Measurement is key to creating post-COVID surivival guide, says Bluedot Insights

Measurement is key to creating post-COVID surivival guide, says Bluedot Insights

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

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Larren Peart, chief executive officer of market research and data intelligence company Bluedot Insights, believes the island's businesses will need a survival guide in the post-COVID-19 era, derived from accurate market research data, to inform on how they can adapt and move forward.

The Jamaica Observer spoke to executives from Bluedot about how Jamaican companies can best manoeuvre the road that lies ahead. It is a path fraught with challenges as global economic growth is expected to slow significantly while unemployment numbers are expected to soar. Production and supply chains are being disrupted, businesses are closing temporarily or permanently, and investment will inevitably decline.

As every corner of the globe scrambles to meet the immediate threat of the global pandemic, governments and businesses are also painfully aware that the economic consequences of the COVID-19 contagion will continue to afflict societies long after the novel coronavirus has disappeared or been contained.

When Jamaica emerges from the pandemic, local businesses will find themselves in a new socio-economic landscape where markets may have changed or even disappeared. If businesses are to survive and successfully negotiate this new reality, they will first have to understand the changes.

“We strongly believe in the old saying, 'If you can't measure it you can't manage it'.” Peart said in explaining a research-based approach to the imminent market shifts. “How companies would reach their targets and market to consumers, those are old ways which won't work anymore because behaviours are changing and will continue to change.

“You have to be able to measure as much as possible, in real time, what these changes in consumer behaviour are going to mean,” he insisted. “Being able to measure what those changes are is going to make the differences between companies that are around at the end of this and those who aren't.”

This kind of measurement is what Bluedot specialises in, and the organisation is uniquely positioned to respond to the challenges of gathering data in the midst of the pandemic through its Bluedot Comuna community. The community is an online network which allows for the gathering of quick insights without having to do field surveys that could expose both the participants and the researchers to health risks.

Bluedot sends surveys to the Comuna community, which represents varying demographics, and receives real time feedback through which assessment of changes in consumer behaviour can be made. Points are allocated for each survey, and a comparable dollar value to the number of points is awarded to participants for each completed survey. Systems are in place to establish validity of responses, confirm geographic locations, and avoid duplication.

Chavanie Clarke, Bluedot's chief insights officer, painted a picture of the changes to the business environment that COVID-19 is expected to bring, underlining the importance and benefits of data collecting during a crisis such as this one.

“This is the first time that we see a pandemic leading us into what is likely to be a recession,” she emphasised. “It's a unique challenge for businesses in how they are going to navigate this time as well as how they will operate when this thing comes to an end.

“Given that consumers are having to change their behaviour, businesses are having to change their opening hours, their structure, their production capacity, how they source their raw materials. We are going to see shifts in how people behave around certain brands, shifts in how people treat their entertainment and lifestyles, shifts in how people prioritise in terms of lifestyle changes,” she continued.

Clarke believes the most impactful changes to consumer behaviour brought on by the fear of COVID-19 will take place in “businesses with heavy reliance on foot traffic, or where customers are required to be physically present”.

“Other sectors likely to be severely impacted are businesses in the aspirational, premium and luxury good category, both experiential and personal luxury items, as consumers prioritise their resources to cover essentials and maintain emergency funds,” she added.

We can also expect changes related to how people react with consumer goods, according to the chief insights officer.

“What you're going to find is that as we have more scarcity on the shelves, people who would not normally go to particular brands, for example, lower market share brands, may now be forced to get familiar with some of these new brands,” she pointed out. “Companies with smaller market share and category leaders alike have an opportunity to perform exceptionally during this time.

“By focusing their productive capabilities on the SKUs [stock-keeping units] that consumers are demanding, appropriately pricing their offerings and managing out-of-stocks, this industry will likely come out on the positive end. There is an opportunity to reduce waste and optimise productive capacity by trimming product lines and focusing on the high-volume items and consumer preferences.”

Telecommunication is an additional area of opportunity as Internet usage and call volumes increase with people working from home, a trend which could remain even after the pandemic comes to an end.

Alternative renewable energy sources for homes may enjoy increased demand as more people appreciate the need to be prepared for any type of future crisis.

Delivery services and mobile dispensaries for medicines could become more prevalent, as the psychological impact of the COVID-19 contagion may linger long after it has passed.

Public-private partnerships for providing goods and services required in times of crisis such as food packages, medicine manufacturing, and the provision of hotel rooms that can function as recovery rooms, may also materialise as a result of the crisis.

“Application of meaningful and actionable insights can support companies in surviving and even thriving during and following this period,” Clarke insisted.

She explained that shifting consumer sentiments can be tracked to see how consumers are now viewing brands. New habits can be studied to know how to leverage positive shifts and predict long-term impacts. Companies can use research agencies to conduct data mining to point out systemic and operational gaps in their activities.

Price surveys and positioning can ameliorate the impact of reduced consumer spend. Concept testing can help companies make the necessary business shifts in a transformed marketplace, while business plan evaluations can ensure that proposed ideas are valid in terms of matching consumer demand and the emerging business trends.

These ideas are obviously not new to business but in the transformed, economically weakened, post-pandemic world they take on renewed and vital significance.

To underscore this point, Clarke highlighted a wide range of businesses and industries that could possibly be severely impacted by an impending recession, from car dealerships that may suffer declining sales if financial institutions contract loan portfolios, to the real estate industry which might see a reduction in new developments.

Restaurants and bars have already seen an immediate impact, with some attempting to shift to takeout, delivery and kerbside services. In the long term they may have to shift to more affordable menus.

Hotels and attractions have been closed.

“Our tourism product is dependent not just on Jamaica's stability, but that of those nations that contribute to tourism,” Clarke stated. “Contraction in financial resources, fear of infection, and general lack of optimism will likely delay further the rebuilding of Jamaica's tourism product. Jamaica will need to target its marketing efforts towards the Asian markets, which will be the first to recover with factory capacities already building in China.”

As long as there are still possible carriers of the coronavirus in the population, Jamaica's significant entertainment industry will be affected, possibly initiating a shift to smaller gatherings and events and an increase in online entertainment.

The Bluedot executive is also of the opinion that restrictions on barbershops and salons could mean that professionals in this business may have to shift to doing more home visits in an attempt to make up for lost income.

Clarke believes that every company and every business person, in order to find opportunities to survive or thrive in this crisis, will have to ponder what life is going to look like after this thing, because it is not just going to go away.

“There are some interests that are likely to benefit, and that is where we come in,” she said. “We come in ready to help persons decipher all the data and all the information out there, to pick up on where the unique opportunities are and help them in ways to exploit and take advantage of them.”

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