Woman entering building wearing a mask during Covid-19

FEATURE21 December 2021

Review 2021: Covid-19 and research

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How has the market research industry coped with a second year of Covid-19, and accompanying restrictions? Research Live asks industry leaders for their views.

Sinead Jefferies, consultant, Vela
I think there has been a huge amount of resilience and recovery this year. Lots of companies within the sector have found themselves back on track – or even busier than they were pre-pandemic, and it is great to see that client appetite for insight is back with a bang.

However, there is a flip side to this, which is the resultant pressure on our people. People are tired after a difficult year-and-a-half, and there is a sense that things are relentless just now. We still need to find ways to support and look after our people and not focus purely on servicing client demand, regardless of the cost.

Crawford Hollingworth, global founder, The Behavioural Architects
Our industry has risen to the challenge of helping to find behavioural footholds in a world in flux and we have become even more trusted, indispensable partners. 

Ryan Barry, president, Zappi
I think the industry has done pretty well in this second year of Covid-19. Every report I’ve seen suggests there’s an increased demand for consumer insights, not just in big enterprises, but also in start-ups — which is very encouraging. We’ve also seen a significant amount of capital movement and consolidation from Lucid and Cint, Kantar and a number of other examples across both venture capital and private equity. It’s great to see banks take an interest in our industry. 

But when it comes to the people in our industry, I think we’re all suffering from sitting on Zoom for the second straight year and that’s something that we need to watch going into 2022.

Annie Pettit, chief research officer North America, E2E Research
I’m so impressed with how our industry forged through 2021. We recovered from the shock and awe of 2020, and settled into a disappointing 2021 with more sustainable mindsets and better working styles.

I’m glad to see that so many businesses are continuing to focus on mental health and equity, and I hope these reflect permanents shift in leadership and company policies. Given that a lot of companies are finally experiencing heavier project loads and there’s been so much employee movement, we’re going to need those skills.

Sabine Stork, founding partner, Thinktank
It’s been a strange old year. I suppose after last year’s shock we had some hopes of a return to normalcy which just hasn’t quite happened. On the one hand, qualitative research has now almost fully settled into a new video routine which, for the most part, works very well – it crucially makes for more representative samples and more sustainable international research.  

But having done the occasional face-to-face group this year, I do miss the more direct interactions and of course mourn the demise of some great viewing facilities. Overall, of course I’m happy that the work is coming in, but there’s definitely a sense of loss.

Lisa Wilding-Brown, CEO, InnovateMR
When the pandemic began in 2020, that was the year of the unknown. We were on high alert, shellshocked, and could make no other plans other than to stand by each other and wait out the storm. However, in 2021, we instead began to realise that we had more work to do than ever before. We pivoted, adapted to virtual-first collaboration, and did what we do best as an industry: answer questions faster and more reliably.

After that realisation, it was incredible how quickly our industry rebounded. The multitude of acquisitions and corporate investment interests further reinforces this importance. Brands began to further their commitment to insights, using data to drive their business forward and reframe their lens to focus on customer centricity. The entire world has adapted to a new ecosystem, and we had the privilege to inform how to best approach that change.

Stephan Shakespeare, CEO and co-founder, YouGov
Some have used it as an opportunity to kick-on and do things better while it seems as though some others have struggled. We have seen strong growth – our underlying operating profit was up by 32% last year – because we are set up in a way that allows us to easily meet clients’ evolving demands.

In a time of uncertainty and rapid change in consumer behaviour and perception, organisations need accurate, real-time data that tells them what consumers think right now so they can shape how they communicate and engage with their public.

Andrew O'Connell, managing director UK, Dynata
The industry has shown remarkable resilience by moving to a ‘business as usual’ approach. However, a lack of resource is a big issue across the industry and some agencies have never recovered from making redundancies during the first lockdown. This is leading to wage inflation as some are playing catch up on resourcing.

James Endersby, CEO, Opinium
The market research industry has shown just how resilient it is, coping well in the first year of Covid-19, and really surging forward enormously during this second year. It’s not all been easy, but you can feel the positivity in the air at events and in online forums. We’re a passionate and positive bunch, and this superpower has really stood us in good stead to bounce back strongly and thrive.

Joe Staton, client strategy director, GfK
Amazingly adaptable, embracing all new ways of working with gusto and aplomb, hybrid working has given many staff new opportunities to finally achieve some much-vaunted work/life balance and improved mental health and wellbeing.

Matilda Andersson, group managing director, Crowd DNA
Many future-facing, agile and innovative research agencies have flourished during the second year of Covid-19 while more traditional agencies who've struggled to change their way of working to more flexible approaches have struggled. As an industry there’s been a talent shortage and we need to get better at attracting diverse talent into the industry. This needs to be a joint effort. 

Peter Totman, head of qualitative, Jigsaw
We have coped well overall but there we need to be more honest about the trade-offs between face-to-face and online group discussions.

Graham Idehen, director customer success, Emea, Lucid
The demand for research has increased based on the circumstances that we find ourselves in, where consumer sentiments are shifting and brands and businesses have turned to research in order to stay on top of these changes. It was a tough ask for us all to adopt different ways of working but we put our heads down and got on with it.

We were quick to put new processes in place and establish new ways to network and continue to work together. As a result, we now have a better understanding of how to work with Covid-19, and the industry has been able to continue growing regardless of the impact of the virus.

1 Comment

a month ago

Thanks to all for the thoughtful comments. Always valuable to get wider industry perspective. There are some clear themes we can identify with - strong business bounce back, great support and adaptability from the team, but the WFH routines wear people down and we need to get our teams back to a more balanced work/life set up for 2022. Let's hope Omicron pushes off quickly and we can invest some quality time in our people.

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