The new normal or just a phase: Discussing key changes and innovations in research

The recently concluded MRMW North America event featured a panel discussion discussing the new normal, post Covid-19. Key discussion points were work from home, the prevailing uncertainty and the imact on market research. Baileigh Allen, Founder of ZigZag Research, moderated the panel.

Work from home

Mac Smith, Head of User Research in Google stated that more remote research has been  carried out than it was in the past. Further, he highlighted an increase in stakeholders’ interaction in work served as a benefit to work from home. Merging several processes in one conference call often made things faster and easier. However, formality over mere socialization was identified as a drawback.

Victoria Sosik, Director of UX Research at Verizon pinpointed how ineffective communication and the inability to build relationships with coworkers are setbacks in the new way of working. Within the same perspective, Anton Popov expressed how work from home leveled the playing field amongst all corporations. With each organization facing similar challenges and enjoying similar benefits.

            ‘’…it opened up the doors, from the benefit perspective, of connecting with other markets and sharing practices, which in the past seemed like you were indifferent planets.’’

The evolution of research during Covid-19

‘From the research perspective, it becomes a little bit different. On the analytics side, a lot of the work we’ve been doing has become more frequent. So the analysis of the consumer became frequently important to refresh on a basis as we see new restrictions come in. We see the consumer mindset change quickly…’’ said Anton Popov.

In addition to this stance, Anton highlighted how things were no longer static and predictable in the new normal. This includes the setting in of consumer fatigue and how it inversely affects consumer behavior. With this impact, it becomes practically impossible to predict the future or create plans which can be immensely ‘infuriating.’ Before the pandemic, Mac Smith added, researchers stuck to their lanes, but due to the drastic change in events, there has been significant overlap in disciplines.

An outlook on demand

Mac Smith remarked that certain aspects of the qualities of work had witnessed drastic changes. Due to these unforeseen changes, decision-makers start to ask about the long-lasting effects of market trends and what transcends from the present into the future. In agreement with Mac, Anton emphasized the broadening of skillset among workers and companies and how expertise and knowledge have to be built upon in these areas.

On the possible greater shift in demand, the McDonald’s director commented on the inability to predict the future market dynamics. With this development, teams have been under intense pressure to start creating new skills and to look into new areas for information. ‘I think to me; I’m feeling more of it from the internal company transformation than from the outside forces, ’  Victoria Sosik added.

New types of skills in the new normal

Mac Smith adressed the essence of communication skills and communicating with and presenting to executives. Further, he predicetd that researchers will be considered part of the c-level leadership a few years from now. Anton Popov noted that future researchers would need to broaden their horizons beyond the market and pick insights from other markets.

Is research now elevated to a greater position due to the pandemic?

Victoria Sosik expressed how deliberate the research and research process has been over the years. Moreover, Anton Popov observed how ‘senior executives are beginning to expand their skill sets. By building up their skillset, researchers are no longer fully required merely brief top executives. Instead, it becomes a two-way conversation with the executives possessing a certain amount of knowledge in the research field.

Mac Smith hopes the new age will propel decision-makers to be better connected with customers. The advent of instant video streaming and multiple initiatives across companies facilitates the connection between executives and customers. However, this blurs the need for researchers to go into the field, interact with customers, and report back to executives.

Shifting consumer mindset

‘I think one of the big shifts is that we’re seeing a lot of traditional behaviour. Especially around commerce but across multiple spaces. A great example is grocery shopping. There’s a shift in the industry, and there’s a bunch of questions there.’  Google’s Head of User Research also noted a dominant shift from offline behavior to online.

Giving McDonald’s as an example, Anton discussed the growth in indirect channels and delivery. He reiterated the effect of consumer fatigue on consumer behavior and how safety influences the choice of product.

A post Covid-19 world?

Victoria Sosik defines  ‘post-covid not existing as an era’.  In addition, Anton Popov identified post-covid as ‘ a moving goal post’. According to the McDonald’s Director, there’s no imminent post Covid-19 era. Instead, we have the next stage of in-person engagement and retail engagement.

            ‘’…it’s not us going back to pre-covid, it’s us going into a new phase or new environment. With new needs and the consumers evolving those new needs,  ’ he concluded.


You can find all presentations from MRMW in our MRMW video library. It also contains more than 100 case studies from past MRMW conferences. Your next chances to join MRMW live are during our MRMW Europe (Berlin, October 20&21, 2021) and MRMW APAC (Singapore, November 10&11) editions.

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Suggested further reading:

Merlien COVID-19 Report 2020 – Understanding the Impact of the Corona Pandemic on Consumer Insight Strategies

The State of Chaos – an Opportunity in Disguise

5 Bets on the Future of Research: Pre-conference Interview

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Jens Cornelissen

Jens Cornelissen has been writing for over two decades – initially for general newspapers in his home country Germany. After receiving an MA degree in Communications, he joined a new media start-up in Amsterdam as consultant on new media technologies and country editor for two daily newsletters. In his current day job, Jens runs the global conference division for Merlien’s dedicated marketing research events. Jens is a trained journalist with a BA in Journalism from Westminster University in London and has authored several media industry reports and articles on mobile and media technology.

View all posts by Jens Cornelissen →

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