All Hail the Disrupted Consumer: Research and the New Normal

Everyone is talking about what the “new normal” will look like.

I think this is the new normal. 

I don’t think we’re ever going back to the way we were. We will never shop the way we shopped before. We will go back to stores, but we’ll shop differently, creating a hybrid experience with e-commerce. Education’s going to change. There’s a whole generation of people — from college to pre-school — who have not been socialized and have been disrupted for two years on their learning curves. That’s not going to bounce back evenly. We’re never going to work the same way again. Cities and suburbs are swapping people; they won’t look the same either.

Throw on top of that massive changes in public policy that will keep vacillating between the left and the right. Things will reverse every three to four years, and you’re going to see huge shifts back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Travel will change, too. Everything has been disrupted, and nothing will be the same — we just don’t know yet how it’s going to be different. 

Follow the Digital Transformation

Digital transformation has fueled major changes in technology during the past 20–30 years, but it has accelerated during the past five years. Technology has permeated virtually every area of consumers’ lives, fundamentally changing the way they behave and experience the world around them. 

Add to that big changes in demographics. Generational shifts mean that older millennials are in decision-making positions and are driving corporate strategy. Younger millennials and Gen-Zs, who are truly digital natives, won’t even talk on the phone — they want an app for everything; they have fundamentally different expectations.

These massive generational changes create trends and affect the way things function around us, including e-commerce, digital media, how we consume information, how we work. Then COVID comes in and, like gasoline on a fire, accelerates that, because everybody in the entire world is disrupted now, in every generation. All of a sudden, you have seniors on Medicare doing chats, because it’s easier than getting on the phone and waiting. They are texting and chatting and Zooming in order to stay connected to their families. Now that they’ve learned how to use these technologies, their services and demands are changing, too.

Engage the Disrupted Consumer

These things are happening all around us. The consumer has been fundamentally disrupted, leaving businesses facing threats to their very existence. They have to move even faster to respond to this disruption. They have to figure out what to do now and next. 

In the current environment, businesses have to do those things very, very quickly, and they can’t do them without connecting to the consumer. The demand for reliable consumer feedback is greater than ever before, it’s more frequent, and it has to be done faster. The supply side of the traditional research world can’t keep up. Research needs to be transformed using the same forces that are changing all the other industries in the world: digital transformation. 

Technology, combined with new ways of thinking and working, is solving the demand problem. Research Technology — ResTech — is providing greater cross-vector research that can help companies make fast, incremental, agile decisions. 

We are living through days of disruption, and the businesses that will survive and thrive must employ new technology and practices to understand the changes being lived out every day by their customers. How will they know how to serve these disrupted consumers? It’s simple: Ask.

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