Marketing Research and COVID-19
Bigeye’s podcast features Mike Klotz of Cint, talking about understanding consumer behaviors during COVID-19 using research, survey data, and analytics.
IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: Monitoring consumer behaviors during COVID-19. To navigate the pandemic and avoid marketing missteps, understanding consumers’ evolving purchasing behaviors and sentiments towards brands and advertising is more important than ever. Our guest this week is Michael Klotz, Director of Client Development at Cint. An expert in consumer insight generation, Mike explains how we can understand new behaviors and markets better through research, data, and analytics.
Adrian Tennant: Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency. We’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. We recently posted an article on the Bigeye website about quantitative and qualitative research. Today, we’re going to be talking more about marketing research and the impact of COVID-19. The first known survey undertaken in the United States was the US census of 1790. While some organized research was performed between then and the early 1900s, the real growth of the research industry came after World War Two, when technological advances greatly increased manufacturing capacity. Consumers had more and better products to choose from, so manufacturers started to pay closer attention to their customers. And so an industry dedicated to consumer research came into its own. Today, the collection and analysis of public opinion for business, political and social issues is sponsored by government agencies, academic institutions, and business organizations. Research informs the development of products and services to satisfy unmet consumer needs as well as measuring consumer sentiments and responses to advertising. Surveys are the best known method of collecting people’s opinions, but there are many others. At this point, just about every business and individual has been affected in some way by the Coronavirus pandemic. From canceling social events to working from home to experiencing layoffs, the COVID-19 situation has the potential to permanently change society in the long term. For marketers seeking to navigate this new reality, monitoring consumers’ evolving purchasing behaviors and sentiments towards brands and advertising is more important than ever. Marketing and new product development decisions based firmly on data – rather than gut instinct – are the order of the day requiring strategic research that yields actionable consumer insights. To help us understand how COVID-19 is impacting marketing research globally, our guest this week is Michael Klotz, Director of Client Development at Cint. Mike has 20 years of experience in research and has covered a variety of industries including consumer electronics, video games, consumer packaged goods, and political polling. He’s well versed in both qualitative and quantitative methodologies and has helped hundreds of companies understand their consumers and their markets better through research and data collection. Welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Mike!
Mike Klotz: Thanks for having me on the show.
Adrian Tennant: First, could you tell us a little about Cint?
Mike Klotz: Cint is the technology backbone of the world’s most successful insights companies. Our platform automates fieldwork and operations so that companies gather insights faster, more cost-effectively, and at scale. We have 14 global offices in addition to all the folks we have, such as myself, that work remote. Through our platform, researchers have access to over a hundred million people in over 150 countries around the world. We work directly with many researchers, agencies, and brands.
Adrian Tennant: So Mike, what does your role with Cint entail?
Mike Klotz: My role at Cint is to help companies that are conducting online research to do so in the most efficient way possible. We’re a very solutions-focused company, so it’s never a one-size-fits-all approach. I work closely with my clients in order to learn about their business and help craft a partnership that allows them to gather insights quickly and efficiently.
Mike Klotz: Sure. I think the easiest way to understand it is to look at each of the methodologies in terms of the type of information being collected. In qualitative research, you’re dealing with words and meanings and descriptions. Quantitative research deals with quantities and numbers and building out statistics. So qualitative research is almost like a brainstorming session. You’re seeking out ideas and concepts. While quantitative research can help show how many people feel that same way. So for example, in a focus group you’ll have six to eight people sitting around a table talking about a brand. They’ll discuss what the brand means to them or provide feedback on a specific product and why they like it or dislike it. However, those six to eight people don’t really speak for the thousands or millions of the brands’ consumers. So sometimes you need to take the things that you’ve learned in qualitative sessions and quantify them through online surveys, for example, in order to learn if it’s representative of your customer base.
Adrian Tennant: What are some of the most common types of quantitative consumer research or studies that your clients typically undertake?
Mike Klotz: Right, so Cint currently has over 2,000 clients worldwide and we cover a wide variety of project types, so it’s kind of difficult to pinpoint it to the most common type. But what I can tell you is that we do see a lot of brands looking to understand their consumers’ decision-making process and path to purchase better. So they’ll do things like measure customer satisfaction and brand loyalty, for example. We also see some product concept tests and with marketing, we see a lot of messaging testing. Beyond that, this is an election year, so we saw a lot of political polling during the primaries in the US, and we expect to see a lot more as we get closer to November. And lately we’re seeing a lot of companies that are trying to understand consumer sentiment as it relates to COVID-19. We’ve seen a number of tracking studies and ad hoc projects on this topic in hopes of understanding where the consumer mindset currently stands.
Adrian Tennant: Now, you introduced Cint as a technology company. Where does it fit within the consumer research ecosystem?
Mike Klotz: So Cint’s role is to connect our surveys to their targeted respondents in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible. We do that through our marketplace that connects researchers trying to understand more about the consumers with the respondents that we have access to. So we don’t really design studies or questionnaires and we don’t analyze or even see the data that’s being collected. We just ensure that our clients are collecting the data in the best way possible. So, what we’ve done with these respondents is we’ve had 150 profiling points for all the respondents that we have in our system. So, if you need to gather insights from dads of teenagers in New York, who go to the gym on a regular basis, or homeowners in California that make less than a hundred thousand, but own dogs, we can target those people directly. These profiling points, and the scale of the respondents we have, allows us to gather insights quickly and efficiently for our clients. In the past, fielding an online study could require a company to reach out to a number of panels, especially if the project is being conducted internationally. So project managers need to email back-and-forth with each of the panel sources about changes to the product specs, updates once it’s in the field, and any quotas that they need to fill. With Cint, all of that happens programmatically, without the need for all the back-and-forth, regardless of how many panels sources are feeding into the project or countries that the field work is being conducted in. So you’re cutting down potentially hundreds of emails during a project’s fielding to just a handful or none if you’re doing it through one of our DIY options.
Adrian Tennant: Can you explain the supply and demand sides of your business?
Mike Klotz: Yes, so the demand side of our business is really built up by our clients who are trying to understand consumer behavior better. We can measure that demand by simply looking at the number of consumers that companies want to collect behavior or opinions from. That’s dependent on the number of studies being fielded at any given time and the sample size desired in each study. The supply side is measured by the number of respondents available, which we can measure through the number of entries into our platform. In the simplest terms, our job is to ensure that we have enough supply to meet the demand through a completed interview.
Adrian Tennant: Where do the people that complete surveys typically come from?
Mike Klotz: So research panelists really come from all walks of life. In the US for example, we have access to over 20 million people who have either joined traditional panels, they’ve been recruited through social networks, or mobile games, through affiliate marketing, or website partners. There’s even an ad I see regularly on cable TV that asks people to help shape the future products they use. So all of these methods are designed to attract people who want their feedback and opinions to be heard.
Adrian Tennant: How are respondents rewarded for taking surveys?
Mike Klotz: So usually it’s monetary. Most panelists are incentivized either through direct payments or gift cards or some have point systems where you earn points for each study that you complete. And then you can buy things with those points or potentially enter those points into a sweepstakes for a larger prize.
Adrian Tennant: Now full disclosure here, Cint is one of Bigeye’s partners, so I know that you offer a variety of solutions. Can you explain a little more about Cint’s products and services and the types of clients or needs that each is designed to serve?
Mike Klotz: Right. So all of our solutions are designed to allow the client to collect data from respondents quickly, in a cost-effective manner, and as efficiently as possible. But that doesn’t always mean the same processes followed for each client. So the two main ways we work with clients are through what we call managed services and then through our DIY platform. So with managed services, a client of ours can take a survey that they’ve programmed in Qualtrics or SurveyMonkey and SurveyGizmo – you know, whatever the platform of choice is – and send it to us along with the details that they want on who they want to collect insights from. So we’ll handle the fielding of the study, making adjustments for quotas that they have or controlling the fielding period until we have all of the completed interviews that they require. On the DIY side, clients can set up and field their studies directly without our intervention. They’ll set up the targeting and field it directly through our system. Those are really the two main ways that we work with our clients. You know, smaller companies that may not have a big operation staff may choose to leverage our managed services while companies that are fielding a lot of projects and, you know, maybe they have specs that change frequently, they’ll leverage our DIY platforms so that they can really see what the impact of the changes are as they formulate their sample plan. Beyond that, if a client has a tool that they need to feed respondents into, we can build the APIs directly so that they can field projects to our supply through their own tools or solutions.
Adrian Tennant: How are respondents typically invited to participate in a study?
Mike Klotz: So, as I mentioned, all of the respondents we have in our system are profiled. So we already know who they are in terms of their demographics and some of their behaviors, for example, where they shop or the activities they participate in. So when a survey is being fielded that wants opinions from, say people that shop on Amazon.com or at Walmart, we can identify some of those in advance. And when we’re fielding that survey, they’ll receive an email invitation or a survey opportunity will pop up on the website or in the mobile app that they were recruited from. So, for example, they’ll see an opportunity to receive an incentive for doing a 10-minute study about their shopping habits. They can click on the link and enter our system. We also have algorithms on the back end, so when they enter the system, the respondent can be steered to the best-fit study for them.
Adrian Tennant: Now Cint does not collect data directly, but in what kinds of ways have you seen – or are you continuing to see – COVID-19 impact your clients around the world?
Mike Klotz: So earlier we talked about the supply and demand of respondents in our system, and this is something that we’ve been monitoring closely since the outbreak began. As I said, Cint needs to ensure that we have enough supply to meet the demand that is coming from our clients. And so far, we haven’t seen a major impact to our supply. We still have respondents entering our system looking for opportunities to share their feedback. So, I don’t want to say that things are operating as normal on this end because nothing’s really normal at this time, but our ability to fulfill our clients’ needs haven’t changed. On the demand side, which is dependent on the amount of research being done and the number of respondents desired, that’s really evolving. If we had this conversation even a week ago, I’d probably have a much different answer and a week from now it might be much different. But as of early April, we hadn’t seen any major impact on demand.
Adrian Tennant: During this current crisis, what are some of the ideas or assumptions even that consumer research can most helpfully study?
Mike Klotz: So in early March we started looking at what the potential impact of the pandemic could be on research and with three basic hypotheses. The first is that people’s purchasing or consumption behaviors could change. The second was that people’s demographics could change. And the third was that people’s participation levels in research could change. And there’s an underlying unknown that makes each of these really difficult. We don’t know how long this crisis will last and we don’t know what the magnitude of the effect will be.
Adrian Tennant: Okay, well let’s take each of those in turn. First, you mentioned changes to consumer purchasing and consumption. What are Cint’s recommendations here?
Mike Klotz: Our key premise on this is to continue to track behaviors over time and look for changes. First of all, track for incidence at a category level. This is something most brands are already doing, but if you haven’t been doing that you can look at data that’s available from liable providers who observe trends in the category. For example, I worked for NPD in the past, specifically focused on the video game industry. We published sales trends and player behavior information and we could measure how large events impacted that purchasing and playing behavior. Actually, probably a really interesting area to be looking at right now, because with more people spending more time at home, they’ll likely be playing more games. Secondarily, you can track brand usage and look for changes which could impact the research you’re doing. For example, if you normally track brand affinity for 10 brands in your industry, you may want to ask some unaided awareness questions to ensure you’re tracking the most important brands. With the world in flux, loyalties can shift really quick, especially in, you know, some of the responses that we’re seeing from companies. That’s going to have a big impact on some of these feelings that people have towards the brands that they’re affiliated with. And that leads to another point. If you’re conducting tracking studies, you may want to take some time to reevaluate your tracker design from both a survey perspective and a sample perspective.
Adrian Tennant: How does the fact that people’s demographics might change due to loss of income or work impact research?
Mike Klotz: Right, so there’s a large percentage of the population whose demographics will change due to this crisis. At this point, it’s unavoidable. The most obvious one, as you mentioned, is change of income and net worth. As we’re seeing the unemployment rates spike and in an unprecedented manner. Residences and household structures will likely be changing as well. The challenge here is that for a lot of research, the sample needs to be representative of the known population. As things are moving quickly now, people may not be conscious of how the demographics are changing or even if they are, they may not be able to provide an accurate assessment of the impact that they’ll feel.
Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message.
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Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. We’re talking to Mike Klotz of Cint about the importance of consumer research during COVID-19 and the pandemic’s impact on research participation. It seems logical that people’s typical participation levels in research studies might change during the crisis. What does that mean for researchers and for the reliability of the data collected?
Mike Klotz: So the participation level of respondents is a question that’s popped up through many recent crises. So looking at like 9/11, and Katrina, and the recession of the late 2000s, there was a thought that people will turn away from things like survey participation and really focus on their lives and, you know, what’s important to them. And while it may be true that people are focusing more on their lives, we’ve seen that people continue to take surveys during these periods. We don’t have a real rational explanation for that, but we’ve seen it happen throughout history and similar to how we’ve seen crises impact demographics, it’s just looking at the data and seeing that this is what we’ve seen before. So a key piece of information to keep in mind during these times is to be sensitive to people’s situations and be careful on how you ask them questions. I’ve heard some people say, “you don’t want to ask a respondent a question that you wouldn’t ask mother or your friend’s mother.” So you really need to be respectful of people’s situations right now.
Adrian Tennant: So in what ways do you think typical research industry practices might have changed by the time we get through this current pandemic?
Mike Klotz: So I love this question and I really wish I had a solid answer for you. But the fact of the matter is that there are so many unknowns that we don’t know where this will land, we don’t even know when we’re going to be through the pandemic. So it’s really hard to speculate. You know, the biggest impact of research currently that as far as I can tell, is on companies that need to do their work in-person. So there’s a lot of companies out there whose strength is really in their ability to conduct in-person research, whether it’s focus groups, in-depth interviews, or mall intercepts, and they’ve had to adapt to what’s happening by leveraging new technologies in order to continue that work. So I don’t know if that’ll lead to a completely new way of operating once we get through this, but it could lead to some really innovative things and it’s going to be really interesting to keep an eye on. You know, on a personal level, as somebody who works remote, one positive I see is everyone’s adoption of new technology. For example, I love to do video calls with colleagues and clients, and in the past, people were very hesitant to turn on the video. Now it’s pretty standard practice to turn on video for all our calls. I think it helps connect people better, despite the distances between them. So I’m hoping that remains as we get back to quote unquote normal operating procedures. You know, for Cint, we’ve really embraced the work from home life, most of our offices around the world were closed down in early March and we’re all connecting on new and different levels through virtual lunch and virtual coffee breaks and company-wide happy hours. So we’ve also had some really productive global learning sessions. I think when you’re not in the office with people, when there’s an opportunity for a big group of people to come together and do one thing together, it really helps people feel connected again.
Adrian Tennant: Now you mentioned working remote. You’re based in Arkansas. At a local level, have you seen examples of communities coming closer together even while practicing social distancing?
Mike Klotz: So here in the Northwest corner of Arkansas where I live, we’re home to the headquarters of Walmart, Tyson Foods and J B Hunt. And I think there’s a bit of a sense of pride in this community with the work that these companies have been doing during this crisis. Walmart’s opened a parking lot for drive-through COVID testing. They’ve altered their operations to ensure the safety of their associates and their customers. The president had their CEO, Doug McMillon, at a press conference last month and has praised the work that they’re doing. Tyson Food has been working to keep food flowing to grocery stores. They’ve made donations to support hunger and community relief. And J B Hunt – that does shipping and logistics – they’ve kept the supply chain running. There’s still trucks on the road delivering goods to people that need it. So when I talk to local people or scan social media, there’s definitely a lot of proud employees from these companies in this area right now.
Adrian Tennant: If listeners want to learn more about Cint, or the data that we’ve been discussing, where can they find resources?
Adrian Tennant: Mike, thank you very much for being our guest today. Really appreciate it.
Mike Klotz: Thanks for having me on. I had a great time.
Adrian Tennant: My thanks to our guest this week, Mike Klotz. You can find our show notes with links to resources on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at bigeyeagency.com under “Insights” – just click on the button marked “Podcast.” Please consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or your favorite podcast player. And, if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, stay safe. Goodbye.