You need to research your way out of a crisis: Murtaza Bakir, Mintel

It is in uncertain times, more than any other time that brands and companies want to know about the shifts that are taking place in consumer behaviour. The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted the global economy, forcing businesses to navigate in uncharted waters.

In the current scenario, research can be an enabler for brands and let them keep track of changing consumer sentiments as well as consumers’ expectations from brands. Thus, it is crucial for companies and brands to align their marketing, communications and branding strategies and keeping the innovation pipeline ready, even during a crisis.

Murtaza Bakir, Country Manager, India and Sri Lanka, Mintel, speaks to Adgully about how brands can adapt/cater to consumers effectively and ensure brand loyalty during COVID-19 times and beyond.

There must be a lot of challenges when it comes to conducting research with social distancing, etc. How are you currently conducting your research? Is everything done online through your panels? What about focus groups, are you using new technology to do that research?

Mintel is the expert in what consumers want and why. As the world’s leading market intelligence agency, our analysis of consumers, markets, new products and competitive landscapes provides a unique perspective on global and local economies. At Mintel, we cover 38,000 product launches a month. Every day, we ask thousands of people for their opinions. We track consumer spending across 34 markets.

In India, each of our consumer reports across Food & Drink, Lifestyles and Beauty and Personal Care, includes an exhaustive sample size of 3,000 consumers across Metro and Tier 1 to 3 cities throughout the 4 main regions. We conduct face-to-face research in 6 local languages to ensure data you can rely on. And our expert local analyst team and category experts analyse this data to give strategic recommendations for companies and brands.

In the current scenario, COVID-19 has changed the way people communicate and do business, and Mintel is no exception. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, we have reviewed our consumer research process globally, including India, where we were primarily using a face to face collection method. We took a decision to adopt an online methodology, which removes the need for close interaction between interviewers and the public and so allow all involved to comply with social distancing measures.

Our clients look to us to provide insights and recommendations to drive their business decisions. During this time of uncertainty, we want to ensure that Mintel continues to be a thought leader and our local and global expert analyst team from 34 markets globally interact and share knowledge to ensure that all critical insights, strategies and recommendations are provided to our clients to thrive in these challenging times. Mintel’s proprietary COVID-19 tracker across the globe is an apt example of this.

Brands and clients are postponing launches due to COVID-19. Are they really keen to conduct new research as there is no likelihood of new brand launches happening for the time being? What kind of research are brands undertaking now?

Our data shows that companies are spending more time on our research platforms now compared to the same time last year, our service teams are busy helping clients navigate through these times. It is important for any brand to re-evaluate their portfolio and what these shifts in consumer behaviour might mean for their brand. For some, it might mean bring forward launches they might have planned for the future, while for some it might mean delaying a few launches and perhaps tweaking them. That would depend on what the brand and product proposition is. In both cases, research will be necessary to be able to make informed decisions.

Mintel started tracking the COVID-19 impact on consumer behaviours and market shifts as early as February 2020, starting from China, when the country was in a serious situation amidst the pandemic. We realised that COVID-19 will have a long-lasting impact on businesses over brands and we quickly started conducting research and sharing insights via thought pieces on our blog, exclusive insight reports and running COVID-19 sessions for our clients both in India and globally to help provide any insights or guidance for their brand repositioning, product innovation or market opportunities. As said, Mintel is the expert in what consumers want and why, and our quick response and deep local expertise has and will help our clients to overcome the present uncertain situation.

Are you also conducting any research to understand the new behaviour of the consumers and what kind of new normal one is expecting post the lockdown? Any special study being done across categories?

As mentioned earlier, our clients look to us to provide insights and recommendations to drive their business decisions. During this time of uncertainty, we want to ensure that Mintel continues to fulfil this role by demonstrating that we are able to adapt even in challenging times. As experts in what consumers want and why, we are working hard to be your trusted source of truth and guidance when it comes to COVID-19’s impact on global consumer behaviour. In order to consistently monitor consumer sentiment during the COVID-19 outbreak, Mintel is conducting proprietary research among Indian consumers (and globally) on a fortnightly basis.

We have already published a series of insights and tactical recommendations coming from our local and global category experts. We are closely tracking the current shifts in consumer sentiment and buying behaviour, to the future impact on markets worldwide and whether or not industries can expect to recover relatively quickly or experience long-term effects.

Our research indicates, the situation currently is changing rapidly and consumer preferences and sentiments will be evolving as we speak. For example, in our first three waves of research in India, when it comes to using hand sanitizers, we have seen that the percentage of consumers using them changing:

  1. Wave 1 as of 31st March - 77% of respondents
  2. Wave 2 as of 20th April - 65% of respondents
  3. Wave 3 as of 29th April - 61% of respondents

Our team of local category experts are continuously analysing this and providing insights and recommendations for brands and companies.

As a research expert, what are the 5-key measures one should take up for the economy and the industry to come back to track?

Although the market and consumers are playing an important role in shaping the economy industry, the situation right now is very dynamic as mentioned above and we are not in the right position to comment on this topic. However, what we can say is that, based on our market research and data tracker on COVID-19 related content, consumers want that ‘feel-good factor’ more during this time of uncertainty and change.

This is, in fact, was one of the key learnings taken from Mintel’s global analysts as a result of the global recession during 2007-8. For example, in the UK, some of the biggest winners of the last recession were absolute luxuries, the likes of premium skincare and sparkling wine. They are products that no one actually needed, but did a great job of lifting people’s moods in tough times. Companies and brands need to think about more fundamental, long-term shifts in consumer attitudes and behaviours, not just focus on the short term changes. There is no doubt that some products (such as sanitizers) will see a quick win, but the really smart brands are the ones who look at how to win consumer favour in the long run.

Your sample panel is the backbone to conduct all your research. How are you collaborating with them and conducting the research? Are you getting full cooperation during these times to get the best output from them as there are many challenges?

Our methodology remains robust. Our earlier set of 16 cities in offline research is a good representation of urban India. However, the online methodology gives us an opportunity to further enhance the methodology by widening the lower-tier city coverage. This means that we will be able to capture a wider spread of responses.

Our online surveys are programmed by our team of in-house experts, who use a variety of checks to exclude respondents that attempt to speed through the survey too quickly or provide non-logical responses.

What mantra would you suggest that brands should follow as even after the lockdown is lifted it is going to be a long haul to recover fully?

According to Mintel 2030 Global Consumer Trends, there are 7 key consumer drivers that have been identified:

  1. Well being
  2. Surroundings
  3. Technology
  4. Rights
  5. Identity
  6. Value
  7. Experiences

These trends are still relevant even during the COVID-19 situation. The same drivers of consumer behaviour apply to the wider Asia-Pacific just as much as they do in India, whether there is a crisis or not. The key is to take any opportunity – crisis-induced or otherwise – and use innovative thinking to identify new ways to use technology to solve life’s issues. To understand what consumers want and why, is the key, of course. That is why, following the logic that you need to advertise your way out of a recession, we believe you need to research your way out of a crisis.

It is important to think about the long term and not have knee jerk reactions that cater just to the short term. Certain shifts in consumer behaviour that take place will continue to prevail even after the lockdown has been lifted, whereas others might not. It is important to closely monitor these shifts and continue to innovate to meet the evolving needs of consumers.


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