Four Learnings From the Pandemic

SLRG President Jon Last, blogs for Marketing Research Institute International (of which he is current marketing chair and a past president) about key lessons from the pandemic that are applicable for the research profession as a whole. 

The action on the basketball court didn’t stop. But as I peered down at my phone while attending the first round of the 2020 PAC 12 Men’s Basketball Championship in Las Vegas, my world as I knew it, did. The tournament was being postponed amid COVID 19 concerns and down like a house of cards went the world of live spectator sports, travel and seemingly all of the major verticals that my firm conducts research around. After the initial shock subsided and I trudged back home on flights with no more than 12 passengers, my mind immediately went back to the immediate aftermath of 9-11, when the research department that I headed up at the time jumped on a need to pulse consumer sentiment to inform internal and external clients. I embraced that conviction and it inspired us to make a major pivot and create our Back to Normal Barometer, which has been tracking consumer sentiment twice monthly since late March, opening a door to over a dozen new clients and garnering national media attention. Yet as I consider the last five months, the COVID pandemic has bestowed a number of valuable lessons that I feel have pervasive implications for researchers overall.

1. Meet A Need And Gain A Primary Seat At The Strategic Table:

Crises like the one we are in now surface mission-critical and time-sensitive questions for organizations. Marketing research is a perfect springboard from which answers to those questions can be derived and leveraged to inform strategic decisions. This is a time where the line between good strategic research and consultative insights can become even more blurred and accrue to our benefit as MR professionals.

2. Stay True To Your Mission:

Many organizations during the early weeks of the pandemic rushed out with quick-and-dirty consumer pulsing that was opportunistic rather than immersive, and failed to adhere to the principles of the MRCBOK. If you hold your organizational values and principles close, rather than panic in challenging times, your brand reputation can only improve.

3. Pay It Forward:

There was no doubt that our verticals were going to be decimated. However the most inappropriate tact that we could have taken would have been to beg for dollars or jump into hard sell mode while our clients scrambled to figure out what was next. We knew that a more appropriate path was to avoid the myriad of hollow, “We’re all in this together” messaging that littered everyone’s inboxes, and let our actions speak the loudest. Offering up complimentary insights from the Barometer demonstrated both thought leadership and empathy.

4. Embrace Like Minded Partners: 

We aligned on the Barometer with trusted allies, who shared our belief in taking personal responsibility for success, weren’t looking for a hand-out and were ready to roll up their sleeves and share the risk. There’s nothing more gratifying than going to battle with those that have your back, and the Barometer has provided that arena.

Jon Last is founder and President of Sports and Leisure Research Group, a full service marketing research consultancy that supports leading brands in sports, travel and media. His professional experience includes seven years as VP Corporate Marketing for Golf Digest Companies, and eight years at the PGA of America, where he oversaw marketing research, consumer marketing and retail. A frequent speaker and featured columnist for Media Post, Last holds an M.B.A. from Wharton and a B.A. from Tufts. He is a former association president of the Insights Association (MRA) and Marketing Research Institute International (MRII), currently serving as Marketing Chair for the latter.