully interpreted by taking into account possible scenarios. Now, however, the potential diversity of future realities is particularly great. No one can even halfway predict what will happen next. Where will inflation, energy shortages or supply chain disruptions go? What about the shortage of skilled workers, the national debt or the political-social polarisation? The fears of war, the acute climate problems or the threatening imbalance of various (big) corporations are added to this. Consequently, it is more important than ever to think and act in a sea of possibilities!
What else can we do to remain the reliable and trustworthy anchor of our clients' decision-making? Here are a few measures that turn the screws on our work routines:
Investing in (even) more quality. Always a good and proper approach are our standards for good market research: the critical review of representativeness, objectivity, validity and reliability - as well as the constructive check of all established process steps of our work. In other words. Putting the finger on the pulse of the right personas even more precisely and adjusting our own sensors even more finely and flexibly - all in the spirit of Customer Centricity. None of these are revolutionary measures, but even a little effort can lead to noticeable improvements that can be particularly valuable in sensitive times.
Strengthening results through a mix of methods. It takes a lot more effort, but it certainly strengthens the results if quantitatively collected data are checked and sharpened - or even falsified - by additional qualitative methods. At this point, market research always reminds me - again metaphorically speaking - of "painting by numbers": In case a quantitative survey is not sufficient, i.e. the result does not go beyond a colourless structured "picture", qualitative methods give us the missing information to colourfully paint the different sections of the motif and thus still complete it.
Intensify cooperation with clients. Market research does not end with simply handing over the results to the client. At least it shouldn't. Especially in crisis-dynamic times, it protects the value of the insights from decay if we market researchers stay on board during the implementation phase as well as the subsequent evaluation phase. This also gives us the chance to learn for the client's next project, so that we can then advise them even more effectively.
Hubris is out, humility is in. It would be rather arrogant to claim that today's world situation has no relevant influence on the results of our studies. Of course it does. It is important to say this honestly and clearly to our clients with the necessary humility. But it is not just a saying when we state: the more difficult and unpredictable the economic environment, the more valuable any guidance we can develop with our data becomes.
Once again, it is important that we look even more closely in the future. To the needs of our clients, to the personalities of the test persons and to our own quality as a market research institute. If we communicate closely and at eye level with all participants throughout the project, then the collaboration will also bear fruit productively in this crazy world, enabling the companies to make the urgently needed directional decisions.
And the aliens? What if they actually appear on the scene? My suggestion: Don't wait too long, but get right in there with the creatures in a moderated focus group! Whoever makes it to Earth will surely have solutions for this oversized bouquet of crises. But if not, I have the following closing words for you dear readers:
I wish you and your loved ones a wonderful, contemplative Advent season & a Merry Christmas. And for the New Year, everything you wish for yourself. Because everything will be fine. For sure!
Sincerely yours, Yours, Herbert Höckel
Herbert Höckel is a managing partner here at moweb research GmbH. He has been a market researcher for more than 25 years. In 2004 he founded moweb GmbH, which he is still the owner today. moweb from Düsseldorf operates internationally and is one of the first German market research institutes specializing in digital processes.