Research in times of Covid-19

Research in times of Covid-19

Not many of us predicted this. Despite the now much-watched 2015 Bill Gates Ted Talk warning of the potential of a pandemic, we didn’t want to think the unthinkable. Now we can think of little else.

It’s incredible how fast the chain reaction has been, the knock-on effects from one area of life to another. Nature’s web of interconnected dependencies has the power to fascinate and amaze us. Martin Luther King said, ‘pull one thread in nature and it all unravels’. These weeks of dramatic unravelling have revealed the living organism that is our economic and cultural system. In times of uncertainty market studies can be a lifeline to navigate the past, present and future of a sector and its tendrils through the economy.

Commentary has spoken of a new BC and AC era for the 21st Century – Before Corona, and After Corona. Much as this is an incredible shock to the system, a seismic wave on the graph, a sudden cessation of all we know to be normal, in time we may see it not as a ‘before-and-after’ but as a significant point on a continuum. Right now, we’re in the thick of it, it’s hard to see what’s next. For this to be understood we need context.

On a time, continuum, we have half the context, we know what’s been before. With every day that passes, a little more of the forward context unfolds. Having a framework for thinking helps us draw insight from each new reveal, linking past to present to future. Mapping market trends requires being comfortable with unknowns, recognising we never actually know what’s coming. It’s the art of confidently extrapolating from what we do know, attuning to patterns and inferences to recognise trends, and constant creative challenge to question and think beyond to understand the implications of what we see.

Uncertainty is a fact of life. So is the need to plan to effect results. Whether our view is short or long term, there are necessary calls of judgement, sometimes extending to leaps of faith, but those with the courage to plan will increase their chances of successful recovery. We prepped to go into this crisis, even though we had very little knowledge of what lay ahead; we need to prep to come out of it too using the information we have today.

We have all been on a rapid learning curve over the past few weeks with some seriously impressive fast action to re-invent the way we work. While the circles around us seemed to close in, getting tighter week by week, our outlook has in many ways opened up.  We have new realisation of our capabilities and ability to do things differently. We have values and priorities coming to the fore giving us greater certainty about what we really need than we’ve had for decades – what is the world without interconnectivity, reliable supply lines, spaces for people to meet, places to go and confident leadership and decision making?

We need to be asking the questions that will help us learn and grow. Don’t watch and wait, engage and imagine. Set a vision for how you want your world to emerge from this and put the steps in place to navigate towards that. One of your best resources at this time is information. At AMA Research we have studied products and sectors across the construction market for over 30 years. This track history helps us understand change, we’ve seen a lot of it. All this insight is made available to you through our catalogue of reports. And we continue to research and build information for you on a daily basis.

As researchers and consultants our work has been somewhat shielded from the practical impact of physical distancing. We miss our daily interaction with colleagues and the spectacular view from our office, as well as those ergonomic chairs, but moving to homeworking was swift and seamless for most of us.  Many of our clients in the construction industry have had a very different experience, having been in the maelstrom of should we / shouldn’t we be continuing with projects – sometimes these are clear decisions, sometimes they’re inevitable conclusions in response to suppliers or customers. We’ve been keeping in touch with them to build a picture of what’s happening and sharing weekly updates to keep our community informed – there’s safety in numbers.

The main impact on research work has been on the accessibility of our contact base. We’re used to calling hundreds of people a week, keen to understand their perspectives on the numerous topics we deliver insights on through data and reports. But many of those calls are currently going unanswered. The practice of furloughing has severed many from their emails, work phones and company laptops. Each day we encounter more companies who have grabbed this government lifeline to preserve businesses into the future. Among these are people we consider as extended colleagues or friends, those we regularly speak to, it’s truly saddening to find them disappear as the plugs are pulled. Furloughing is a band aid to preserve a future vision of business as usual. That’s if we do return to business as usual.

The short, sharp shock scenario sees us bouncing back, corona-free, in a few months’ time. We’ll pick up where we left off, dust off and re-energise to push growth through the second half of the year. Or maybe not.

Market mapping is about being able to envisage different future scenarios and delivering a balanced assessment of, all things considered, what the likely trajectory is for a particular sector. That’s why it’s important to think of ‘what if’?’ and ‘suppose …’ This is second nature to a market researcher, in times of uncertainty, we’re the ones to talk to, we work with uncertainty as our norm. It’s uncertainty that drives us to ask questions, that makes us want to understand. We’re experts in taking the pieces of information and forming the picture, or possible pictures. There are often many different views to assimilate.

At AMA Research we’ve tracked markets across the construction industry through two deep recessions, the rise of online, Brexit and now Covid-19. Our range of over 150 market, product and sector reports provide context in these times of uncertainty. They consider what customers are looking for and need, the key players and their competitive distinctiveness, distribution channels and how these are evolving, trends and innovation plus charting value and volume growth and future expectations.

We map the trajectories for market sectors and sub sectors, with a forward view of five years. Reports in recent years have taken account of Brexit, building economic scenarios as the picture unfolds. We thought we were operating in a rapidly changing world then, but that was a practice run. We’re now racing through the changes Covid-19 are bringing to us. And we are tracking, observing and responding, just as we have through previous changes. These may be unprecedented times, but we always need to be alert to market’s ability to change, whatever the driving forces of change may be.

We all have many questions. It’s only by asking the questions that we can hope for answers. If you’d like some expert support in asking questions, and analysing the answers, our laptops are fired-up and we’re here to help.

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