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