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.
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