Saturday, November 14, 2009

Over-The-Shoulder and Buying-Trigger Pictographs About Airlines

For those of you who read my previous two blog entries you know that I will be doing some research on the airline industry. To start, I will be developing some “Over-the-Shoulder” and “Buying Trigger” pictographs to answer the question, what goes through someone’s mind when they have to or choose to book a flight?

In an early blog entry on why use pictographs, I noted that they allow people to understand a purchasing or usage situation without getting bogged down with details. In fact, the person tends to put himself or herself into the situation being depicted.

Recall that we are trying to understand what is going on when one thinks about booking a flight. This means that the respondents should see themselves in the situation. For example, they may show a person looking at a Web site or reviewing an ad. Consequently, over-the-shoulder shots will be used. Respondents tend to start saying “I feel, I think, or I believe” when viewing over-the-shoulder shots.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Uncovering Attitudes Related to the Airlines

Well, the time as come to determine the goal of this pictographic research. As I mentioned, I want to know the underlying attitudes about the flying experience and the reasons people make the choices they do. These will include the decision to fly, their pet peeves, and the reasons that they choose one airline over another. I will start by constructing a series of pictographs that show the flying experience. At first, emphasis will be placed on reasons related to flying, perceived alternatives, and attitudes toward various airlines. Send comments via e-mail

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I’m On My Way to the Airport, Oh Goodie

If there is an industry that has more long-standing and chronic problems than the airline industry, I don’t know which it is. The auto industry you say - no, they have been in the dump for only a few years. The airlines have been perceived as a necessary evil for far longer than that. They are a great candidate for open-ended, emotion-capturing research like my methodology.

Therefore, I am going to pictographically interview those poor captive souls who are about to board airplanes. After all, they have been told to arrive early to have the oft-times privilege of waiting on the tarmac while they become intimately acquainted with their knees.

Do I sound bitter? Fear not, I will allow the pictures to do the talking. In the coming blogs I will discuss how I will develop this project and I will report some findings. I welcome suggestions via e-mail

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I Suggest the Convertible Station Wagon

Wikipedia describes “gut feeling” thusly: “A gut feeling, or gut reaction, is a visceral emotional reaction to something, and often one of uneasiness. Gut feelings are generally regarded as not modulated by conscious thought.”

If you’re in marketing or sales, what do you really want to know about your customers? You probably want their gut reactions to your product or service. Oftentimes gut reactions drive what is being said online. Savvy marketers track their products, services, and brands via the Internet. This is one of the reasons that social networking sites such as Twitter are of such interest. You can’t control what they say, but you can be aware of what is being said about your product or brand and you can react to it.

But what if you want to learn about gut reactions in a more controlled manner? I have found that the best way to research gut reactions is to use pictographs to duplicate the buying or usage scenario. Respondents tell you their reactions with their own gut feelings. As they look at the pictographs they tell a story without leading questions from the researcher. They often get emotional and may be impulsive. You may hear “Hey, I’ve got to have that!” Conversely, you may hear “Yuk, no way!” As a marketer, wouldn’t that be nice to know?

I remember a car salesman telling me, “We get them in with the convertible and then sell them the station wagon.” I admit that this is a bit cynical but it does demonstrate that emotion plays a large part in motivating the purchasing process. I wonder why no one has thought of the convertible-station wagon? E-mail

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Is it Gut Reaction Research or Context-Driven Qualitative Research?

I remember a scene from the movie “Cool Hand Luke” where the warden, after beating the insolent Paul Newman character, says “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” Marketers have a similar problem—a failure to communicate-- and this appears true if you’re selling research as well. Context-driven qualitative research is descriptive, but not inspirational. I am thinking of changing the name to Gut Reaction Research.

People understand when I say that my pictographic-driven research seems to be the only methodology that captures “gut reactions or gut feelings.” What I get from pictographs is gut reactions and this appears to be the most important information that a marketer can receive.
Marketers, what do you really want to know? You want gut reactions to your product or service, everything else is pablum.

Examples of our findings that reveal gut feelings include: “It’s a great place to get mugged” (about attractive, private entrances); “I don’t want to graded” (about a new school providing adult ed); and “Car salesmen are jerks” (about people who feel pressured in that environment).

When someone asks about why my approach is unique, I am going to say because it is gut reaction research. And I may no longer call it Context-Driven Qualitative Research. Comments? For more information, e-mail

Monday, August 17, 2009

When Consumers Are First Thinking About Buying

In researching such things as automobile purchasing, computer shopping, and mall shopping I have found an interesting phenomenon that I call “purchasing triggers.” It involves those factors related to what a consumer is thinking when they are first considering purchasing something. In the case of an auto purchase the trigger might be a car breakdown, a neighbor buying a new car, or a bonus at work. I use pictographs to show these types of situations.

It is at the “buying trigger” stage that the consumer is most candid in telling the interviewer what it would take to get them to make a purchase. The rest of the pictographs provide the context for a specific product or service. For more info email

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Over the Shoulder Shots Draw Them In

As readers of this blog know, I use pictographs to duplicate the purchasing scenario for profiled consumers related to a specific product or service. This allows the respondents to explain their purchasing experience step by step. A bonus of this type of research is that it captures both emotions and resonant statements.

As is well known, emotions play a big part in purchasing behavior, and resonant statements are important as well. Who can forget the phrase from Wendy’s advertisements “Where’s the beef” or ’Avis’s “We’re number two but we try harder.” These two examples came from the minds of marketing geniuses but oftentimes context-related consumer comments can help the process along.

There are three types of pictographs that are used - those that set the scene (situational), those that show some interaction with the product or service (interactive), and those that provide an opportunity to comment about the previous two types of pictographs (reflective).

Here, I will discuss a specific type of interactive pictograph called the “Over-the-shoulder shot.” This is an example:

This shows an individual looking at an automobile sticker in a showroom. This type of pictograph quickly puts the respondent into the picture. They often preface their comments with “I.” An over-the-shoulder shot allows the researcher to place the product in the consumer’s hands. After this pictograph, it is possible to magnify various aspects of the product and the respondent will assume that he or she is still subjectively involved.

For more information, e-mail

Friday, July 31, 2009

Testing Brand Extensions Pictographically

M&M backpacks and camping gear might not work but M&M lunch boxes make sense. Hershey tennis shoes are a stretch but a Hershey hot drink holder may fly.

Certainly M&Ms and Hershey have extended their reach in a variety of areas, but when is it too much?

Derrick Daye and Brad VanAuken in their excellent blog Branding Strategy Insider at point out that a brand is damaged when there is not a good match or when the brand is extended too far. Their Packard car example is almost folk wisdom. By offering a cheaper model, this damaged the demand for the most expensive and prestigious model and it fell out of favor. Apparently, Packard executives forgot to “Ask the man who owns one.”

I suggest that pictographic research may be an excellent way to test brand extensions. Simply picture the purchasing situation, place the brand on the proposed extension, and listen to potential consumers. You won’t have to ask leading questions and you will get some very unexpected, but relevant, information. For more info e-mail

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Cynical Consumer is the New Reality

Wall Street compensation, governmental bailouts, lost money in the stock market, lower home prices, record bankruptcies, high unemployment and falling credit ratings have made consumers more cynical. Some companies have recognized the new reality, others have not. For example, Hyundai instituted a “job guarantee” program and was widely copied but insurance companies, financial services, and banks seem to be unable to come up with resonant arguments to get people to trust them.

One recent radio ad stated that this particular financial institution will weed out bad brokers. Yep, make them accountable. Why not just say, “We know you lost half your money in the stock market, but we are ready to give you another chance!”

The point is the game has changed and old words take on new meaning. The denotation may be the same but the connotation is different. Words like money, security, insurance, investing, luxury, expertise, trust and honesty tend not to evoke warm and fuzzy feelings like they did in the past. They, in fact, may now be dissonant. You may be thinking “filet mignon” and they are thinking “dead cow.”

How to avoid this type of disconnect? You need to do some open-ended research, preferably the non-directive kind, and I suggest pictographs. You may want to start out with the phrase that was used by Sergeant Schultz in the old Hogan’s Heroes TV show—“I know nothing.” For more info e-mail

Friday, July 17, 2009

Life Jackets and Pictographic Research

When the U.S. Coast Guard and Boat US contacted my company, Allegiance Research, to determine if boaters are more likely to wear inflatable life jackets as compared to the bulkier traditional life jackets, I knew that pictures or pictographs would have to be used to identify the different types of life jackets on the market.

For example there are off-shore, near-shore, flotation aids, special use, and the newer inflatable jackets. These different types would have to be “pictured” in the survey so respondents would know exactly which types they were evaluating. The pictographs were incorporated into a standard mail survey. This cleared up a lot of potential confusion and much useful information was developed

In follow-up interviews we used pictographs that showed people wearing the various life jackets and then respondents started telling stories. These stories provided a wealth of information beyond the mail survey and uncovered candid and detailed information. For example, how a person feels when confronted with a potentially-dangerous situation and will they be able to pull the cord for an inflatable jacket.

There are pros and cons for inflatable and traditional life jackets. Inflatables are more attractive and do not get in the way, but they are more expensive and you have to be able to inflate it to use it (which you cannot do if knocked unconscious). Traditionals are less attractive and bulky, but they are cheaper and you do not have to inflate it to use it. The challenge was to get into the minds of the users and let them talk without asking leading questions.

For more details, email

Friday, July 10, 2009

GM is in Dire Need of Good Qualitative Research

I recently read an article in the “Washington Post,” July 8, 2009 that says the quality of the Chevrolet Malibu is on par with, or better than, the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord. It reported that GM Chief Executive Henderson said, “The single most important thing that we can do is get the product right.” Mr. Henderson, you are only half right. Even if you get the product right, your potential customers must believe that you got the product right.

The article goes on to sight some very interesting focus group research. When shown the car without the Chevrolet logo and told it was rated North American car of the year by auto journalists and recommended by “Consumer Reports,” the respondents loved the car. Then they were told it is the new Chevrolet Malibu and they fell out of love. In other words, the people in the focus groups did not have faith in the Chevrolet brand.

Troy Clarke, President of GM North America, said “Attitudes about GM have hardened into something akin to religious faith, so changing minds won’t be easy.” He goes on, “I wish it were as simple as people are poorly informed and we just need to do a better job of informing them. I believe many people buy cars as a function of their belief system and not as an act of problem-solving. This is the problem that we face. It’s not a problem of giving you more data; it’s a matter of combating beliefs.”

Let’s see if I’ve got this: good car; bad beliefs; keep building good cars and this will eliminate bad beliefs. Of course, it’s necessary to build good products but you need to understand the potential customer and if I ‘m reading the situation correctly you are missing an important step.

GM executives understand that car purchasing is not particularly rational, and that more data, even favorable data, won’t work. Finally, emotion and beliefs are a large part of the equation.

GM, my area of expertise is context-driven qualitative research and here is what I would do. The goal is to understand the values related to purchasing an automobile. First it is necessary that respondents are appropriately selected. Next, pictographs are developed to understand what goes through the potential purchaser’s mind when considering purchasing a car. Competitive cars are evaluated as is GM corporate image and cars.

The goal is to allow respondents to discuss a variety of automobile related topics without asking specific questions. We are looking for beliefs, values, and vocabulary. Remember, consumers do not necessarily make sense to the researcher, but they make sense to themselves.

It is the respondents’ perspectives that will lay the basis for effective communication. There are positive beliefs and values to be found, and there are resonant statements to be developed, but they will remain undiscovered without using context-driven qualitative research.

For more information, e-mail

Monday, July 6, 2009

Critiquing Brain Scans and the Assumption That Purchasing is a Matter of Status and Self-Definition

John Tierney writes an article in his blog that is entitled, “Could it be that humans are not quite as gullible as advertised?”
He takes social psychologists to task when he says, “For a couple of decades now, social psychologists and behavioral economists have been amusing themselves manipulating consumers into doing odd things. They’ve delighted in debunking the notion of homo economicus, that theoretical creature who rationally seeks maximum economic utility.”

John doesn’t seem to be too fond of brain scans either. He says, “But suppose, instead of scanning people’s brains as they’re sipping wine in a laboratory, you tested them in a more realistic situation.” The results turn out to be quite different. “After three months of testing various combinations of prices, the researchers found they couldn’t sway the customers. Putting a higher price on the shrimp or any other entree didn’t make people more likely to order it.”

John critiques both MRI brain scans, which are all the rage at the moment, and the assumption that purchasing is a matter of status and self-definition. I think that John Tierney is on to something. Therefore, I replied in a comment,

Hi John,

You note that Geoffrey Miller, in his new book “Spent: Sex, Evolution and Consumer Behavior,” argues that “humans often waste money because of the unconscious- and mistaken- belief that our costly stuff will signal our intelligence and sterling personality traits to potential mates and allies.”

You then point out that in hypothetical situations manipulation seems to work, but in the real world people choose what they like on the basis of the product not the price. Finally, you note that in terms of really large purchases, people tend to be fairly happy with their purchases.

What is going on here? I suggest that consumer researchers are missing “context.” For example, as you note, in a restaurant where they’re spending their own money consumers were not easily manipulated.

I designed context-driven qualitative research and I “duplicate” the buying scenario. As a researcher I am frequently surprised by the results. Consumers invariably make sense, but only in terms of their own perspective. The lesson here is that we need to be non-directive and to provide some sort of context. For more details e-mail me at

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Technology of Context-Driven Qualitative Research

Someone asked me recently about the “technology” of Context-Driven Qualitative Research (CDQR), previously called “Cartoon Sequence Research.” Some of my previous blogs describe how a research project is conducted with this methodology. I use pictographs to depict a purchasing scenario. Why pictographs and not pictures?

Pictographs seek to understand consumer behavior by providing visual stimuli that is sufficiently contextual yet open to subjective interpretation. Our research shows that respondents tend not to identify with pictures that are too detailed, and cartoon-like pictographs tend to work better.

Respondents really open up when they are shown the pictographs and this appears to solve the post-rationalization problem that exists when you ask the respondent to recall their experience. The immediacy of the process also seems to capture emotions. This became evident in several instances. For example, pictographs showing the difficulty of finding a parking space revealed the same emotions as the real thing.

Originally, cartoonists were employed to translate pictures into cartoon-like pictographs. Since several sets were required to match the sets to respondents, this was very time- consuming. Now there are several good picture-to-cartoon software programs available, and artists are only used for “touch-ups” which this saves considerable time.

When CDQR was first developed, laminated pictographs and a tape recorder were utilized, now it is possible to perform the same task with a tablet PC. This also makes it easier when working in a focus group situation because the same pictographs can be projected to a screen.

Technology doesn’t seem to change things from the respondent’s perspective but it makes it easier to do the research. Also, on occasion, I still use laminated pictographs. If you’d like to take a whirl at this type of research, e-mail me at

Monday, June 22, 2009

An Offer You Can Refuse - - But Probably Shouldn’t

Hey Chief Marketing Officer what do you really want to know? My methodology called “Context-Driven Qualitative Research” gets into the mind of the consumer during the numerous steps of the purchasing process. It’s a little like the Vulcan Mind-Probe.

The methodology discovers resonant statements, unstated values, and unexpected misunderstandings related to products, services and brands. Wouldn’t you like to know these things?

There has been a radical change in consumer attitudes. People have less trust in banks, insurance companies, financial advisors, and government. I am reminded of the joke “I don’t have a 401K, I have a 201K.” Yep, and your brand is floating out there in a sea of change.

Now, for the offer! Tell me what you really want to know about your consumers and I will provide you with a description of the “pictographic” scenario that I would use to answer your question. No charge, no obligation. Just e-mail me at

For example, you may ask “How have attitudes toward large banks fundamentally changed?” or “Does a particular brand extension make sense?” or “What are the triggers that get someone to consider taking a cruise?” Basically, if you can frame the question, I can probably translate the question into pictographic format. After that, it is possible to find the answers from the profiled consumer.

If yours is an interesting challenge, I would like to work with you. We’re a minimalist consultancy that can easily be ignored, but we can pick and choose whom we want to work with. Here is what you won’t get: Seville-Row suited consultants, an impressive board room, and a Madison Avenue address. You’ll have to settle for a breakthrough methodology and innovative thinking.

Our office is on a boat and if you ignore us, the breeze will still blow and the sunsets will still be beautiful but you will miss a real opportunity. Again, that e-mail is

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

MRI Imaging Solves the Mystery of Consumer Behavior - - Not!

Martin Lindstrom’s recent book is titled “Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy” and he explains the use of the MRI in neuro-marketing. In a review by Michael S. Rosenwald in the “Washington Post,” it is suggested that Buyology “gets to the bottom of our buying habits, particularly our obsession with certain brands.”

I suggest that neuro-marketing has some of the answers but it is not “the answer.” In fact, I believe that many of the conclusions drawn are not necessarily related to the MRI results.

Mr. Lindstrom rightly points out that perceived scarcity is a strong motivator. To illustrate, he notes that if one is given the opportunity to take as much candy as they want, consumers will take three from a box of six, and one from a box of thirty. But social scientists have known about this and about “loss aversion” for a very long time.

In another interesting finding he states that, “Bottom line, there was no discernable difference between the way the subjects’ brains reacted to powerful brands and the way they reacted to religious icons and figures.” Lindstrom goes on to explain that “when people line up outside Apple stores for the latest iPhone, they are not hankering to get the latest gadget - - they are pretty much having a religious experience, too.”

This seems to say more about early adopters than mainstream shoppers and I am not sure what you do with this type of information if you are selling less exotic products such as hammers.

Next, Lindstrom talks about the difference between the brain scans while showing Coke versus Pepsi. With Pepsi, only the ventral region of the brain, an area associated with taste, was activated. With Coke the ventral and the medial cortex were activated. Lindstrom says the difference is explained because Coke “has for years inundated the world with advertising associating the beverage with warm memories of childhood, etc.” Now this may be true, but it isn’t as if Pepsi hasn’t advertised in a similar way and for a very long time.

MRI consumer scanning can teach us a lot, but it shouldn’t take too much credit. After all, we already know that: scarcity motivates; increased fear requires a solution to be effective; sexual appeals can be so strong that the viewer forgets about the product being advertised; some stimuli appeals to the reptilian portion of our brains; and we tend to react first and rationalize later.

Still, I think context needs to be a part of the mix. Otherwise it is difficult to be product or service specific. For more information about context-driven qualitative research contact me at

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Why Use Cartoon-Pictographs in Depicting a Buying Scenario?

Good question. In terms of theory, Context-Driven Qualitative Research or Cartoon Sequence Research (CSR) is an extension of the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), a projective methodology that uses pictures which can be interpreted in a variety of ways. It is most often used to assess personality in the psychoanalytic tradition.

Pictographs seek to understand consumer behavior by providing visual stimuli that is sufficiently contextual yet open to subjective interpretation. Our research shows that respondents tend not to identify with pictures that are too detailed, and cartoon-like pictographs tend to work better.

In practice, twenty to thirty cartoon pictographs are constructed to make a set that shows a buying scenario. For example, one set was developed that showed a couple purchasing an automobile. In this instance, early scenes depicted situations where one would first consider buying a new car. Others showed people looking at car ads in the newspaper, and another showed people driving past a billboard with a dealership ad. Later in the set the remainder of the purchasing process was depicted.

Without going into great detail, it should be noted that there are three types of pictographs that are a part of this process: situational; interactive; and reflective. Situational provide context, such as driving into the dealership or standing in line to purchase something. Interactive show the consumer relating to a salesperson or the product. Reflective show an individual discussing their reaction to a situation.

It is desirable for the respondent to identify with the pictographs, and usually five or six sets are developed. This allows the researcher to match the different sets to the respondents. These include singles, couples, and different age groups.

It is a bit of a challenge to determine the “buying scenario” and to construct the various sets of cartoon pictographs, but the findings are so comprehensive and insightful that the process is well worth it. For more information, e-mail

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Rational Man and Conspicuous Consumption Man Are Run Down by the Context-Research Guy

This is the story of how the “Consumer Behavior Mystery” was finally solved!

It was a dark and stormy night when “Rational Man” in the company of “Conspicuous Consumption Man” while pursuing the elusive “Consumer Behavior” were both were run down by “Context-Research Guy.” A group of marketers were standing nearby, clearly confused. Context Research Guy cried out, “Fear not, I’m here to help.”

Rational and Conspicuous were dazed and were unable to continue; meanwhile, Context-Research has taken up the chase. It has been reported that Consumer Behavior may be trapped.

Context-Research Guy, whose full name is Context-Driven Qualitative Research Man, claims that he is the only one who truly understands Consumer Behavior.

He notes that Rational is wrong when he says that Consumer Behavior only wants to “maximize utility” i.e. pleasure or happiness. Oh yeah, there is more to it than simply pleasure.

Context-Research admits that Conspicuous is right when he says that Consumer is trying to impress others, but he says there is more to it than “Mine is bigger than yours.”

Context-Research is disgusted with both Rational and Conspicuous. He says, “If we are going to catch Consumer Behavior we need to get him where he lives - - then we can trap him with his own words.” He continues:

Here’s how to set the trap. Forget about traits and profiling, this is not a problem for psychology, it’s a matter of context. Find out what Consumer Behavior wants and how he goes about getting it. In short, picture the scene. Draw it up in a series of pictographs and let him explain himself as he goes through them. He might get emotional. So much the better. Keep your yap shut because he knows and you don’t.

For example, if Consumer Behavior tries to buy a car, gets fitted for a suit, or considers taking a vacation, we’re going to picture each decision point and then he can explain himself. Yeah, Consumer Behavior can run but he can’t hide. Even during these tough economic times, Consumer Behavior is still buying and we’re going to find out what and why.

Rational Man and Conspicuous Consumption you’ve had your day. Sure you were good, but not good enough. Now it is time to step aside and leave things to “Context-Research Guy.”

Written by Dale Paulson, Ph.D. President of Allegiance Research Group. To learn more email

Monday, May 25, 2009

What is the Value of Respondents Telling You Things in Their Own Words?

The short answer is that this provides the opportunity for a communication breakthrough. Every so often one hears something that just sticks. This is true of both phrases and jingles. I remember a theater critic who reviewed the musical “Annie” and said, “It took me two weeks to get that damn song out of my head.”

For the marketer, sticky phrases can be like goldmines. They keep paying off and long after the broadcasts stop, we still remember them.

Here are some examples: “Diamonds are forever.” “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing—you ate it Ralph.” “We’re number two but we try harder.” “Where’s the beef?” Short pithy and memorable. These are examples of creative genius.

Perhaps you can duplicate this type of success if you attune yourself to the words of your consumers. There is no better way to get your customers to open up then to use pictographs. I discovered an interesting phrase when doing Context-Driven Qualitative Research (pictographs) for an adult education school. The phrase “We teach but we don’t grade,” removed the anxiety and increased attendance.

When you use Context-Driven Qualitative Research, you “Learn but you don’t judge.”

For more information, email

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

“Rational Man” Replaced by “Post-Rational Emotional Man”

I recently read a review, by Gloria McDonough-Taub at, of Geoffrey Miller’s book entitled “SPEND: Sex, Evolution and Consumer Behavior.” Professor Miller “reveals the unseen logic behind the chaos of consumerism . . .” and he argues that “Marketers still don’t understand human nature and that hurts business.”

In short, he argues like many others that the “Rational Man” Model from economics is too limited. This model says that consumers “maximize utility” by rationally comparing and buying products and services that give them the greatest “subjective utility,” i.e. pleasure or happiness.

Enter, “Conspicuous Consumption” (Thorstein Veblen, “The Theory of the Leisure Class”) which says that consumers often buy products that will impress others even if they don’t deliver personal happiness.

Professor Miller points out that this remains true but it must be supplemented by “genetically heritable traits” that can predict a wide range of behavior including consumption. Miller’s traits include intelligence, openness, consciousness, extraversion, agreeableness and emotional stability. Each trait falls upon a continuum.

I don’t know about you, but I like to think that I fall on the upper and positive end of each trait. His theory would suggest that I prefer a Lexus Hybrid to a Harley Hog, that I qualify for a low-interest loan, that I am a Green Consumer and that I am interested in new ideas and fashions.

This is probably a great improvement over Rational Man and Conspicuous Consumption but I don’t think that it accounts for a Post-Rational Emotional Man when faced with a specific purchasing decision. Although I agree that it is valuable to construct a psychological model for consumer behavior based upon the most recent findings by evolutionary psychologists, I think that the “context” surrounding the purchase remains important.

I prefer to pictographically duplicate a purchasing scenario for a type of product and then let the potential consumer explain their reactions to each step in the process. Pictographs are similar to story boards and enable the consumer to tell a story, without leading questions from the researcher. Objectively some consumer behavior doesn’t make sense, but subjectively it can be explained. For more information email

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Nitty Gritty: CSR Overview and Steps in the Process


Cartoon Sequence Research is a context-driven qualitative methodology that uses simplified pictures called pictographs to explore how and why consumers make buying decisions. These pictographs depict the buying experience from the beginning to the end. Usually there are twenty to thirty pictographs that are shown to respondents to encourage them to explain their emotions and thinking as they “experience” the buying scenario. In short, they tell a story. There are no direct questions by the researcher, and the researcher learns detailed information related to motivations, emotions, and subjective terminology.

Steps in the Process

1) Determine the question that you want answered. For example: What is involved when someone decides to buy a car? How do people decide to take a cruise? How does someone decide to use a particular bank?

2) Interview the client company to specify the “decision points” involved in the question that you are trying to understand.

3) Translate the decision points into pictographs. This is also called “developing the scenario.”

4) Utilize three types of pictographs in developing the scenario. These include:
describing the environment; showing interaction; and showing reflection.

5) Develop different sets of pictographs to fit different demographic categories.

6) Show the pictographs to selected respondents. Avoid leading questions. Audio record their answers, i.e. the story they tell as they look at the pictographs.

7) Pictographs can be added or eliminated as more is learned.

For more information email

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Picture is Worth More Than a Thousand Words

This article is about the limitations of “words” and why pictographs are a good option when it comes to researching consumer behavior. Words tend to reflect, pictures tend to represent. To illustrate this, I need to discuss the nature of words.

Words have denotative, connotative, and emotional elements. A denotation is fairly straight forward. For example, if I say the word “pencil,” most people would have a pretty good idea of what I am talking about. Connotation implies something. For example, if I say “great job” I may be giving you a compliment, but on the other hand I could be insulting you. Finally, words also have emotive elements and there are some words that elicit an emotional response. For example, if you call someone a “bastard” it oftentimes raises that person’s blood pressure.

In addition, words are often related to values, either positive or negative. If you doubt this, think of the two phrases: “Filet Mignon” versus “First-Class Piece of Dead Cow.” Each phrase is accurate but one of the phrases is seldom seen on a menu.

What I am saying is that words can be very imprecise tools when it comes to research. This is one of the reasons that pictographs work so well when it comes to understanding consumer decision-making.

Respondents will describe their reactions as they look at a series of pictographs and will start telling a story. Soon the researcher fades into the background and the respondent will not be reacting to any words or questions from the researcher. This is a real improvement because pictographs provide sufficient context without leading the respondent.
For more information email

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Deciphering the Treasure Map

The “Treasure Map” is the decisional process that people use before they make a purchase. This applies to both products and services and if you understood this decisional process you would indeed have a treasure map.

Like most treasure maps, the “Decisional Calculus Treasure Map” is in code and traditional research will not break it. This is because asking people for their “reasons” is not very effective and “emotion” is an important component.

How do we break the code? First we must assume that asking direct questions “pollutes” the process. Oftentimes, people make purchasing decisions based upon emotions but when asked they likely explain it in rational terms. To truly understand, the researcher should “catch” the emotion as it occurs.

The best way to understand the decisional process is to “re-create” the buying scenario using “pictographs.” Why does someone buy a certain car at a particular dealership? How does one decide to take a cruise with a certain cruise line? How does one choose a bank? Each of these buying scenarios can be understood by using pictographs.

It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words but, in truth, words cannot substitute for pictographs. Pictographs tend not to lead the respondent in the way that words do and they do a better job at capturing emotions.

If you want to decipher the decisional calculus treasure map for your product or service consider using a pictographic approach. For more information e-mail me at

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

“Brick & Mortar: Shopping in the 21st Century”

The above is the title of a book where I contributed a chapter on Cartoon Sequence Research. Tina M. Lowrey, Professor of Marketing at the University of Texas, is the editor of the book and it was published by Taylor and Francis Group, NY, 2008.

Tina saw my research and invited me to make a presentation at the Annual Conference on Advertising and Consumer Psychology in 2006. Essentially, this conference was about the continuing relevance of shopping centers in the face of on-line computer shopping. I wanted to understand what factors are involved when a consumer decides to shop by computer versus going to the shopping mall or vice versa.

There are some obvious differences. Going to the mall is an “experience” filled with a multitude of sensory opportunities. It can be a hassle or an adventure. On-line shopping tends to be a solitary endeavor with a plethora of information but with little hands-on experience plus you must wait to receive the product which may lessen the impact of emotions.

There are so many questions in making the comparisons between the two that it is difficult to know where to start.

My presentation and subsequent chapter in the book simply made the case that Cartoon Sequence Research (CSR) is ideally suited for handling the complexity of this type of research question. There are no leading questions by the researcher and the respondent looks at the pictographs and starts telling a story.

After handling the academic rigors of background theory and such things as validity and reliability, I went on to suggest this straight-forward approach. I worked with a cartoonist to construct a series of pictographs showing individuals shopping in the mall and by computer. It should be noted that there are three types of cartoons: situational; interactive; and reflective. The situational cartoon sets the scene or provides the context. The interactive cartoon shows an individual or group with the product or another person. The reflective cartoon shows an individual, matched to the respondent by age, race and gender, discussing their reaction either in person or on the phone. In other words, we show where they are, what they are doing, and how they describe the experience.

The chapter also describes several settings in which CSR was used the past few years and they include the following industries: homebuilding; banking; education; national and state associations; and auto buying.

If you are involved in on-line marketing or perhaps you want to know more about brick and mortar shopping, e-mail me at

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

“Oh, I Hate Those Bastards!”

I suppose the first time I realized how insightful and powerful Cartoon Sequence Research really is, was when I was investigating car-purchasing behavior. There I was at a Chrysler dealership on a Sunday morning to do some market research for the dealership.

I decided to do some preliminary research on our twenty-or-so “cartoon-pictographs” to see how they would work. I was there on Sunday morning, when the dealership was closed, because I wanted to interview individuals who desired to look at cars without being approached by a salesperson.

I was giving away boxes of candy to encourage people to look at the pictographs. Along came a well-dressed octogenarian lady. She was carrying a bible and I assumed that she had just come from church. She told me that I didn’t have to give her a box of candy to participate, but being the magnanimous researcher that I am, I insisted. Clutching the candy with here bible, she told me about here attitudes toward car shopping.

When we got to the pictograph showing a car salesman opening her car door, she blurted out, “Oh, I hate those bastards.” Now the whole purpose of this non-directive approach is “not to lead the witness.” Therefore, I simply said “Madam, do you want to go that?’

Needless to say, she provided considerable insight. But I also learned something more important. Cartoon Sequence Research oftentimes elicits strong emotional responses and this is extremely valuable because I believe that most often consumers make decisions on the basis of emotion first and rationality latter. In fact, I believe you learn more about purchasing behavior if you assume that people are emotional creatures who rationalize rather than rational creatures who become emotional.

So to that oft-asked question, “What do I have to do, draw you a picture?” the answer is “Yes you do.”

If you have questions, e-mail me at

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Non-Directive Research and Nose Prints

It’s hard to believe but it’s been thirty-five years since Eugene J. Webb, Donald T. Campbell, Lee Sechrest wrote their book entitle Unobstrusive Measures. They were interested new and unused methods of obtaining information.

Their approach was to observe without being observed. They knew that research methodology can pollute results. This remains true today. For example, if you ask someone about their opinion of Buicks, they will tell you, and often in great detail. The respondent may not own a car but they will be more than willing to give their opinion.

This is one reason that I like non-directive pictographs because they tend not to presuppose information. The simply provide context and invite the respondent to “tell a story.”

The authors of Unobtrusive Measures used a non-directive means to discover which exhibits were the most popular at a children’s museum. Direct interviews with young children would not have worked. Instead they regularly cleaned the windows of the exhibits and noted the number and position of the nose prints. That way they could gauge both popularity and approximate the age of the children that showed interest.
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Friday, April 17, 2009

What The Hell Is This?

This rather simple cartoon or pictograph is from a set of thirty pictographs that was used to understand car purchasing behavior at a Chrysler dealership. This was before the current crisis where people now tend not to go into any auto dealership.

Cartoon Sequence Research(tm) involves showing people a series of cartoons that depict a buying scenario. In this instance the cartoons showed scenes from when people first considered buying a new car to them driving off the lot in their “new car.” People simply tell us a story. We learned a considerable amount from the auto buying cartoon set, but this particular cartoon stood out.

One advantage of Cartoon Sequence Research (CSR) is there are no leading questions and it taps into emotions. We learn information even if we don’t have the right questions.

Here is one thing we learned from this particular cartoon. Don’t put on a separate sticker on the car. Interestingly, you can add to the existing sticker even with a higher price and people tend not to mind.

Who knew? Well actually the customer knew, but, oftentimes the researcher doesn’t know enough to ask.
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