How consumers are outsmarting researchers.


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“Don’t judge someone by what they say. Judge them by what they do.”

We’ve probably heard variations of that phrase our whole lives.

That warning applies to how we view today’s consumer as well. Too often, we marketers over-rely on what the consumer tells us. They self-report on themselves. The problem, of course, is that either consciously or subconsciously, they are trying to tell us what they think we want to hear, or what they should say. And often times, that bears little resemblance to how they really feel or act in the real world.

It’s only when you get away from the focus groups and the surveys and actually observe consumers in the wild that the discrepancies become apparent. It’s not usual for a consumer to go into vivid detail in a focus group about how they use a specific product, or how important it is to them. Then when your view their actual behavior, you find it doesn’t line up at all.

A recent global research study from Young & Rubicam entitled “Secrets & Lies” shows this discrepancy between what people say and how they act in great detail.

The study — conducted in the U.S., Brazil and China — finds that consumers often hold views that are the exact opposite of what they say. And they are often hiding their most important desires and triggers (what we call “insight”) from marketers — and maybe even from themselves.

One example researchers point to is the whole question of whether or not “sex sells.”

Provocative advertising almost never tests well. Traditional copy testing scores are usually abysmal. But when you leave the controlled testing environment and see how consumers react to those messages in real life (via eye tracking studies, recall or preference scores), you’ll quickly conclude that sex does indeed sell. Or at least it gets the attention of the audience, and helps them feel positively about the product. It’s just that on some level people are uncomfortable admitting how motivating sex is.

The point we’re trying to make here is to take with a grain of salt any kind of research that relies on self-reporting. Use it as a starting point. Then follow your consumers out into the real world and confirm whether or not their self-reported behaviors hold water.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mickey Lonchar
Mickey Lonchar has spent the better part of two decades creating award-winning advertising with agencies up and down the West Coast, Mickey currently holds the position of creative director with Quisenberry Marketing & Design, a full-service advertising and interactive shop with offices in Spokane and Seattle, Wash.


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