I am not telling you this as a market researcher who wants to promote his industry, but as an entrepreneur who takes a critical look at the future. Please don't misunderstand me: My aim is not to stir up fear - quite the opposite. I see my mission in directing your attention to the essentials: Your customers! Let me tell you a little story about that…
Once upon a time, long before the year 2020, there was a market where nobody wore a mask. There, suppliers and buyers went about their business and sealed it with a handshake. And Corona was just a delicious type of Mexican beer back then.
There was always a wild, colorful hustle and bustle at this market. But even this seemingly perfect, almost idyllic market, gave entrepreneurs a headache. Because, even if circumstances change, one thing always remains the same: the market is relentless when it comes to presenting new challenges to the entrepreneur.
In front of the marketplace stood a large old mill. The mill wheel had been turning since the beginning of the early 90s. It was driven by the Sierung brothers, whose first names were Globali and Digitali. The mill was known far beyond the city limits like a colorful dog. For it was said that it forged the finest innovations from the grain of ideas. People from all over the world came to admire the golden flour. The Sierung brothers sold their innovations to a baker. This baker was a true master of his craft, able to bake any bread in the most unusual shapes. So it was no surprise that every day there was a seemingly endless line in front of his bakery "Design Thinking" to get hold of one of the coveted loaves.
Until one day, one by one, the market was struck by an unknown disease. At first it was thought to be just a cold. Strangely enough, however, no medicine was able to alleviate this illness. People were at a loss and watched as the disease gradually spread. Especially the old and the sick suffered greatly from the disease. Since no antidote could be found, people had no choice but to resort to drastic measures: Distance, hygiene and breathing masks.
Suddenly it was a case of "together against the same enemy". But the enemy proved to be more persistent than expected, and general uncertainty spread. This was clearly evident in the marketplace. Where there used to be a colorful hustle and bustle, there was a desolate emptiness. Masked vendors stood behind thick Plexiglas panes, vying for the few sparse customers. And no one was standing in line in front of the "Design Thinking" bakery either. Most people sat anxiously at home, surrounded by hoarded toilet paper and stacks of pasta. The baker was facing bankruptcy. What could he possibly do? In despair, he let his gaze wander over the empty marketplace and clasped his hands over his head with a sigh.
The market has many faces. In the past, it was the steam engine that revolutionized the market and thus ushered in industrialization. Then came globalization, closely followed by the Internet, which connected us globally. Finally, digitalization took hold and changed our entire society with the buzzword social media, among other things.
However, there has always been change in the market and this will probably always be the case. That's why it's important to embrace change, to look with open eyes at what circumstances are changing, what opportunities are opening up, and above all: to listen with open ears to how external changes are influencing the wishes and needs of your customers.
For me as a market researcher, the market is a playground of opportunities and possibilities, in the center of which the customer turns on the carousel, while for entrepreneurs it is important not to get kicked off. And today, the market hides its opportunities and possibilities behind a breathing mask, and the customer is less transparent to us than ever before.
If you go out on the street, randomly intercept three passers-by and ask them how they feel, you will, almost certainly, get roughly the same answer every time: Uncertainty!
Nobody knows what will happen next.
Nobody knows how long this state will last.
Nobody knows what or when normal will ever be again.
Nobody knows what normal is at all.
Uncertainty spreads through our basic attitude and leads me to the early approaches of humanistic psychology: Maslow's pyramid of needs. According to Abraham Maslow, the goal of all human endeavors is self-actualization. It is towards this goal that we direct all our actions. In order to pursue this need, four priority needs must first be satisfied:
However, in a society whose normality has been turned upside down and whose habits and securities are threatened by a worldwide pandemic, there is not much security left. Thus, inevitably, the need for security remains unsatisfied for the time being. For some, perhaps even their physiological needs remain unsatisfied during sleepless nights for lack of security.
No matter how the realization of one's own vision may look like under these conditions, we currently try to avoid taking useless risks. Understandable, but not hopeless.
Through market research, you can put an end to uncertainty and fear with data-based certainty.
We are all uncertain - both as entrepreneurs and as customers. While market research is the solution to your uncertainty, you yourself can become the solution to your customers' uncertainty with market research.
To do this, you first need to take a look behind his breathing mask: What are the customer's wants and needs in 2020? Which consumption and purchasing habits have changed? What role does your product or service play within the customer's changed life tasks? How can you create meaning and promote security with your products? What is the purpose of your brand and is it at all relevant or acceptable to the customer? And what can you do concretely to offer your customers security in uncertain times?
If you were hoping for a concrete answer, I'm afraid I have to disappoint you. I am not a fortune teller.
And if you do not know what or how to ask your customer, then please ask me!
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.