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From the Ethnographer’s Desk: Unprecedented Uncertainty

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Image of the post author Sarah Serbun

In this unprecedented time of COVID-19, the world around us is changing daily, hourly, even by the minute, as news is near-instantly disseminated online and circulated via social media. In America, as in many other countries, the coronavirus has upended our economy, healthcare systems, jobs, and our daily lives. Our behaviors, feelings, needs, perceptions, attitudes, and hopes are different now than they were just one month ago, and more change is inevitable as COVID-19 cases continue to increase across the nation. Now, perhaps more than ever, real-time insight into consumers’ lives and minds is critical for businesses and organizations to understand how best to move forward in this new reality.   

Thankfully, online communities are an ideal method for conducting consumer research right now. Communities are conducted remotely, offering consumers privacy, flexibility and time to participate at their convenience, which results in more honest, thoughtful, less biased responses. Highly flexible, communities facilitate qualitative deep dives, quick quantitative checks, and ethnographic approaches, as consumers can give us a detailed peak into their homes, behaviors, and feelings through videos and photos.

Kadence International’s Boston team recently launched our own insight community, in association with 2020 Research, to get a deeper understanding on how COVID-19 is really impacting Americans. Our Pandemic PoV Community includes 30 adults, representing a broad range of ages, from four geographically dispersed cities: NYC, Chicago, Houston and LA.

In this time where people are social distancing and isolating from others, our community members have welcomed the opportunity to socialize, frequently engaging in conversations, sharing their daily thoughts and feelings in writing, along with videos, photos, memes, articles, media content, tips and more.

What’s immediately clear from our community is that people are very emotional right now. Some feel overwhelmed, vulnerable, sad, frustrated, angry, or bored. But across the board, regardless of age, gender, or location, everyone is feeling anxiety, worry and fear.

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What is the primary source of Americans’ fear and angst? Uncertainty.

We fear the unknown, and right now there is a whole lot that is unknown. COVID-19 is elusive, often compared to a snake or alligator in our community. In the media, we even hear some of the “experts” openly questioning their understanding of the virus and the extent to which this will impact America.

Americans have so many unanswered questions right now surrounding COVID-19. Our community questions:

  • The statistics: How accurate are the latest numbers? How many people actually have it but haven’t been tested? How long has it been in the US? How many people had it before we had available tests? How many are asymptomatic?
  • The media: What information/news can I trust? Is anyone in the media impartial?
  • Our resources: Are there enough tests available? Can our healthcare system really not handle the current/future demand? When will we have effective drugs or a vaccine?
  • The virus: Did I or someone I know have it earlier this winter before I even knew about it? Can I be tested to determine if I previously had it? How do I know if I really have it vs. allergies, a cold or the regular flu?
  • Our behaviors: Do I really need to be isolating or in quarantine? Am I doing enough to protect myself and my family? Was I ever in close contact with someone with it? Do I really need to wash my groceries and packages? Did I wash my hands enough?
  • The future: Is this going to be over soon? What will life be like then? How many will die? Will anyone I know get it? Will I get it? How will this affect my finances? What is going to happen to our economy? How will I pay my bills? How will this affect my kids? Will it come back again?

With so much uncertainty, exacerbated by around-the-clock news alerts, on top of the upheaval of our normal lives, our sense of stability and control has been toppled by fear and angst.

But there is light in the dark. Americans are proactively finding ways to cope and combat these negative feelings. Many in our community have discovered multiple silver linings in this new way of life. They are embracing this quality time with their spouse and kids, slowing their pace, connecting more with others in new and creative ways, creating, crafting, cooking, baking, learning, completing projects, working with their hands, helping others, exercising more, eating less, practicing self-care, spending less, reprioritizing what’s important and finding new appreciation for all of the freedoms we used to take for granted.

By sharing insights and implications from our community, like this, we hope to help companies and our society as a whole better understand how to support people through this period of rapid change. We also urge companies to consider conducting their own branded communities to not only learn from, but to better communicate with, their customers. If you would like to learn more about our communities, please contact me at [email protected] or download our online methodologies best practice guide.

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