The pandemic may have stopped many operations in their tracks, but the need for strategic business decisions has never wavered. That said, new product launches, company expansion, or adaptations to the business amid a global crisis seem like risky endeavors – and not without good reason.

However, it is possible to make accurate predictions – even when circumstances are chaotic. According to HBR, this requires a mindset shift. Rather than embracing the linear concept of time, leaders should see it as a multidimensional phenomenon. This way, it’s possible to build up an evolving feedback cycle. By making unlikely associations and learning how to draw scenarios, you can not only learn from past experiences, but also from imagined futures.

So, while you’re still the one having to do the thinking, it’s market research that gives you the tools to arrive at accurate conclusions. It’s simple: Your decision-making process requires quality inputs, otherwise it’s doomed to erode.

How can you make the most of market research even in times of uncertainty?

Do: Acknowledge the need for market research

This may sound trivial, but overlooking the importance of market research is a trap that many leaders fall for. Try to avoid being a victim of “big company attitude” – if you’re a veteran leader, you might think that spending years in the industry means there’s nothing new to surprise you. Maybe you already have a clear idea of who your customers are and you’re up-to-date with the latest market trends.

However, things change fast, and you can’t possibly anticipate shifting behaviors. The pandemic has brought many unprecedented situations that couldn’t have been predicted by even the most brilliant strategists out there. These decisions can’t be left to guesswork – it’s vital that the need for accurate insights has buy-in from C-level executives who become the true champions of market research.

Do: Determine a budget

With COVID-19, many businesses have had to tighten their belts and be more conscious of their spending. When you set cost-saving as your ultimate goal, it’s likely that market research investment will seem like something you can easily cut out without direct consequences. But what if preventing a bad decision is actually much more cost-effective than avoiding the investment in market research?

Market research requires resources, but it should be viewed as a valuable investment, rather than a mere transaction. It shouldn’t be seen as a “side project” either, which is why determining a specific budget for market research goes a long way. For example, by assigning a certain percentage of the product development budget to market research, you ensure that your progress is always aligned with the current needs of the market.

Do: Rely on real-time, personalized insights

One of the main aspects of business operations during COVID-19 has been the need for speed. Organizations have had to optimize their decision-making, improve productivity, and use technology and data in new ways to accelerate their operations. For example, a US-based retailer managed to launch curbside delivery in two days, in contrast to the previously-planned 18 months.

With everything changing within the blink of an eye, you can’t afford to wait weeks – or even days – for the results of a report to arrive. You need real-time insights. Luckily, market research capabilities have evolved to cater to those needs.

Apart from speed, we’re now seeing a more hybrid and dynamic market research landscape, one that allows companies to access targeted insights, tailored to their unique business needs. Instead of detailed reports with thousands of samples, you can get more accurate results by running a simple Twitter analysis – at greater cost-effectiveness too.

Don’t: Do it just for the sake of it

Market research won’t magically solve all your problems – it needs to be used strategically. That’s why you need to know what you’re using it for and define your goals clearly. Start by defining your overarching goals such as guiding a successful go-to-market strategy in a new location, uncovering the sentiment of your audiences, launching a new product, or looking to benchmark your performance. After that, set up specific questions that market research will help you answer.

Just like having a discussion over goals, make sure to have one over how the findings will be used. This way, you ensure that every research effort is as useful and relevant as possible.

Don’t: Stay rigid

Just like your business has been changing during the pandemic, so should the focus of your market research. That’s why it’s key to keep an agile approach and remember that different strategies or scopes might be useful at different times. For example, maybe you’ll start by sentiment analysis and realize that it would also be valuable to do a competitor analysis, even if it wasn’t a part of your initial plan.

Don’t: Forget to make it continuous

Doing occasional market research is known to accelerate your business growth – but conducting research quarterly at the minimum can speed up that growth by 40%. Continuous market research is the real key to driving its full potential: One occasion helps you answer a specific question, but regular market research can help you uncover underlying realities, inspiring new questions in the first place.

By regularly revisiting a specific market research subject, you can also gain a long term overview of a specific problem and be better equipped to predict future developments and pinpoint emerging trends – even within the new normal brought by COVID-19.

Leaders can’t make accurate decisions based on a gut feeling. However, recognizing the need for market research is only the start. Ultimately, the need to consider external data before making a decision will teach you to stop, think, and ignite inner curiosity – the true breeding ground for smart decisions.