Market Research during the Coronavirus Outbreak – Status 15.04.2020

Posted on 15th April 2020 by Berlin in Uncategorized

This week’s post in our series of weekly updates on how the coronavirus is impacting market research globally looks at evolving markets. 

We have noted in previous posts an accelerated switch to digital in qual projects currently being executed. This switch is working well for many types of insight projects and categories; participants are keen to take part and engage, partly as a way of relaxing and doing something different.

In some global markets however, those we refer to as “evolving”, there are technical and social constraints as well as cultural barriers that make this switch more challenging.

A new mix of qualitative approaches is required. This is the focus of the current update.

Fascinatingly, picking up the phone is one of those “new” ways!

We hope you find this update useful and encouraging.

We are extremely aware that today’s reality could and very likely will be very different tomorrow. For us that means we will continue to listen to our partners across the globe on a daily basis, and keep you posted with weekly updates.


Happy Thinking People



Coronavirus Snapshot: The Overall Situation


Europe: We are seeing the first, tentative attempts in some European countries to ease the lockdown.

Some people are going back to work, some schools and small shops are reopening. Austrians can even look forward to getting a haircut soon.

Although these are small steps, they are symbolic milestones. And will hopefully slowly rekindle the European economies.

Asia: China and other Asian countries are keeping up the careful momentum in lifting restrictions. They are equally paying close attention to ensure they avoid a ‘second wave’.

Evolving markets: Other parts of the world – notably many evolving markets – have now adopted severe lockdowns that are extremely challenging.

In many of these countries people don’t have the luxury of a spacious home, economic support from Governments or work that can be done from home.

What does this mean for market researchers? Read on…..


Digital Research – or Pick up the Phone?


Online communities are one of the most versatile and broadly used digital market research tools globally – but using them in evolving markets needs to be treated carefully.

Many moons ago, and well before the current coronavirus crisis, H/T/P conducted an experimental project designed to explore how cultural differences impact participation in online insight communities across geographies.

We found that there were significant differences across regions and countries.

These were largely related to cultural aspects – for example how important discipline in completing tasks was per se in a given society. Or how much social interaction was regarded as something more serious vs. more fun.

As a result, in many markets, we designed online projects accordingly, to fit in with cultural habits to ensure robust outputs.

From a current perspective, when looking to adapt digitally in evolving markets during the pandemic, there are three key factors that influence MR participation via digital tools.


  • Technological constraints – access to devices, high-speed internet connections, inexpensive data.
  • Social constraints – having the physical space, own device and personal freedom to participate without being observed by others.
  • Cultural constraints – preferring to spend the little spare time one has with friends, feeling uncomfortable writing in what might be a second language


Some of these constraints have actually been magnified by the current situation rather than reduced.

Whereas in many western markets we see market research participation is high because people suddenly have more time on their hands, in some evolving markets participation is actually challenged.

The reason is simple: the home is not necessarily the easiest place from which to take part in research.

Along with expensive data plans and unreliable internet connections, this means that the option of conducting screen-to-screen interviews is only viable with higher income groups. Where this is the case we see that the acceptance of digital is very similar to that in Europe, the US, Russia, much of Asia and the Pacific.

Zoom parties are actually taking place all over the world – and often with participants in different time zones.


Work-Around Options


For Latin America, Claudia Melnik (www.abbey-melnik-com) highlights that connectivity varies quite strongly across the different Latin American countries. Overall internet access in LATAM is about half of the global average. This effectively limits digital qual approaches to the higher socio-economic groups.

For others – those with limited online access – research approaches need to be different.

Mobile offers one good solution. Mobile ownership (or access) is already high and continuing to grow in most places in the world.  Many consumers – including those in the middle and lower middle socio-economic groups – own at least basic smartphones and are well versed in using messaging apps like WhatsApp.

Our H/T/P colleagues in India and partners from Latin America and Africa see phone interviews as one of the channels we can use to work around to correct for missing face-to-face (or screen-to-screen) interactions. This was true prior to the coronavirus situation – and continues to be the case.

People are invariably happy to talk on the phone – often more so than writing long contributions on a digital messaging board!

Telephone interviews certainly work well to explore things in-depth – storytelling techniques for example work just as well over the phone as F2F.

A suggestion from Johannes Cichorius ( in South Africa is for market research participants to share quick spontaneous thoughts or reactions to stimulus material via a mobile app (not too data heavy). These immediate responses can be explored in more detail in a subsequent telephone interview.

Interestingly cultural, social and technological aspects sometimes sit awkwardly together, even working against one another.

In Japan, one of the world’s most technologically advanced markets, privacy is highly valued and there is quite a strong aversion to video tasks.

Rebecca Allen ( points out that the “reluctance to reveal personal imagery may potentially be heightened when several household members are at home and kids are running around”.


What Next?


Whether it is via new combinations of online methodologies or by combining online and phone interviews, we see new solutions emerging all over the world.

What is interesting is that there is a common underlying principle.

Established online methodologies work well because they allow participants to engage and respond in their own time and space. Asynchronous.

But without the face-to-face or screen-to-screen market research options – as we have seen in some evolving markets – we are missing an essential component: the direct conversation.

Luckily there are new digital tools that compensate – plus the old adage stays true: when you don’t quite understand a message someone has sent you, it’s easiest just to pick up the phone!

Even whilst certain markets begin to slowly ease the lockdown, it will probably still be quite a while before groups of people can meet in a central viewing facility.

It will be fascinating to see if and how dynamics change in a post-coronavirus F2F research situation. In-home interviews will be particularly interesting – how people’s attitudes will have changed to having a “stranger” in their home.


We will keep you posted!

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