To Keep Up, You Must Keep In Touch

In her latest Thursday Night Insight, Chrissie Douglas highlights the sheer pace and scale of economic change in the UK (the so called credit crunch), how this has completely changed our perceptions of things that we have always taken for granted (i.e. that our money is safe in the bank!), and the fact that market research is now perhaps more important than ever to keep in touch with what exactly is going on out there.

Let me start by telling you about my banking experience in the last six months.  After ten years of riding the property boom we sold our house and put the proceeds in the safe hands of our family bank – Royal Bank of Scotland, whilst waiting for our next dream move.  The months passed and as the property market began to decline we felt great in the knowledge that our secure pot would actually buy more as time went on.  We thought we were playing it by the book.  We’d made some money and we’d put the proceeds away safely in the bank with no risk – just as we’d always been told to do (“after all, your money is always safe in the bank”).

This all changed in October last year with news reports that British banking giant Royal Bank of Scotland was about to collapse.  The share price had fallen from over £2.50 to 40p (a fall of 84%!) in a matter of days and was on the verge of going under.  We had to move quickly.  A review of the alternatives revealed that the only 100% safe option for savings was now the Post Office (owned by the Bank of Ireland), following the Irish government’s pledge to guarantee 100% of all savings in Irish Institutions.  So the money was safe again, or so we thought.  Just after Christmas, amidst continuous press reports of financial doom and gloom, we noticed that the Irish economy was worst hit and on the verge of bankruptcy.  The promise of their 100% safety on savings was not worth the paper it was written on (they would not have the funds to back up this guarantee if bankruptcy occurred).  With the hysteria surrounding the bankruptcy of the Iceland economy and the loss of savers’ deposits in Icesave still fresh in our minds, we moved the money back to RBS where incidentally it would have been safe all along (in the meantime RBS had become 75% owned by the British government).

The point of telling this story is to highlight the rapid scale and pace of change, and that things that you had always taken for granted are not necessarily so in the current climate.  The term ‘credit crunch’ has become part of our everyday vocabulary but, until it hits you on a personal level, I don’t think you appreciate the nature of the current financial situation in the UK.  Things are changing very quickly and it is difficult to keep up.

A quick review of recent headlines highlights this point.  For example:

  • The 2009 Sunday Times Rich List suffered its biggest annual fall since it was first compiled 21 years ago. 
  • Unemployment is forecast to reach 3.3 million next year (possibly 5 million in the next few years!) – the highest since the early 1980s and at any time since comparable records began in the early 1970s.
  • The UK has just announced its biggest budget deficit in peacetime history and the steepest downturn in the economy since the Second World War.
  • Last September the Dow Jones recorded the biggest single-day point loss ever.

There are many more examples but the common theme is that economic decline seems to be on a bigger scale and is changing faster than ever before.  Nobody knows what is going on.  Nobody knows what will happen next.  All we do know is that we have to carry on and plan for the future as we have always done.

This brings me back to the topic of market research.  In this current environment it would be understandable to remove market research from your list of top priorities.  It may be hard to justify expenditure on something that may be out of date soon after completion (given the pace and scale of change, last year’s market research may already be out of date).  However, companies still need to make informed decisions on future direction.  I would argue that market research is actually now more important than ever.  What we really need is continuous customer monitoring that is cheaper and has a quick turnaround.  Luckily with the aid of new technology, market research techniques have come on leaps and bounds and now enable us to keep our nose to the ground.  For example, e-surveys, online focus groups, internet panels and bulletin boards are all providing us with the ability to keep up and keep in touch.

For more information on how B2B International can help you stay in touch, please call one of the B2B teams on +44 (0)161 440 6000 or +1 914 761 1909.

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