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 AllegianceResearch@gmail.com.

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 AllegianceResearch@gmail.com.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

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

I recently read a review, by Gloria McDonough-Taub at CNBC.com, 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 allegianceresearch@gmail.com

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 allegianceresearch@gmail.com

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 allegianceresearch@gmail.com