Editor’s note: Troy Harrington is the senior digital marketing manager at MFour, an Irvine, Calif.-based mobile research firm. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared under the title, “Digital visibility: Three ways to combat a down economy.” 

Reorganization Concept It's decision time for your stakeholders.

MFour’s ongoing research shows that U.S. foot traffic dropped 92% even before lockdowns started. 

Consumers are in quarantine. Budgets are cut. Production is halted. So, what’s next, and how do we stay afloat? 

Since March 11 we’ve talked to hundreds of our clients and we have found a pattern in our conversations: three questions asked over and over again. 

Here is our effort to answer them.

COVID-19 research question No. 1: How do we get digital insights from consumers ... right now?

At the time of writing, several states, including California, New York and Illinois, are already on lockdown. This throws a wrench into many traditional forms of market research. 

Yet, consumers haven't stopped spending. They’ve shifted their focus online and to apps that allow them to still buy, such as Amazon, UberEats, Netflix and more. 

Now is the time to be looking at consumers’ digital path-to-purchase so you can impact sales and improve revenue. 

Survey consumers who shop with you (or your competitors) digitally.

Launch a study, or turn to research technology, that looks specifically at consumer app behavior. This helps your company remain digitally connected. For example, if you’re in the restaurant space, you can reach out to your consumers who have:

  • The UberEats or GrubHub app installed on their phone.
  • Recently been to your restaurant or a competitor's restaurant.

You can then survey on a variety of things. Ask questions to improve channels, messaging and product strategy for the digital path-to-purchase. It's still possible to access sales if the business can be nimble and adapt to a more digital model. 

COVID-19 research question No. 2: How do we protect sales, with consumers stuck at home?

Your business has likely felt an impact.

Regardless of what you produce, the economic climate has changed. The result has been the split of two main categories:

  • Essentials, such as household supplies, are up in sales.
  • Non-essentials, such as casual dining, are down in sales.

It’s left researchers with questions, such as:

  • Will these trends continue?
  • For how long, and how will we be impacted?
  • How can we increase sales under these circumstances?

Double down on social media ads and social media ad testing.

Consumers are spending more time on their smartphones than before the outbreak. Online shopping is up 46% (in categories such as clothing and home decor), but the biggest uptick is in time spent on social media platforms.

To reach consumers, and increase sales, try their social streams.

With advertising budgets cut across the nation, the cost of running ads on social media is actually down right now, which makes it a great opportunity.

Since social media is the best way to reach your consumers (for the foreseeable future, at least), it makes sense that you’ll need to test messaging and concepts and get real, validated opinions and feedback from your consumers, in real-time. 

Look into tools to allow you to collect passive data on your social media ad(s) and then survey to understand consumer motivation. Take your target audience through the following questions:

  • Do they remember the ad?
  • What brands do they recall seeing?
  • Is the content likable? Distinctive? Memorable?
  • Does the ad create favorable impressions of your brand and push a purchase?

If the ad’s a hit, then you’ve got a proven, scalable campaign. If it needs to be revised, there's now direct feedback and a way to retest the ad for prime time. 

COVID-19 Research Question #3: How can we monitor consumer behavior if it's changing daily?

Consumer behavior has changed. It’s evolving from week to week. Behavior will continue to change as conditions worsen (or improve), as states take certain precautions and as major competitors change the way they market.

So, how can you monitor behavior, if it’s constantly changing?

A tracker that captures location and digital behaviors.

Look for ways to keep in touch with your consumers online and mobile movements:

  • See where consumers are going in real-time (and measure it against historically logged locations). 
  • See what apps consumers are accessing in real-time (and which apps they have installed and which new ones they’re downloading).
  • Target and survey based on mixed location or digital behaviors.

In a time like this, visibility is everything. 

A tracker looks at consumer behavior over time, and eliminates the noise that comes with constant changes. It shares brand perception and uses a panel to show your market’s digital behaviors and mobile behaviors.