Sunday, April 19, 2009

Power of the Brand in Convenience Channels

It is often said that convenience stores are hotbeds of impulse purchasing.

According to our Convenience Shopper Canada study, among those who buy soft drinks in those channels, 66% had made up their mind on category and brand before entering the store.

Granted, 13% knew they would be buying a soft drink and decided brand in store and 21% decided to buy the category in the store.

But that's an awful lot of power from out of store communication.

The Case Against "Why" - Part 2

My last post was about how market researchers’ constant questioning of respondents on why they do things can provide misleading responses.

By coincidence, I have read two experiments that show us just how much of a mistake it can be.

These experiments by Tim Wilson, professor of psychology at University of Virginia show how asking people to focus on why they do something actually causes them to make choices that do not reflect their true preference.

He conducted two experiments. In one he asked students to rate different brands of jam in terms of their preference. One group was asked to do so and list the reasons, the other was not asked to list the reasons.

The outcome of the experiment is described here as follows:

Wilson and Schooler found that subjects in the control group, who had not been required to list reasons for their opinions about the jams, gave evaluations that were very close to those given by the trained experts. Both the subjects and the experts agreed on which jams were best, and which were worst. The subjects in the experimental group, who had been required to explain their preferences, subsequently evaluated the jams in line with the reasons they gave …Their evaluations, however, did not correspond well with the evaluations of the experts. The jam the experts had rated as the best and the jam the experts rated the worst were both regarded by the experimental subjects as being rather mediocre.

Basically, those who were asked ‘why’ had to engage their pre-frontal cortex, come up with ‘reasons’ and align their stated preference to those reasons. When they did this they picked the worst jam.

The second experiment concerned posters. Students were asked to choose from a range of posters that they could keep – some of famous paintings others photographs of animals. Again, they were split into two groups. One group had to give reasons and the other did not. The group that had to give reasons was much less likely to select the paintings. They tended to select cute animals. And when the two groups were re-contacted a few weeks after the experiment, that group was far less satisfied with their choice.

The conclusion is summed up here:

When people think about reasons, they appear to focus on attributes of the stimulus that are easy to verbalize and seem like plausible reasons but may not be important causes of their initial evaluations. When these attributes imply a new evaluation of the stimulus, people change their attitudes and base their choices on these new attitudes. Over time, however, people's initial evaluation of the stimulus seems to return, and they come to regret choices based on the new attitudes.

These experiments teach us a lot about how to conduct and how to evaluate market research. Firstly, it supports the notion that ‘first view’ responses to product concepts and brand preference questions are the only valid ones. But it also brings into question all of the responses from focus groups and questionnaires after that ‘first view’. By asking respondents to utilize their ‘reason’ are we in fact making them state preferences that do not reflect reality? Ones that could in fact be the opposite?

We know from neuroscience that many purchase decisions use very little ‘reason’ as the pre-frontal cortex is hardly active. So when we encourage respondents to use it by asking ‘why’ we could indeed me encouraging responses that are nonsense – not just in terms of the reasons that are given but the actual preference to which those reasons allegedly lead.

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”.