For more than a year, researchers around the world have been tasked with managing shifts in staffing, budgets and viable research methodologies.  

To get a better sense of how client-side researchers have had to pivot, as well as the overall impact of the last year on the marketing research and insights industry, we dove into responses found in our Q&A series, “10 minutes with a corporate researcher.” 

In the last six months, I’ve had the opportunity to ask several researchers what tools, practices and methodologies they have turned to as they have navigated research during the pandemic, as well as their predictions for the months to come. The following responses provide a quick glimpse of what we learned during these conversations with end clients.

 increased speed to consumer insights

The pace of marketing research and insights

“We were already on the journey of increased speed to insights while driving quality information, and COVID has only enhanced that mission. We have continued to push for even faster research while maintaining the quality we expect. 

“COVID has been a time to increase our research, to increase our shopper touchpoints in order to understand challenges and opportunities. We didn’t pull back, we pushed forward.” Nathan Noertker, RB

“We had to adapt to more agile approaches and really make sure our insights were highly actionable in the current situation to each audience.” Shefali Khanna, Brookfield Properties

“Researchers needed to respond and mine insights more quickly than ever, which led to the other eye-opening development of this year: how those in the industry were able to rise to the occasion and meet those needs, and the potential future applications of the abilities demonstrated in meeting them. At Liberty, we’ve tested things more often, faster and in different ways than we ever have. This has allowed us to answer more questions, particularly in short timelines and to research in new ways, giving us a deeper understanding of the consumers we’re trying to message.” Thomas Ware, Liberty Mutual Insurance

Pivoting to digital research methods

“Prior to COVID-19, we did a considerable amount of in-person research. This was everything from ethnography to shopper intercepts at properties, observational research during market tours, IDIs and focus groups, you name it! And suddenly, all of the tools either had to shift to digital methods or be paused in the interim.” Shefali Khanna, Brookfield Properties

“In 2020, COVID-19 shifted qual research exclusively online. I ran virtual qual projects prior to the pandemic but the bulk of qual research I ran was conducted in-person – focus groups, shop-alongs, in-store intercepts, etc. – all largely in support of optimizing our store experience.

“Even though virtual qual technology is improving, my hope is that over time virtual qual platforms can become less glitchy as well as more cost-effective – particularly the more innovative solutions like VR.” Mark Bartkiewicz, Macy’s

Predictions for the future

“I believe it will be critical for insights professionals to be pretty fluent across a broad range of techniques and tools to remain effective. I recently read ‘Range’ by David Epstein, which discusses the value of being more a generalist than a specialist. He referred to two different types of learning environments – some that are kind, where things are fairly clear cut and operate in fairly regular way, and some are wicked, where things tend to be unpredictable, highly evolving, unclear, incomplete and volatile. I think research and insights will have to connect the dots and thrive in a world with lots of disparate data and information sources. That requires skills that allow you to stitch together the abstract and make meaning from it. That’s going to be an increasingly sizeable portion of what we will do.” Barry Jennings, Microsoft Research + Insights

“There are a number of consumer trends that we believe might ‘stick’ based on having lived through this event — such as: all things digital; stockpiling household necessities and PPE; keeping your circle tight; increased focus on hygiene; etc. But in thinking about financial services and our industry specifically, one of the biggest shifts has been in terms of risk aversion. 

“When it comes to the insights function, there are also some predictions we can make based on what we’ve learned over the past year. First, there is definitely an increased need for real-time, agile research tools and measurements. We are all being tasked with doing more with less during this unprecedented time, and the need for immediate insights became even more pronounced than ever. The idea of ‘multi-source synthesis’ and leveraging all data sources has become a must-have for market researchers. It’s not enough to conduct your own research, but you really need to be able to review and digest what else is out there through external resources to build out a complete view of consumer insights and sentiment. And lastly, being able to pivot, recalibrate and stand up new measurements at any point in time will be the key to success for any research and insights team. We must be able to be flexible to best serve our clients and their needs at any time.” Keri Hughes, Voya Financial

If you’d like to learn more about the state of the industry from the client side, watch for new Q&As in each issue of Quirk’s magazine and e-newsletter. If you’re an end-client researcher and interested in participating in a Q&A with Quirk’s, please send an e-mail to