Why marketers need to do less asking and more watching.
In a nutshell
- Our brain is processing information and coming to outcomes without our conscious brain having any real awareness as to what is going on.
- When asked about our purchase behaviour, our brain quickly comes up with a rational justification. The outcome is that we get a very different and misleading insight into behaviour around which we build our marketing strategy.
- Many methods of extracting insights from customers fail to take this into account. We are better to use data, observation and experiments to understand how people trade off and make decisions rather than direct questioning.
Insight is a funny business, and often what we find is that the intuitively simple questions we are asked to answer often end up being the hardest to really get to the bottom of. I’ll give you an example. Recently, we ran a project to understand how people actually go about the task of buying beer, something I suspect many of us feel as if we have a good handle on from high levels of firsthand experience.
As part of the process we interviewed people about what they did, both via a questionnaire and through intercepting people straight after they had made a purchase. And just to be sure we were capturing everything, we set up video cameras to film everything people were actually doing at the fixture.
When we asked people how they went about the process of choosing a beer, the things they told us they were doing bore no resemblance to what we observed them doing on film. Even when we were interviewing them straight after they had picked up a product.
They would say things like, “I grabbed this one because it’s on special and the price was really cheap”. So we’d ask how much it was, and they wouldn’t know. We’d watch the video and see no evidence of price comparison at all. All we can see them do in the video is spot the product and head straight to it. Indeed, from the video, the reason they bought that product would appear to be because it was the first one they saw coming into the store that triggered a strong enough association with their purchase occasion to drive selection.
As the study unfolded, across a number of different observation vs. interview sessions and across experiment vs. questioning techniques, what became apparent to us (and something we have witnessed on countless other occasions) is that people really have no idea why they make the decisions they do around beer. Or, even more fundamentally, why they make any of their decisions. The structure of their decision-making, and the rationale for it, was in most cases hidden from their view.