With much of the world on lockdown, it has never been more important for consumers to feel that they can trust the information they are seeing from companies – and for companies to have trust in the feedback they’re getting from consumers. 

Even in a normal business environment, consumer trust was lagging behind expectations: a 2019 Edelman study found that while 82% of consumers said “they must be able to trust brands to do what is right,”  just 34% said they actually trusted most of the brands they buy from and use.

Again: that was in a normal business environment. In a world beset by COVID-19-related lockdowns, production shortages and layoffs, it’s exponentially more important for companies to know that the consumers they’re trying to reach not only see the messages they’re putting out into the world, but that they trust them. That knowledge can mean the difference between making a successful pivot or being forced to shut your doors.

The key to gauging that trust: consumer intelligence you can trust. In this environment, it’s vital not only to listen to consumers, but to listen to the right ones, in the right way. With that in mind, here are 5 common consumer intelligence pitfalls to avoid.

 

Pitfall 1: Over-indexing Influencers

When it comes to making decisions, it’s all too easy to focus on the loudest, most prominent voices, and to miss out on important ideas – and perhaps even a contradicting consensus – from larger, less vocal parts of your community.

One area where this is commonly seen is in the amount of attention that some brands pay to influencers as part of their consumer intelligence strategies. To avoid falling into an echo chamber, companies should always make sure to monitor what’s happening beyond an influencer’s audience. They should also consider the consensus viewpoints among people who respond to an influencer’s messaging – these people are likely to provide a clearer sense of consumer opinion than simply listening to the loudest voice alone.

 

Pitfall 2: Putting Your Priorities First 

While all companies have their own priorities, the ones that respond best in times of crisis are those that can take the temperature of their core audience and realize that it may be time to hit pause on a specific campaign.

As an example of what not to do, consider the outrage that greeted a major athletic wear retailer’s quickly-overturned decision to keep stores open during the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak, despite competitors being quick to announce store closings.

Had the CEO been more in tune with the opinions of the brand’s core customers – many of whom weighed in on social media to castigate the decision after an email announcing its decision to remain open found its way into the media – the brand may well have been able to avoid the situation altogether.

 

Pitfall 3: False Narratives

Because consumer messaging is so closely tied to marketing, there is often an assumption within brands that all of the messaging should be marketing. Or, to put it another way, the idea that companies should only publish messages that show them in a good light sometimes leads brands to create false narratives around decisions, product launches and even financial performance. 

As a general rule, companies should assume that while their customers may not be privy to inside information about the company, they do have a finely tuned sense of when they’re being misled – and are far more likely to punish the company with negative attention if it turns out that they were lied to.

 

Pitall 4: Navel Gazing

When it comes to gathering consumer intelligence, focus groups and surveys have been the traditional tools that companies have leveraged, along with their own inside information, gleaned from conversations with vendors, customers and the like.

Taken together, those three sources of information can provide valuable intel for any company,  but they also come with risks attached: namely, that each of them originates from within the company. As such, they are open to problems such as bias, blind spots and siloing of information. 

While each of these methods undoubtedly still has great value, the quality of information collected and value derived from it is amplified when it is informed by a wider understanding of a broad base of consumer opinion. This kind of monitoring should be an ongoing feature of any consumer-facing company’s brand strategy, and used as the bedrock upon which specific surveys and focus groups are built.

 

Pitfall 5: Wrong Place, Wrong Time

The final pitfall is an issue that seems simple, but is one where brands frequently fall short: not being in the right places to listen to consumer opinion.

To effectively monitor consumer opinion, it is vital for brands to remain platform-neutral, and to meet their customers (or potential customers) wherever they happen to be.

With this in mind, it is also vital for brands to keep up with developments and trends in social media, to ensure that, whichever wateringhole your consumers happen to be gathering at, you’re there as well.

 

Pulling It All Together

While there are many pitfalls to gathering effective consumer intelligence, the process is critically important for helping companies to keep a finger on the pulse of who their customers are, what they care about, and how their tastes and opinions change over time. Doing so can help companies avoid missteps, capitalize on opportunities and even pivot successfully during a pandemic.

In an ever-changing world, keeping up with the sheer volume of information – from where your customers are to what they’re saying about you – is a major challenge for brands. 

Learn more about how Zignal can help you meet this challenge by measuring the real-time evolution of opinion to shape more powerful brands, campaigns, products, and threat detection.

For more information and resources related to COVID-19, please visit Zignal’s dedicated COVID-19 Response Page, where you’ll find best practices, data-driven analyses and shareable content you can leverage in your response to COVID-19.

To learn how public health best practices can help you create an impactful communications strategy fit for these unprecedented times, watch the replay of our recent virtual town hall, “Fighting an Infodemic: Lessons from Public Health Experts.”

You can sign up for our next virtual town hall, which will explore “The Weaponization of a Global Crisis: Disinformation in the COVID Era,” here.