Consumer testing during a pandemic: From virtual focus groups to video diaries... 'Consumers really want to talk right now'

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Patricia Manos: 'Some [innovation] budgets are frozen, but companies are also planning for what happens post-COVID-19'
Patricia Manos: 'Some [innovation] budgets are frozen, but companies are also planning for what happens post-COVID-19'

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“Coronavirus has us all rethinking how we will do research this year,” says Patricia Manos, VP marketing at consumer insights and product testing specialist Curion, who says there are multiple ways to glean insights from consumers remotely, from video diaries to virtual focus groups.

As to whether consumers are in the right frame of mind to test new products at home during such a difficult and stressful time, you’d be surprised, she told FoodNavigator-USA. “When you’ve got millions of people unemployed ​[and stuck at home], this is an additional source of revenue that comes into their homes.”

In fact, "consumers are dying to talk right now," ​added Keren Novak, VP sensory and consumer insights at Curion, in a recent webinar​. "People are looking for an outlet, a way to have their voice heard and their opinion shared.

"We see high participation from consumers right now and rapid engagement, because quite frankly a lot of people don't have a lot of things to do right now and they are happy to share their thoughts."

Curion​ has a variety of established tools for remote testing including:

  • Identifying and recruiting consumers online and capturing how they engage and react to products in real-life, at home, through video-diary recordings​.
  • In home use tests combined with follow-up peel-off interviews and/or video diaries and virtual focus groups.
  • Online surveys.
  • Descriptive and discrimination expert panels​ where a Curion moderator collects responses from panelists that receive and return products via mail/courier through an online video conferencing platform.
  • Home use tests​ (HUT) where products are mailed to consumers who fill in online product evaluation surveys.
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Online surveys are a key to our success right now​,” Manos told FoodNavigator-USA.  

That said, nothing is quite as effective as getting consumers into a real (not virtual) room, or following them around a supermarket, or talking to them in their homes, she said. “These [digital] tools deliver really accurate insights but we’re not saying that digital is going to replace everything longer term.

“If I’m sending a video diary or report ​[back to a researcher], and I don’t like what I just said, I’ll go back and re-record it, and will I have left out an insight or two, or a bit of ​feedback [that the researcher would have picked up on during a face to face interaction].”

Consumer insights are particularly important to CPG firms right now

Asked how Curion’s CPG clients are thinking about innovation right now, she said: “Several ​[innovation] budgets are frozen, but companies are also planning for what happens post-COVID-19.”

They’re also very interested in learning how consumer behavior is changing during this crisis, and whether behaviors and attitudes developed during this period of enforced lockdown will impact their behavior longer term, she said, making consumer insights particularly valuable right now.

“I 100% believe new products will come from this. I think the concept of the family around the dinner table will become more important." 

And while consumers might be more worried about paying their rent than saving the planet right now, this period of enforced lockdown has prompted many consumers to think a lot more about things like food and packaging waste, and become more thoughtful and mindful about their purchases, she said.

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