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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