The adoption of technology-driven research techniques was limited before COVID-19 and its growth was slow. Although several CEOs and chief innovation / innovation executives appeared to be passionate about a better, quicker, more comprehensive path to customer awareness, none had trust or organisational resources to make a move. Sadly, this mentality implied that these businesses were left behind. Smaller, more creative players have been entering the market, new products have been launched and their market share has increased.

The introduction of COVID-19 has questioned this innovation approach. Research work became almost extremely difficult in the form of focus groups and surveys. Companies are now forced to make changes and adopt the technology that could replace them. It has to update its view of its clients and stakeholders and it has to be achieved more constantly and agilly than ever.

Having that in mind, I find it useful to share any insights on how this should be achieved by me, my team and some of the business leaders I deal with.

The acceptance of research tech was also poor before COVID-19

Even in 2020, many world-wide large CPG companies still depend heavily on descriptive “field-based” studies. As we are already aware, such strategies are lengthy and costly and ultimately sometimes imply that businesses deliver new goods well behind the demand. Increasing competition in the industry, brought in by smaller and more specialised companies, have left bigger players with two alternatives; create the ability to understand trends pretty early OR acknowledge that acquisitions remain relevant.

Sadly, as Clayton Christensen, professor at the Harvard Business School, pointed out, creativity is quite complicated. Seeing that “about 95% of the 30,000 innovative consumer goods introduced annually fail,” what might businesses do to develop faster and more successfully?

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Luckily there are now statistical methods and strategies for them which will not only reduce time and expense for conventional analysis, but also eliminate biases and limits. The Head of Data and Methodology at Black Swan, Dave Soderberg, said that: ‘Traditional research techniques often make it possible to transform elements of subjectivity and “good feeling” into decision-making. While survey data can be transformed into stories, used to influence individuals and politics, advances in data can’t.

Thankfully, businesses are already recognising the potential of this technology all along adoption curve. Craig Slavtcheff, Executive Vice President Global Research & Development of Campbell, said, for instance, that, “The AI’s commitment in innovation is based on predictive analytics, and ideally enhancing the success rate of our customers by guiding us to the correct designs at the correct time , for the right customer.”

Social data is only one example of how businesses can generate important insights. In an interview with Yannis Dosios, Head of Emerging Business on Twitter, he said, “academic researchers are working with Twitter data for a number of years since they capture people’s genuine thought and experiences and they are a way of connecting to the world in a way conventional methods can’t.” Even so, computer technology advances have combined with a growing mass of public discussions. Scientists are no longer restricted to asking a small number of customer’s pre – set questions and now can assess the discussions of millions about a variety of consumer product lines.

Although some initial movers were successful, the total rates for implementation of these techs were low and only gradually increased. For instance, McKinsey’s digital adoption study stated that just 13% of retail firms use Machine learning and artificial intelligence as part of its product development. They put it down to a variety of problems I guess can be synthesized as the “Don’t repair it if it isn’t damaged.” A focus on doing what you’ve done before.

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COVID-19 almost primary research nearly impossible

Ability to predict consumer preferences changes has never been simple, but current social distancing and isolation patterns across the world have made it much harder, if not impossible, to try harder via conventional primary research methods. The Market Research Society (MRS) has now recommended on face-to – face market analysis on the dangers it poses to researcher and the participants.

As well recently, Michelle Gansle, Insight and Transformation at Mars Wrigley, provided the bigger drawbacks of using this kind of study throughout this period, a reasoning that has led to “a stop on all which is not in context or at the moment research.”

Given such restrictions, businesses still ask “where or how do I change direction,” “how do I react,” and in some industry sectors, “how do I stay alive?” much like a kid who loses their stabilizers and acknowledges they can ride alone, businesses that would like to keep going on innovating believe that technology today means they can. Just as communications technology enables employees to work at home effectively, exposure to real-time data and research technology enables them to track, assess and cope with evolving customer needs and desires.

Many companies who have begun to implement innovative technology may feel they have a long way to go in achieving their maximum potential.

Social media has made the world’s largest focus group, allowing businesses access to real-time discussions as to what people buy, why they buy them, and what they say about their impressions. Yannis Dosios of Twitter pointed to the fact, “these live and genuine conversational observations will help us not only recognise the physical effect of coronavirus and the degree to which it has spread, but even some of the impact of society such as changing mindsets about the balancing of work and life, remote work, health, conceptions of the face coverings, etc.”

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How companies can describe ‘digital maturity’ roadmap

So, considering that several insight teams will find these innovations fresh and overwhelming, how will the businesses move forward?

Twitter’s Yannis Dosios, aptly clarified that when it comes to leveraging social media, “a company is at its own level of digital maturity. We see a number of brands beginning by speaking to their followers first. This dialogue may be reflective of a challenge or an opportunity — through immediately speaking and jumping in, a company will help detect something worthy of attention or fix a problem.

Many companies who have begun to implement innovative technology may feel they have a long way to go in achieving their maximum potential. However, they are optimistic that they have the basic frameworks in place, a strategy to expand on them in the future, and they’ve been able to continue to create knowledge that will drive their creativity during this time.

It’s a difficult period for all sectors, but behaving now can help businesses (and clients) start preparing for the post-COVID-19 world and shatter the status quo in what they do studies that has held them back so far.

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