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As dark clouds loom over the global economy, company owners and strategists need to be ahead of the curve when it comes to ensuring their businesses can both survive and thrive during times of uncertainty. Pro-active planning to protect the health of your company is essential, and market research can play a vital part in identifying the issues and understanding the nuances that can drive strategic decisions to help ride out the impact of any potential hurdles, whether a potential recession the ONS reported the UK (contracted by 0.1% in the three months to June 2022), the impact of rising inflation (which currently stands at 8.2% in the UK) or an emerging labour crisis (over 1.3m vacant job openings in the UK).

Whether operating in the B2B or B2C sectors, all companies can benefit from using market research to predict the state of the economy, understand current customer worries, identify potential new targets and geographical markets, and find out how customers and suppliers are planning for the future.
Gathering this essential business and consumer intelligence will help you create the appropriate strategies to weather the storm.

When to Prepare For Uncertain Times

The best time to prepare is right now. Getting your market research plan in place will put you ahead of your competitors and give you the information you need to take a strategic approach to future challenges.
The worst thing you can do is to wait until you start to feel the impact of uncertain times and then rush to implement a response which does not fit with your long-term strategy.
During times of uncertainty, companies face the challenge of maintaining their competitive positions in the market at a time when consumers and business customers are looking to cut back on discretionary spending. This is when firms need to be creative, flexible and responsive to changing market needs. Conducting market research to determine how best to respond to changes in customer behaviour is an excellent way of handling uncertainty, but you should also engage in a conversation with your vendors and partners to understand their plans for the future and factor these into your own planning.

How to use Market Research to Plan for Uncertain Times

Market research can help you make the most of the good times but it can also assist in planning for the bad times. If the economic pressures are impacting your business, it's important to know what needs to be done for your company to survive.
Get a clear understanding of how your target customers feel about the future. You need this information because it will help determine how they will react when things get tough. For example, for B2C businesses, if target customers are worried about losing their jobs or having trouble paying bills, they are likely to switch to cheaper products and cut back on discretionary spending. This means, for example, that discount retailers can be winners in a recession, but restaurants are likely to be losers.

What customers to focus on?

Once you know where your business can be streamlined, it’s time to decide which customers should be given priority over others. If you have customers in different industries, then now might be a good time to focus on one or two industries that are likely to weather the storm better than others (e.g. financial services or healthcare). You can also consider targeting demographic segments that might be less affected by economic downturns (e.g. millennials may be less impacted by job losses than GenZ).

Uncertainty Planning By Sector

Every sector has to respond to types of uncertainty with unique approaches; different types of qualitative market research are needed for individual market research types. If you are looking to plan for uncertainty, here are some sector-specific examples.
Gathering this essential business and consumer intelligence will help you create and implement the appropriate strategies to weather the storm.

Retail Uncertainty Planning

Market research helps retail businesses understand these factors and enables them to make better decisions about business direction, like where to open shops, what products to stock, and where you can improve efficiencies during difficult times.
Online Bulletin Boards / OBB - An online bulletin board enable retailers to have a relationship with participants where they can log into a platform to carry out research tasks or reply to questions asked by a moderator at their own pace.
Read More About OBB
MROC - Crucial for retailers, a market research online community (MROC) can be considered a longer-term version of an online bulletin board. Allowing the retailer to understand customer sentimentS over a longer period.
Read More About MROC

B2B Uncertainty Planning

In B2B, you'll want to look into pricing structures. Changing pricing structures can help your business remain relevant during times of hardship; testing SaaS subscriptions and alternative price structures can help keep you cost-effective, reducing the ‘price pain factor’ and shortening deal cycles. You can also invest in your product offering: this can be especially key within SaaS, where customers continuously give feedback.
Targeting and pinpointing growth sectors in times of hardship is critical to success. Market research can help you adapt and get ahead before the competition starts entering the growth sectors.
Focus Groups - Allow B2B companies to understand the experiences and perspectives of surrounding decisions with the business from pricing, product and CX (customer experience).
Read More About Focus Groups
IDIs - In-depth interviews with buyers and budget holders give context to the challenges buyers face when making decisions.
Read More About IDIs

D2C Uncertainty Planning

Market research allows D2C brands to give clarity around what product lines to focus on next, what customers feel about the brand positioning and how likely they are to come back in the future. Importantly, due to being online only UX / UI has become critical to the success for D2C brands as a way to improve ROAS (return on ad spend) and conversion rates overall,.
Once you’ve identified these opportunities for improvement, focus on making changes that will immediately impact sales or conversion rates with little cost involved. You might want to consider increasing basket sizes through targeted campaigns (by using geo-location or other tools), or rethinking the design of specific user interfaces; As a principle, every $1 invested in UX/UI returns 300% ROI.
These changes won’t require any major overhauls but will help ensure that customers stay engaged with your brand over time—and therefore generate higher value transactions in future years too!
UX Testing - Involves directly observing and interviewing a participant using a product or service. It is widely used for testing apps and websites. This is critical for D2C brands looking to understand their relationship with customers.
Read More About UX Testing

Online Marketplace Uncertainty Planning

Online marketplaces are tough: you may have found an excellent recipe for success for now, but when uncertainty comes, it can throw a previously profitable marketplace off kilter. The sector, in general, is known for tight margins, so it is vulnerable to price rises, complex supply side and demand side challenges and, for some marketplaces, highly price-sensitive customers. So getting critical insights can make your marketplace rather than break it.
Market research enables you to build better, more connected relationships with customers and drive increased sales through better product and category selection to meet the needs, wants and desires of customers.
Online surveys give marketplaces a scalable way of engaging with customers, whether it be 100-10,000 participants. Ask important questions like “what product lines should we add?” and ”where can we improve our customer service?”
Read More About Online Surveys

Should You Use Market Research To Plan For Uncertainty?

Inflation, recessions, and labour shortages are part of the natural cycle of the economy. Businesses need to know what the impacts of these might be so they can take appropriate action.
While it’s just possible that we may avoid a deep recession in 2023, we can be certain that there will be another one at some point. The best way to prepare for a recession is by being realistic about how much you can do with your budget, creating strategies for success based on a clear understanding of your market, pivoting where appropriate and planning savings ahead of time so that when times get tough, you are well prepared.
Looking for the insight that can help guide you through times of uncertainty? Get in touch with FieldworkHub.
FieldworkHub is an agile, knowledgeable market research fieldwork agency providing high-quality focus group recruitment as part of our full range of qualitative and quantitative fieldwork services.
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