Since the worldwide COVID-19 crisis ignited, we’ve seen some of the absolute best in humanity take center stage—both among individual people as well as companies. People and brands are setting aside their daily lives and pursuits and turning their collective actions toward helping those in need. For some people, that’s as simple as sheltering in place to ensure they are doing their part to contain the viral spread. But in this regard, brands mustn’t follow suit.

Across the business landscape, brand leaders are taking great pains to ensure their organizations are contributing meaningfully to solving the challenges presented by the global pandemic. The dirtiest word of them all in these times? Opportunism. Brands are rightfully avoiding any activity that might be seen as taking advantage of this time of crisis, and that’s the absolute right approach. However, brands mustn’t let the complexity of decision-making in this time serve as an excuse to freeze in place. Paralysis is not an option—and that includes data-driven efforts to better understand the needs of consumers in transformative times such as this.

More Than Just a Blip

Brands around the world are undergoing existential crises, as so many of their fundamental value propositions are challenged by the new realities of the global pandemic. Those that emerge from this crisis in positions of strength will be the ones that understand that their consumer data from three weeks ago will be fundamentally worthless when we come out on the other side of COVID-19. Now is the time to tap into the new reality, and that includes embracing new audience data and insights that shed light on not only changes in consumer behaviors, but also changes in baseline consumer needs and decision-making processes.

While many businesses are looking forward to what most hope will be at least a partial economic reopening of the world in the coming months, the residual effects of the pandemic will be felt for years. Pausing all business activities “until this thing blows over” simply isn’t a feasible strategy for brands that want to still be viable and relevant three—not to mention 18—months from now.

The good news is that the intense focus that brands have placed on customer-centric transformation over the past decade represents precisely the approach and mindset that brands must embrace to adapt to the changing consumer landscape in these challenging times. Now is the time for companies to put the best data-driven practices to work while recognizing that the audience insights that emerge on the other end will be dramatically different than they were a mere month ago.

Audience Insights Re-imagined

At the most basic level, decision-makers need to understand that just because someone was an auto intender yesterday doesn’t mean they’re an auto intender today. If you’re marketing to them like they are, you’re going to come off as exceptionally tone-deaf. It’s not just that the person might have lost their job or been furloughed. It’s not just that they’re not planning any road trips in the near future. It could, in fact, be that the global pandemic has made this individual fundamentally question the value of a personal automobile in their life or entirely rethink what transportation will look like for them in the future.

Nearly every brand’s target audience has changed in a fundamental way, and it’s incumbent upon brand leaders to tap into new insights that can help them understand what these changes mean for their go-forward strategy. Yes, there are audiences with whom brands must pivot their messages due to the short-term impact of COVID-19. But there are also new audiences becoming relevant to brands in light of recent marketplace shifts, as well as new opportunities to create authentic connections through market repositioning and product and service innovation. But that repositioning and innovation can’t come from gut feel. It must be driven and targeted according to a true understanding of how consumers are changing their behaviors and shifting attitudes to form vastly new persona groups and audience segments.

In times of crisis, there’s no shame in brands trying to understand their audiences better. In fact, the real shame would be if brands were to blindly blunder ahead as though this ongoing pandemic isn’t fundamentally transforming the world in which we live (and market). Now is the time for brands to stay more closely connected than ever, and that starts by re-envisioning data sources and strategies for this new era.

David Barker is the CEO of StatSocial.

Brands stock photo by Flamingo Images/Shutterstock