Sunday, January 25, 2009

Why "purchase intent" questions are not predictive of actual behaviour

Market researchers spend a lot of time explaining why the responses from the 'purchase intent' questions that we ask bear little relation to actual behaviour. Reasons have included:

  • Market environment like distribution, advertising etc.

  • "Aspirational" responses that cannot be followed through

  • Commitment to competitive brands

Of course models like BASES and Novaction make a living modelling purchase intent. In my experience the stated purchase intention plays a small role in the actual prediction. In fact a lot of the predictive ability of these models does not come from survey data at all - simply the economics of distribution.

Jan Hofmyr of Synovate, creator of the Conversion Model and all around market research guru wrote an excellent critique of the predictability in market research. His conclusion is that asking purchase intent is about as useful in predicting behaviour as asking nothing. His solution is to couple brand equity with 'barriers' - such as price, distribution etc.

I have always had a problem with asking consumers to recall these rational 'barriers'.

I think that this excellent piece on the neuroscience of buying gives us a better insight into why purchase intention questions do not work. Essentially the act of buying involves conflict between areas of the brain associated with dopamine/reward (nucleus accumbens) and that associated with fear (insula). These are both emotional responses. Reason plays a mediating role if any at all. You buy when the "gain" emotions win over the fear of loss. The problem with purchase intent is that the brain does not sufficiently experience the emotions associated with fear of loss. It cannot. Hence the overstatement. The fear of loss is primarily activated at the point of purchase. It is very hard to simulate. And a survey certainly doesn't do it.


This is actually a big deal for shopper insights research.

As I have said before, shedding tears for Nielsen doesn't come naturally to me but I still think this is a shame.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Gong Xi Fa Tsai

Well I better get past 44 posts before the Year of the Ox arrives on Monday. (In Mandarin 44 sounds like "death, death" so it ain't exactly auspicious).

And for my 3 loyal readers an EXCLUSIVE bit of data from Environics Cultural Markets - Chinese Canadian households make 49 stock up grocery trips a year - compared to 36 for the general population.

In Toronto 37% use an ethnic specialty store most often - 21% of that is T&T. Those figures are even higher for Vancouver.

With roughly 9% of the Toronto population Chinese that's an awful lot of lost opportunity for the mainstream grocers. No wonder the last time I was talking to someone at Wal-Mart they were asking about my wife's T&T trip triggers. The answer is ....meat cuts.

Happy Year of the Ox!

Saturday, January 17, 2009


This is the kind of survey and press release that gives market research a reputation for being useless.

So respondents don't come right out and say - gimme more sex in ads. Wow. And they say that sex in ads doesn't influence them? Extraordinary. Next we'll be learning the beer drinkers are not influenced by advertising, they just "like the taste".

C'mon. Asking consumers what makes them tick is like asking your car how it works.

The Intimacy of Shopping

I was chatting with some friends some time ago, one of whom a fireman. He was describing how he and his colleagues filled their time while not fighting fires. One of the things they do is go shopping together. They always have to stay together so they may go en masse to Home Depot – while one stays in the vehicle. Another guy who was there said he thought the idea of firemen shopping together (even for manly home improvement items) was incongruous with the macho image of the profession. It seemed so effeminate.

I have thought a lot about that. Shopping is intimate. Many men feel awkward browsing with their friends in a shop. Much more so than women do. A man and a woman who are not romantically involved shopping for clothes together is somehow seen as slightly inappropriate. I remember when I lived in Taiwan I used to see young couples in IKEA and it was clear that there was romance in their browsing for affordable yet stylish furniture.
Clothing in particular generates these feelings. That is because evaluation of the items requires assessment of how it looks. Of course “does my butt look big in this?” is an intimate question. Underwear of course is an extreme example. But it not only the intimacy of the usage occasion alone that generates these feelings. Shopping even for innocuous groceries or home improvement items has an intimacy.

I think the reason is that the act of shopping – including the enjoyment of it – involves anticipation from projection of using the products. That is often a personal and private consideration of the role the products will play in our lives – even groceries. Sharing that is sharing more than the act of selecting the products. It is sharing private and personal aspects of our lives. That is why looking for a specific product for a specific and defined use is a less intimate act. You are sharing less. I need or want this for this reason and this is what I will be doing with it. As soon as you start browsing and exploring – even for relatively innocuous items - you start to open up personal and private, opinions, considerations and aspects of your life that are intimate.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Canadian Diversity and Consumerism

I posted early about a decline for enthusiasm for consumption in Canada - starting long before the current financial crisis.

While that is evident among the general population, there are differences in the cultural groups in Canada. While only 8% of Canadians who classify their ancestry as being from the British Isles "totally agree" that "to spend, to buy myself something new, is for me one of the greatest pleasures in life" 16% of Chinese Canadians do.

While 30% of those of British origin agree that "I like to be immediately informed of new products and services so that I can use them". That figure rises to 51% among Chinese Canadians and 52% among South Asian Canadians.

Without doubt retailers and marketers need to recognize and understand the opportunities represented by Canada's diverse cultures.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Touch & Buy

Interesting piece here about an experiment showing how only a minimal degree of touching a product can encourage purchase.

The article talks about a sense of ownership. I suspect that plays a role but there is also a more fundamental effect of touch / interaction with a product.

Given that a purchase decision involves a conflict between areas of the brain associated with dopamine/reward (nucleus accumbens) and that associated with fear (insula) the touching presumably tips the balance in favour of the rewards.

I saw a presentation on data visualization that spoke of how we process information and how the feeling of being able to touch it helps us process it. So presumably promotion of services needs to leverage this also.

Digital technology allows a great deal of opportunity to create the sensation of interaction without the physical product being there.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Shopper Marketing - a little too much wishful thinking and hype?

Good article from Jon Kramer of Alliance in The Hub that bursts a little of the shopper marketing bubble and makes the unfashionable case that shopper marketing is a sales role.

I think it is true that there's been a little too much hype and wishful thinking.

The bulk of the value of "shopper insights" is their ability to build relationships between manufacturers and retailers. And for all intents and purposes that is a sales role. For all the talk of cooperation between these two institutions the power in the relationship is not equal. The manufacturer is trying to sell.

Marketing is often on the outside looking in and trying to understand what it, with its legacy of mass communication, can do to contribute.

One thing that will change that is a shift of power to manufacturers. If manufacturers can really drive traffic to retailers (see Kraft's ifoods) then retailers may start to become more interested in genuine cooperation.