Analysis: grip on consumer behavior in times of corona

Image from left to right: Berry Punt (Nielsen), Marit Klooster (Ruigrok NetPanel), Boj Nefkens (Market Effect), Hilde Doting (Validators), Lucas Hulsebos (DVJ Insights).

In 2021, the marketer lives in uncertain times. While you could shoot a cannon in the physical shopping streets last year, consumers are increasingly finding their way to online retailers. At the same time, vaccination is finally starting and the Netherlands is slowly closing, but does this also mean that consumption will start again? If you really want to get a grip on the consumer and his behavior, you can call in a market research agency that, in short, collects and analyzes market and consumer data on behalf of companies and helps them make decisions.

Lucas Hulsebos, managing director of DVJ Insights, wonders whether consumer needs have really changed that much since corona. ‘Over the past year we at DVJ conducted fifty different consumer surveys in several countries. Of course I see that people have adapted their behavior since corona and started shopping, working and spending their free time in a different way, but the motivations for behavior have really changed less fundamentally than we sometimes think.’ According to Hulsebos, it is important to understand these drivers and to help marketers respond to them. ‘We have done this at DVJ by not only looking at what has changed with each survey, but above all by asking ourselves why this happened. The corona crisis has made it clear to us that insight only makes sense if you also understand the reason behind it.’ Marketers’ demand has also ‘not really changed’, says Hulsebos. ‘Marketers still want to know how they can grow their brand, which advertising and media they should use and which new ideas they should come up with. I think that more research should be done on the changing behavior of humans, although the reality is different. Budgets are often viewed more critically and the research market has become smaller for that reason. Research can help to reduce the risk of decisions and that need has increased, but practice shows that less research is done and therefore more risk is actually taken.’

Asked for the latest news at Nielsen, calls marketing manager Berry Punt that the agency recently parted ways with the ‘consumer division’ and is now focusing on its role in ‘the international media ecosystem’. ‘This gives us the opportunity to invest more time and energy in developing solutions in areas such as reach research.’ In these times, data helps to gain insight into market developments, says Punt. ‘Even more than in times of normal economic developments, it is wise to make wise decisions during a pandemic by taking the right data.’ Also according to Punt, the need for research is ‘unchanged’ and marketers understand very well that they make better tactical and strategic decisions based on strong data. The focus is now more than ever on the return on investment. That in itself is not new, but the increased pressure on it is. Our customers are increasingly asking for this. Running an ad campaign without measuring its impact on consumers is outdated. ‘

Embracing digitization

The crisis creates a lot of uncertainty, which actually increases the need for consumer insights, says Marit Monastery, general manager of Ruffle Skirt NetPanel. ‘In times of crisis, it is very important that you as a marketer understand your target group and that you continue to meet their changing needs. Because consumer behavior has changed, we see an increasing need to map this properly. Customer journey research can help with this, where at Ruigrok we investigate what the customer journey looks like and where it does not run smoothly. There is also a greater need to use budgets as efficiently as possible. It is our job to help our customers clarify their needs by looking at statistics and information from customer contact centers, previous studies and existing knowledge.’ Klooster also sees that consumers have embraced digitization en masse, and that is causing a growing demand within her office for, for example, user experience research. ‘If there is more online consumption, it is important as a brand to make your digital resources as user-friendly as possible and you do this by involving the end user in this. Nothing is more instructive than experiencing how he or she navigates your site and what it encounters. We are therefore increasingly helping brands with their digital transformation.’

Brands have only become more important in times of corona, believes Hilde Doting, consultant marketing & communication at Validators. ‘Consumers automatically fall back on brands they have known for a long time, which unconsciously gives them the necessary support. It underlines the importance of building a strong association network: as a brand you reap in less favorable times. Business models are also changing, so I expect that shopping by appointment will continue to exist.’ At the same time, the need for information among consumers is increasing, says Doting. ‘We saw that strongly at Validators in the third and fourth quarters of last year. Marketers had their hands in their hair: can my campaigns still continue, should we do something or nothing with corona, can we still advertise at all? The business issues the ones they presented to us were more context aware.’ According to Doting, customers also want more relevant data. ‘Where brands previously worked with many different parties, they now put more questions to one and the same party. For example, at Validators we now also do creative research for a company for which we first only did campaign research. And vice versa. Due to the digitization within our agency, insights and data fully unlocked. That means we have more room for making connections and analyses.’

Continue to invest in marketing

The corona crisis has strengthened the mix of offline and online and the trend from ownership to use has also been boosted, says Boj Nefkens, commercial director of Market effect, which was awarded last year’s MoAwards Marketing Research & Analytics Agency of the Year. ‘Consider, for example, the changing need for mobility due to working from home. Corona is an accelerator of changes that would already take place, such as Gen Z that uses very different standards and values ‚Äč‚Äčthan other generations, which in turn influences their needs and behavior as consumers. This will also create new issues for employers.’ Since corona, Nefkens has experienced a greater need for insights at many companies. ‘A large part of the Dutch brands continued to invest in marketing and therefore also in market research. The initial uncertainty has quickly given way to entrepreneurship, whereby investments have been made in adapted services or new revenue models. All matters where research is relevant.’

The best desk

The MoAwards are awarded annually, the professional prize for researchers and research firms that distinguish themselves positively in the field of market research and marketing intelligence. In 2020 Market Effect went there with the title Marketing Research & Analytics Agency of the Year off. This year’s nominees are Validators, I&O Research and Underlined. The winners will be announced on Thursday 1 July in De Hallen in Amsterdam.


According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, there are 5,865 bureaus in the Netherlands that are engaged in market and opinion research. More than 80% of these market and opinion agencies are sole traders. 15% of the market research agencies consists of 2-10 employees. Only 5% of the agencies have 10 or more employees.

This article previously appeared in MT21.10.


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