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.

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