We look at the main trends (pandemic-related or otherwise) in 2020, with views from market researchers across the industry on adapting to lockdowns, digital innovation and remaining agile during a difficult year.

Ryan Howard, freelance data science consultant
Our sweaty commutes and best laid plans were replaced with Joe Wicks, a flour shortage and the chill of “next slide please”. We’ve rediscovered our local communities, retail and leisure, and even learnt the names of all our elderly neighbours. Through all of this, our priorities and perceptions of time and distance are being redefined, as our immediate world slows and shrinks. In every sector there is an urgency to make the most of entrenched behavioural change, as well as care to ignore what might simply evaporate come spring. Will there be a new normal? I’m not sold on that yet.

Frederic Charles Petit, chief executive, Toluna
The need for agility and scalability drove the acceleration of real-time, technology enabled research. In today’s uncertain environment, flexibility and DIY methodology powered by innovation will unequivocally stand as the new pillar of research.

Joe Staton, client strategy director, GfK
Rishi Sunak’s hoodie. The chancellor of the exchequer showed that he was just like us by tweeting a picture of himself wearing a hoodie in his home office. Trendsetter. I now have three.

Nick Baker, global chief research officer, Savanta
Apart from the attempted subversion of US democracy, I think resilience and bouncebackability are the run-away leaders. From the phenomenal work by Ipsos and others conducting face-to-face work right throughout the lockdowns to ensure the flow of vital evidence into government alongside testing, the brave decision-making across our industry to not cower in the face of the pandemic and just shut up shop stands out strongly looking back.

Lizzie Gilthorpe, managing director, Differentology
As someone with an English degree, I find language fascinating. Clearly 2020 has seen an unprecedented rise in the use of words like ‘unprecedented’. In research terms, we’ve seen far more conversations and briefs centred around the word ‘agile’. All businesses have had to make decisions quickly, and all of our clients have had to respond at speed. As a result, we’ve seen research take on a far more iterative approach. 

Jane Bloomfield, chief growth officer, Kantar
Flexibility, agility, fluidity, pivoting – whichever word you chose to use, the ability to move quickly, to galvanise troops and change direction and plans overnight had a huge impact. I think planning on a more fluid basis will be a trend that continues for years to come.

Ryan Barry, chief revenue officer, Zappi
Behaviour change towards digitisation isn’t a conference circuit talk any longer. It’s mainstream in its adoption for the first time ever.

Shazia Ginai, chief executive, Neuro Insight
If I were to joke, I would say wearing masks as a fashion accessory, if I were to be obvious, I would say the rise of TikTok. I ended up talking about this question with the wonderful Holly Jordan, our research director, and she said something quite profound: “There’s been loads. The interesting thing that’s happened is that people are actually following them, not just one but many.” The standout trends is mass trend following. It has been a year of people seeking a sense of belonging and engaging in trends more than we have ever seen before.  I select two to call out specifically that kind of balance each out: people who have never baked have made sourdough and banana bread; and we have seen people who rarely hit the gym, putting on PE with Joe (and not just if they have children).

Andrew O’Connell, managing director, Dynata
Over the last few years, we’ve seen increased momentum towards automation and self-service platforms; the pandemic has only accelerated this trend. Brands seem to be moving towards having all their insights in one place and available to multiple, global stakeholders. The development of platforms allows for this.

Ray Poynter, chief research officer, Potentiate
The shift to more research being conducted internally, rather than via agencies.

Ben Hogg, managing director Emea and Asia-Pacific, Lucid
More for less. At the time of writing, Lucid had seen more than 74m completed interviews on our platform in 2020. Compared with the same time period in 2019, this is an increase of 34%, with average cost per interview down by 24%. Length of interview and incidence rates also fell significantly, suggesting that brands currently know less about more of their customers than ever before, and are asking more questions of a broader range of society than previously. Everything we thought we knew about our customers is changing.

Stephan Shakespeare, co-founder and chief executive, YouGov
Speeding up the transition from offline to online. A lot of face-to-face and phone agencies were struggling to survive as many clients had their projects interrupted and needed to turn to online companies such as YouGov as the best way to find out what was going on during the crisis. In doing so, they realised that it is better, more flexible, more in-depth and better value for money than what they used before. They now also experience the additional benefits of this approach – whether it is the speed and efficiency of self-service or the instant deep analysis provided by connected data sets.

Jake Steadman, vice-president customer insight and user research, Deliveroo
It feels like 2020 was the year that user research and insight functions moved closer together. Also, the invention of the Covid-19 syndicated study.

Jane Rudling, managing director, Walnut Unlimited
In 2020 agility has been the name of the game. This has certainly been demonstrated in the massive innovation in the world of online qual. Platform providers and developers stepped up and upgraded their offer very quickly. This step change in capability has turbocharged online qual – a trend that is unlikely to be reversed when face-to-face becomes feasible again.

Deborah Mattinson, founding partner, BritainThinks
In a year when everything seemed to change, for me the standout trend was the extent to which, actually, everything stayed the same: all our work suggests that the public response to the pandemic was to double down on the things they already cared most about.