Sunday, April 12, 2009

Less "Why" and more "How"

I spent last Friday afternoon listening to advertising planners, designers and some people who, to be honest, I have no idea what they do (but I think the words “digital” and “experience” are involved). It was a rare and enjoyable event here in Toronto - the initiation of meeting of Toronto Planners Unite.

The courier bag carrying, black plastic rimmed glasses and ironic western shirt wearing crowd is a cultural world away from the store managers and sales managers that populate the kind of retail conferences I sometimes go to. Retailers and salespeople tend to give presentations with 90’s clip art rather than big black backgrounded slides with only the words (in a unique and cutting edge font) “Crisis is the crucible of innovation” or some passage from the Tao Te Ching.

However, a conversation afterwards with an account planner for a mutual restaurant client pulled it together for me. The commonality for a researcher are that both of these crowds need to understand “how” people are behaving and get limited value from the endless “why” questions that make up our surveys. He was suggesting a better way of developing a strategy to position new products was to first understand how consumers are using them and then develop positioning around that – rather than push out a pre-defined positioning. This is putting consumers (or “people”) are the forefront of communication and marketing rather than seeing them as recipients of the messages marketers wish to broadcast.

To me what we call “shopper insights” are the means of doing exactly this for packaged goods. Let’s understand how people buy and consume. Let’s not ask them too many questions why or what they intend to do. Most of the time they do not know what they going to do or why.

I am preparing the first report from our newly launched Convenience Shopper Canada study. The richness of the information is beyond anything from any usage and attitude study. The questionnaire is 10 minutes and simply records behaviour in past 24 hours. It is 90% reported behaviour (how) and 10% attitude (why).

Market research has traditionally focused on the attitude and has delivered the opposite – 90% why and 10% how. The technology we have now allows us to measure and observe what people are actually doing like never before. The value of what we produce will be increased for all our clients – whether they work in a downtown agency or manage a chain of convenience stores – if we what we deliver is more of the “how” and less of the endless and often misguided “why”.

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