3 Key Takeaways from My Interview with Microsoft's Chief Economist, Michael Schwarz

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Posted Apr 27, 2020

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Michael Schwarz, Chief Economist at Microsoft, and aytm board member. Michael kindly agreed to share his thoughts about what's happening in the US and globally. 

Here are three things I took away from our conversation along with my thoughts on how they should impact your consumer research efforts.


The current recession is unlike any we’ve ever seen

As Michael points out, “During every single recession, not just in my memory, in the last 100 years, the productive capabilities of the economy remained essentially unchanged. There was just some sort of structural issue that prevented us to be as productive as we could have been. This is not the case here...There's nothing structurally wrong with the economy, and yet we can not safely do things that we normally do.”

It’s because this recession is so unique that it’s essential to conduct consumer research now, more than ever. Brands need to track what’s going on today to understand how consumer attitudes are changing and what effect these changes might have on their habits moving forward.

Also, if there is a second wave of the pandemic, as many experts predict, it will be of continued importance to use the data gathered from the first wave to inform decisions your company will make in the future.

The brands that have this critical information will surely have a leg up on those that don't.

The economy can recover quickly

“It's good news for the economy because nothing is fundamentally wrong,” says Michael. “So expect that as soon as this pandemic is over, I think our economy will start recovering quite rapidly...As long as the power of the virus goes away, people will come out, and play and the economy will start growing.”

To Michael’s point, while the economy has suffered a major blow, all signs point to it being able to recover fairly quickly. I’d caution companies that have put their research efforts on hold in order to wait and see what happens to rethink that strategy. 

Although this pandemic will be over in a relatively short period, its effects could last a lot longer, or maybe they won’t. But, you really won’t know unless you have the data to compare. 

On the surface, it makes some sense to slash your budgets to save money at a time like this, but it’s also risky because you’re losing out on an opportunity to collect critical consumer insights that you can never go back in time and capture. So, you have to weigh the pros and cons of your unique situation.

A remote revolution is coming

Recently, Michael ran a survey on aytm and found that “The percentage of people who work from home today is...about a third of the workforce. So pretty much everybody who can be working from home can, in fact, some people who couldn't be working from home, still work from home like teachers. So, I think that there would be a lot of changes in the way we live, in our habits, in our values.”

Aytm was founded as a remote-first company, so things haven’t changed much for us. Yet, many of you are working from home for the first time. 

Now that your employer sees that you can still do your job well from the comfort of your own home — and letting you do so will help them to reduce overhead, increase employee satisfaction, and benefit the environment — it will be interesting to see which companies transition into being fully remote. 

Additionally, brands will need to think about how they handle qualitative research like focus groups. Once governments lift all of the stay-at-home orders, I predict that a lot of people will still be slow to jump into social situations. 

Brands will need to continue to find ways to conduct qualitative research using online platforms, and taking advantage of features like survey video questions and responses to gather the data they need to drive business growth.


As a leading economist, hearing Michael's predictions and his optimism are invaluable. Aytm is honored to have him as a member of our board. We sincerely hope that his insights will offer some encouragement to move forward with your research initiatives, positively impacting your business throughout the global pandemic and for years to come.

Curious about how consumer perceptions are changing week over week? Aytm’s team of research experts is actively working to produce a tracking study on the impact COVID-19 is having on consumer behaviors, sentiment, priorities, and attitudes. Dive into the data.

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