Our plan for 2021:

be Muhammad Ali

7 min read 

“The Worst Year Ever” is what Time Magazine called it. To us, 2020 was a pivotal year. Just like everyone else, we had to keep a clear head amid the pandemonium, but there were some bright lights, too. The research industry regained some of its strength, identifying a few new superpowers while we were at it. Read on to find out which ones, and how insights will help businesses stay on top of things in the year ahead.

Here at Haystack Consulting, we weathered the storm by focusing on innovation and improvements. We’ve invested in top-line growth (think new products, services, and revenue sources) and bottom-line improvements (in short: doing things faster, cheaper and more digital). In the end, it proved a savvy strategy: we ended the year with much better results than expected.

What helped, is that we were already involved in a metamorphosis. This past year was our second under the Haystack ‘Consulting’ moniker, part of an intense process with new faces, a new focus, a new approach. We had momentum and used it to ride out wave after wave. Being amid change and uncertainty didn’t just help our company, it helped the whole industry: we fast-forwarded on the practical level and strengthened our collective narrative. Research is no longer marketing’s little brother. Today, evidence and advice are the basis to support all aspects of business operations. We’ve come of age.

And we’re starting the year afresh, with a plan to keep the momentum going without losing our stamina. This isn’t about racing the fastest, it’s about keeping up the tempo in the long run. To do that, you need to decide on what’s important. “We had to pivot in 2020”, says our founder Ludovic Depoorter. “Now it’s time to focus and accelerate. With the team, we’ve set three domains in which we’ll go the extra mile: innovation, moments and continuous consumer closeness.”

Evidence-based innovation at lightning speed

We learned our most important lesson for 2021 in 2020. Like you may have gleaned, it’s all about being agile. Being on your feet at all times. Being Muhammad Ali. In 2021 and beyond, we’ll need to keep changing track, tirelessly honing skills and strengthening capabilities, while keeping our eyes peeled for ways to move faster and better.

Anne-Clothilde Picot, Business Development and Innovation Manager at IKEA and one of our partners, agrees. “At IKEA, we accelerated at a speed I would never expect. All teams focussing on the same things and going in the same direction—faster and stronger.”

So, yes, we know you’ve heard and read all about agility. Maybe you’ve tired of it. But there’s no way around it, really. When times get blurry, businesses rely on data for guidance all the more. We all trust in numbers and knowledge to guide us the way.

“Being able to jump at any time is what will keep us afloat—not just in COVID times, but in an industry that demands increasingly faster turnaround times in research.”

Being able to jump at any time is what will keep us afloat—not just in COVID times, but in an industry that demands increasingly faster turnaround times in research. Innovations, launches and communications are expected to be up and running faster than ever before. Slack and you risk being irrelevant before even releasing your service or product. Clearly, this hurry puts pressure on those doing the research. Not just because we are pressed for time, but because the stakes are high: when times are as volatile as they are now, making correct predictions becomes harder and the margin for getting it wrong grows very, very thin.

The way to go, we believe, is to install a framework that facilitates fast reactions. If speed and flexibility are the keys to success, it means we have to fail as fast as we can and learn, iterate, and finetune until we get it right.

Meaningful, Memorable and MultiSensorial Moments

You know this old adage that says that trust is hard-earned but easily lost? It’s just as true for brands and companies as it is for friendship. 

Customers, after all, are as fickle as any other human being. And they have their moments. 

Moments of wanting something, right now. Wanting-to-know-moments, Google calls them. I-want-to-buy-moments and I-want-to-go-moments. If you manage to ace these moments and give your customers exactly what they need, you’re on a path straight into your customers’ hearts (and wallets).

Question is: how do you ace these moments? When do they occur, exactly? Can you pinpoint them and make sure you pamper your customer at that precise moment? And—even more interesting—can you create more meaningful moments between you and your customer?

To rise above generic customer experiences, we strongly advocate a multidimensional approach. Science has taught us that the customer journey happens on many fronts at once: it’s cognitive, emotional, behavioural, sensorial and social. In The Power of Moments, Chip and Dan Heath write that “to elevate a moment, first boost sensory appeal”. We agree. Aim for positive defining moments by focusing on your customers’ five senses and you’ll see the magic happen. We have plenty of evidence to prove this approach works wonders.

Consumer closeness x Continuous learning loops

The good news is we’ve leapt forward a good five years in just the first eight weeks of the pandemic. Suddenly, companies adopted video conferencing at break-neck speed and turned to social media to keep the pulse of their employees as well as their customers. Face-to-face value is hard to beat, we’ll admit it, but there are definitely ways to boost consumer closeness the virtual way. Because the one thing screens have over real life, is that you can connect those who are miles apart—even the unusual suspects. Just look at Clubhouse. 

“Consumer centricity is not new, but when combined with a true agile way of working, it can bring sexy back.”

Screens keep us connected, yes, but in reality, the lack of human contact makes our world smaller and harder to gauge. Increased demand from companies looking to understand their rapidly changing environment teaches us that if anything, our need to connect has grown stronger. Not just between one person and another, but between people and brands, too. There is an eagerness out there from consumers to actively collaborate with brands to shape products and services together.

Rising to the challenge will require companies to change their stance on what customers are to them. They will need to stay close to what their audience wants and needs. Winning, today, is about staying open. About taking the voice of the customer into account and listening attentively. About seeing customers as collaborators, not as merely the end of the product line. Or like our Innovation Architect Emilie Decoutere nicely coined it: “Consumer centricity is not new, but when combined with a true agile way of working, it can bring sexy back.”

Four ways to make a difference

How to be agile, keep up with customers, regard them as allies and create moments for them that matter, you ask? Here are four pillars we strongly believe in to get the job done.

  • Great ideas turn into great success when they are meaningful to consumers at the right time, in the right place. In other words: don’t just listen, make your interactions worthwhile to your customer.
  • Winning concepts are born from original ideas. But please, don’t stop at the idea itself. As James Hong, Founder of Hot or Not and angel investor puts it: “The confluence of iterative development and sound execution leads to success—not the initial idea.”
  • Speaking of iterative processes: remember that creating moments that stick is about co-construction.
  • Going to the bottom of things doesn’t have to be slow and boring. As soon as you’ve hit the sweet spot, make sure to move fast with the creative process.

Care to dig deeper into 2021’s challenges?
💬  Book a chat with one of our experts