When the full disruptive impact of COVID-19 first became clear in March 2020 businesses up and down the UK were plunged into a level of uncertainty not seen in generations. The press seemed to be obsessed with the impact on consumers, but brands selling into B2B markets were forgotten. So, to track business confidence and to help give UK businesses clarity during this turbulent time we launched the COVID-19 UK Business Barometer. We work with a range of B2B brands so we wanted to help them understand the pain points of their audiences and anticipate their changes in behaviour.
The barometer asked a series of questions, some consistent to track sentiment over time, others bespoke to each wave, to 500 UK business decision-makers in 4 waves between April and June 2020, and once again in February 2021.
In addition to questions generated to satisfy Sapio’s curiosity we also offered several of our clients the opportunity to ask questions pertinent to their fields, as we felt everyone could do with a boost of goodwill in difficult times.
The trend tracking COVID-19 UK B2B Barometer has proven an enormously rich source of insight. Our very own content research project…
Wave 1 (9th April – 14th April 2020)
Almost as soon as the pandemic started it became obvious that businesses were lowering their expectations for 2020, with just over half reporting an immediate drop in turnover. 63% of companies surveyed lowered their annual turnover expectations, and just over half 54% also reported an immediate drop in turnover in March, by an average of 45%.
Supply chains were being impacted, with two-thirds reporting a reduced level of service in April 2020 and the great home working migration was already underway with 49% reporting an increase in working from home.
Wave 2 (24th April – 28th April 2020)
Digitization became the cornerstone of business adaptation during the pandemic and beyond
22% of decision-makers reported the speeding up of digital transformation in their businesses since COVID and were already predicting that this would be a long-term trend, continuing well beyond the pandemic. This gave rise to the notion of the new normal and that business operations will be permanently changed by COVID.
There was also the first indication that employee productivity was holding up as the shift to working from home continued, with most decision-makers not seeing any negative impact on employee productivity (54%) during the pandemic.
Wave 3 (7th May – 13th May 2020)
Short term support needed to bridge to long term changes
Business confidence was still low, with nearly two-thirds (64%) of decision makers expecting COVID to continue to hamper their business until the end of 2020 at the earliest, as a result government support was crucial to businesses, with 71% of decision makers either using or planning to use government COVID relief at this point in the pandemic.
Working from home is working
34% of companies believe that working from home is having a positive impact on employee productivity. Reduced travel times and changing routines have also contributed to employee effectiveness.
And the growing importance of investment in digital
To match this trend in continued WFH over a third of businesses (35%) were investing more in remote working technology then they ever did prior to the pandemic. Moreover, over half of decision makers were placing importance in investing in customer relationship management software (55%) and in improving their company website (59%).
Moving from surviving to thriving as companies established a foothold
As the dust was settling and some semblance of certainty was being achieved, we saw that nearly two-thirds of decision-makers were now looking to regain a competitive footing in their markets by planning to re-focus on branding and PR in their marketing strategies (64%).
Wave 4 (24th to 30th June 2020)
Shone a light on continued societal giving of UK business
Despite 60% of businesses seeing lower than expected turnovers, UK business had really stepped up to support society at large to get through the pandemic. Over a third had made green business improvements (37%), a third had provide free goods, such as food and drink, equipment, products, or PPE to social causes (33%), 31% provide their business services for free to deserving causes; 27% make monetary donations to social causes; and 26% took up corporate volunteering.
Creating closer working partnerships built to last
In times of difficulty the interdependence of all businesses in a supply chain becomes more vital than ever. Indeed 29% of decision makers said they had formed closer working ties with clients, and 23% closer ties with their supply chain during the pandemic. Furthermore, most of these decision makers saw these changes as permanent shifts in how their business would operate moving forward.
Wave 5 (21st to 26th February 2021)
What does furlough do to a CV in 2021?
UK workers have been through radically different experiences since the pandemic started, and through no fault of their own some have been furloughed. Our barometer in 2021 showed that nearly half of decision makers (45%) thought that recruiters would look negatively towards those who have been placed on furlough during the pandemic, instead weighing up more favourably candidates who have been able to work throughout in their decision making. Furlough discrimination is the next big work concern.
Overall, we received 16 pieces of journalistic content from our barometer findings and generated 11 backlinks to barometer pages on the Sapio Research Website, which was a fantastic result.
Using Domain Authority (DA) as a measure of the quality of the journalistic content the barometer generated. Our first wave finding that business confidence took an immediate hit with the onset of the pandemic was released via responsesource with an “Excellent” DA.
The press releases attached to the third wave, on the long term hit to business confidence expected to last all of 2020 in Fresh Business Thinking; and evidence for a trend in growing investment in remote working in On Rec both registered “Good” DA scores. Coverage was achieved in vertical trade press read by HR, Finance, Marketing and business leaders.
In total our barometer research series racked up more than 5300 individual views and over 35 social media shares via the journalistic content it helped create. Indeed, our Wave 5 (2021) barometer saw its way into the print press with The Express newspaper reporting on the furlough discrimination phenomenon that could act in the job market as organisations re-start recruitment programs.
Beyond raising our visibility and strengthening existing client relationships we attracted new customers. The content research project helped underpin Sapio’s 20% growth during the pandemic.