Learning From Customers From A Distance

From the very beginning, HRA Global has always had a strong digital side. Partly due to us having a high proportion of international clients, early on we hopped on Skype, Go To Meeting and BlueJeans platforms for client project meetings and FMCG market research, as detailed in a recent Market Research YouTube Video.

Software like Mural and SharePoint has been great for shopper ideation groups and collaborative working with clients.  The office coffee machine is located right next to our video conferencing suite – looking back, maybe that drove our adoption of the tech as well?

This experience and existing capability was a huge asset in the early days of COVID. We avoided the issues seen by many ‘old school’ FMCG market research agencies and their clients, who were caught a little flat footed as respondents started to be reluctant to attend face to face groups and tastings. Our quantitative work was already online – we love using online surveys to achieve robust sample sizes whilst shoppers, whether it be normal times or when shoppers were in lockdown. You can see the various tools and techniques in our market research brochure.

We made more use of our online focus groups and online depth interviews techniques in place of face to face. We created immersive online communities for qualitative projects – done well they are just as engaging for shoppers as Facebook or Instagram. Humans love to hear and tell stories and Kim explains the link with digital ethnography in here article What Deep Dive Research Can Offer Food and Drink Brands.

Initially, clients had concerns that COVID would cloud shoppers thinking or invalidate research findings. But, as expected, whilst COVID has driven different patterns of behaviour amongst shoppers, their ability to verbalise their reactions to products, propositions, flavours, prices etc. remains strong. Sophie’s thoughtful piece on how to run an online focus group sets out how to get the best out of respondents.

A word of caution – it remains key that any data collected is carefully curated and guarded. The right protocols need to be in place so that both client and shopper data is safe and secure. It’s also true that data sets need to be calibrated by the FMCG market research method.

Ultimately, it’s a balance. As a social animal I love the buzz of running shopper focus groups. I love the messy, almost chaotic atmosphere of a product ideation session. But for speed, agility, robustness and reach it’s hard to beat online market research. As we move into this new era, our core task remains helping clients ask the right questions in the right way… and then helping them interpret and apply the answers.  Kim’s question here is a good one – Can Online Techniques Ever Replace Face to Face?

And one last thing. As a market researcher, its knackering to charge round the country from focus group to focus group. But here’s the thing. Many a time we’d find ourselves in Central Manchester at about 8.30pm on a Wednesday evening, having just finished the debrief on the final focus group of the day. Exhausted, we’d turn to the most important question of the day: “where to go for dinner”. Sounds strange, but I miss that feeling. Those frenzied 5 minutes of team debate and discussion before we pick a venue and hoof it over there as fast as humanly possible.

So, whatever question or insight you are looking to explore, we can help you frame that question, deliver the answer and help with applying the insights to move your project and thinking on. Get in touch with Kim by sending an email to kim@hra-global.com or myself by emailing hamish@hra-global.com. Alternatively, find our company contact details. We’d love to hear from you.


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