This has been, by any standards, an interesting week for innovation consultants. Here at Huxly we've been running research across Europe. Our Italian fieldwork had to move to Spain as Covid19 spread west. Our Spanish respondents found themselves having to take part in a creative co-creation session, while sitting two meters apart, classroom style (which worked better than you might expect). And finally the workshop we’re setting up for in New York now can’t happen because we can’t fly across the Atlantic, and even if we swam our client’s team are all working from home anyway. 

We need to think carefully about how we respond to the challenges posed by Coronavirus. We’ve got a duty of care to the respondents who take part in market research, to provide for their safety. But we can’t just shut everything down, because we need to keep our businesses going. And we also need to look after the community of freelance moderators, translators and designers who make the work we do possible, and who will be most directly exposed to the slowdown.

The loss of social gatherings, sporting events and promotional opportunities will hurt many of our clients. At the same time consumers will continue to eat, drink and take care of themselves, and in the long term the CPG industry will truck on like it always does. It looks as though coronavirus will drive consumers towards online shopping, while bricks and mortar retailers struggle with the staffing and stock control issues it brings. We also know that if client businesses cut into recessions, they tend to lose market share when the economy rebounds. So we need to maintain our strategic focus, and help our clients to grow their businesses in changing times. But we’ll need swift, inexpensive, agile ways to help them, recognising that in the short term, budgets are likely to be smaller.

Fortunately we’re well equipped to do this. The agile tools we’ve been developing in the last couple of years will be vital. Meanwhile travel restrictions are forcing us to challenge our assumptions about the best way to deliver innovation projects.

So far we have been:

  • Switching our co-creation work online. We’ve been creating longer, more interesting and more exciting online communities, using creative projective tasks and stimulus, along with product placement and trial to allow us to get the same outputs we’d expect from face to face research.

  • We’ve been working closely with the Nova technology team within MMR. Their new machine learning mass qualitative approach is a quick and effective way to get qualitative learnings at quantitative scale, even when consumers are stuck at home.

  • Finally our workshops are evolving too. We’re moving from single, monolithic creative sessions in stylish city centre venues, to a series of shorter interactions. We’re using carefully designed creative techniques and homework tasks to create ideas and seek feedback. We’re using Microsoft Teams as a working environment – this has been a massive step forward in collaborative working.

The public health impacts of Coronavirus are a tragedy that can be reduced but not avoided. The economic impacts will also be significant, but there’s a lot more we can do to prevent them. When I look at the changes Covid-19 is forcing, we’ll be delivering deep consumer insights and powerful creative ideas, with less travel, a lower carbon footprint, on a tighter budget. My ambition for Huxly in the next few weeks is that we keep the team safe, keep our consumers safe, but stay focused on delivering incredible work that drives our clients’ growth.

Joe Goyder, 15th March, 2020