April 21, 2020

Read time: 5min

GreenBook podcast on COVID-19: how the industry is adapting

Market Logic Team

The insights industry has shifted to working from home amidst the COVID-19 crisis. I had the chance to speak to these impacts with GreenBook Executive Editor Lenny Murphy on the weekly COVID-19 Insights Leaders Roundtable podcast, along with B.V. Pradeep, Global Vice President Consumer & Market Insight, Market Clusters at Unilever; Hunter Thurman, President at Thriveplan; and Michael Winnick, CEO at dscout. Lenny posed four key questions: what is changing in the industry, how leaders are adapting personally, how their businesses are adapting, and what the next steps are.

Forget nice to have: focus on the essentials

B.V. Pradeep shared fascinating insights into how Unilever is adapting to the shifting landscape. He noted that people need to get much sharper in terms of which answers they truly need – instead of which answers are just “nice to have.” He also noted that end-to-end digital solutions are imperative. Without them, many agencies and businesses are struggling to reliably collect and leverage their data. In that vein, having a digital platform to “know what Unilever knows” has become that much more essential. Indeed, with less fieldwork being performed, there’s more and more demand from the business for guidance from the insights team. Unilever’s end-to-end market insights platform, PeopleWorld, is helping those insights professionals make the most of what they have and leverage a massive amount of past resources (PeopleWorld is home to a $1billion research asset – one of the biggest in the world). Pradeep and I shared the view that the ability to leverage these assets on a market insights platform is enabling a professional transition from insights managers as people who generate more information to insights managers as people who make sense of the information they already own and propose hypotheses to uncover new frontiers. COVID-19 has put that transition into overdrive. We are rising to the occasion by making sense of what we already know from the past, and laying out fresh knowledge about COVID-19 to deliver curated knowledge to the business. Hunter from Thriveplan echoed the importance of merging the old with the new. Applying state-of-the-art technology, like natural language processing, augmented intelligence and computer-based insights development to fundamental insights from past research may just be the ticket to uncovering fresh developments and insights for the “new normal.”

Consumer habits are morphing

The insights professionals at Unilever are closely observing consumer behaviors and category consumption habits. Pradeep calls this time “the world’s largest experiment in terms of behavior change.” One thing Pradeep has observed is the shift towards home-based behaviors that would normally take place outside of the home. Grabbing ice cream from the freezer, rather than going to your local ice cream parlour. Learning to cook, rather than eating out. Shopping online, rather than browsing in the store. Unilever is understanding how to engage these consumers, how to communicate with them, and how to shift to “online first.” Once the initial shock period is over, Pradeep said, businesses will need to seize the opportunities and learn to do things differently. Michael from dscout agreed. Businesses like Unilever are going to be faced with questions like, what does snacking look like now? What does buying a car look like now? What does entertainment look like now? True understanding will probably take months, but remote research and repositories will enable that understanding. In the meantime and beyond, what are the fundamental insights we know to be true, and what will change? How can we leverage industry news, social listening, syndicated sources and new research to hypothesize what will be the new normal? And how can we navigate the crazy volumes of information to do this in a way that’s relevant to our jobs to be done? On end-to-end platforms like PeopleWorld, AI can seamlessly personalize news delivery and make sure that business-line relevant COVID-19 news is being integrated with research and information from other sources. Integration with collaborative workflows ensures the insights stay at the table, no matter where the remote conversations are occurring.

Optimism for the role of insights managers

Pradeep pointed out a silver lining to the COVID-19 crisis: the insights industry “lives on and thrives on changes in consumer markets… because there are insights there.” There’s potential to continue to provide guidance and fresh perspectives on what’s emerging, what’s sticking, and what’s completely changing. I, too, am optimistic that this upheaval will highlight the fundamental importance of the insights function to drive effective decisions. Working from home with a Digital Insights Workspace sets the stage for important storytelling, curatorial and sense-making skills at scale. Supporting insights managers to perform these important roles in an increasingly complex and noisy information environment is key. To listen to the whole GreenBook podcast or read the transcript, click here.