Kno­wing is power

All con­sump­ti­on-rela­ted actions are about making choices – choo­sing the sham­poo that best suits your desi­red hair style, using the pad ins­tead of the TV set to watch a movie, deci­ding to go to the com­pa­ny store for fur­ther infor­ma­ti­on rather than con­sult the web­site. Kno­wing how humans make the­se decisi­on and what fac­tors influ­ence them is extre­me­ly valu­able for mar­ke­ters. Three fac­tors are important here: decisi­on cri­te­ria, the attri­bu­tes by which an offer is jud­ged – expec­ta­ti­ons, against which back­ground an offer and its attri­bu­tes are per­cei­ved - and needs, the dri­ving force behind an action. This blog post is about the why and how of human insights genera­ti­on.

Levels of insights (Source: Bran­dAc­tion by Mill­ward Brwon)

Decisi­on cri­te­ria are tho­se facets, that people look at the clo­sest to make their choice. Whe­re­as for an inter­net con­nec­tion relia­bi­li­ty and ser­vice are pro­bab­ly most important (, CSR activi­ties by the pro­vi­der might not be. Decisi­on cri­te­ria are influ­en­ced by indi­vi­du­al, psy­cho­lo­gi­cal, soci­al or cul­tu­ral beliefs - for one group of people cars need to be fast and expen­si­ve-loo­king, for others effi­ci­ent and prac­ti­cal. Decisi­on cri­te­ria may not necessa­ri­ly reflect fac­tu­al stan­dards. For examp­le, digi­tal came­ras are com­mon­ly jud­ged by the num­ber of mega­pi­xels of their chip, but it is the lens that has the most influ­ence on pic­tu­re qua­li­ty. Kno­wing the list of cri­te­ria for a cer­tain group of people (user of a cer­tain pro­duct, the spe­cial soci­ode­mo­gra­phic group that is tar­ge­ted, the users of a cer­tain touch­point) helps focus­sing on (and impro­ving) the right varia­bles of an offer. Decisi­on cri­te­ria can be revea­led by asking people direc­t­ly, by having them rank a list of attri­bu­tes, or by lis­ten­ing to sto­ries about situa­ti­ons whe­re they had to make the decisi­on. But as cri­te­ria are not necessa­ri­ly ful­ly awa­re to users or are free­ly expres­sed by them, it is also important to obser­ve users while deci­ding and ask them after­wards about their thoughts and fee­lings in the situa­ti­on.

Expec­ta­ti­ons set the back­ground, against which infor­ma­ti­on is valued. They are build up by past expe­ri­en­ces with brand touch­points or set by pre-infor­ma­ti­on about the brand, eg. through adver­ti­sing or word of mouth. Expec­ta­ti­ons can be met, excee­ded, or in the worst case, mis­sed, resul­ting in bro­ken pro­mi­ses. Fur­ther­mo­re, expec­ta­ti­ons are evo­ked by com­mon beha­vi­or of com­pe­ti­tors, resul­ting in mar­ket con­ven­ti­ons. Brands can shar­pen their pro­fi­le or even crea­te a new mar­ket by brea­king con­ven­ti­ons. Brea­king expec­ta­ti­ons is not wit­hout risk, as it can also repel people who like to stick to their rou­ti­nes. Kno­wing the inner stan­dards against which your offer will be jud­ged, pro­ves as being hel­pful in opti­mi­zing the beha­vi­or of your brand. Expec­ta­ti­ons are due to indi­vi­du­al lear­ning his­to­ries, but the­re are also com­mo­na­li­ties wit­hin cer­tain groups of people. They can be unvei­led by asking direc­t­ly, through sto­ries about past expe­ri­ence, and by having people judge the dis­crepan­cy to a befo­re­hand set cate­go­ry stan­dard.

Needs give beha­vi­or pur­po­se and direc­tion, it is becau­se of this that they are among the most valu­able sources of infor­ma­ti­on about human actions and decisi­ons, but are also the har­dest to iden­ti­fy. The­re are dif­fe­rent kinds of needs. They can be gene­ral and app­ly­ing to all humans like tho­se descri­bed by Abra­ham Maslow, Man­fred Max-Neef or Hen­ry Mur­ray, or they can be indi­vi­du­al and depen­dent on the situa­ti­on like the need for mecha­nisms that make a ban­king web­site appe­ar safe, or the need for people living in the city to use a car wit­hout buy­ing one. Needs can be overt and easi­ly self-descri­bed by customers/user, but more inte­res­ting are hid­den, hig­her-order needs. Fin­ding yet unco­ve­r­ed needs and crea­ting solu­ti­ons for them can boosts pro­duct inno­va­ti­on, touch­point design or estab­lish a more rele­vant brand posi­ti­on. Covering needs is most­ly important becau­se needs dri­ve beha­vi­or and action rather than sole­ly ope­ra­ting on the thought/image level. Asses­sing needs is rather dif­fi­cult, they can only be infer­red through sto­ry lis­ten­ing (with the TAT as stan­dar­di­zed tool for gene­ral needs), tools like the lad­de­ring tech­ni­que, or deduc­ted from action.

Humans act upon mul­ti­ple rea­sons, so in one action all three fac­tors are pre­sent and intert­wi­ned. In user rese­arch, thus the three fac­tors can usual­ly be asses­sed tog­e­ther, ide­al­ly by obser­ving and sub­se­quent ques­tio­ning for results clo­se to real life situa­ti­ons. It is also advi­s­able for Mar­ke­ters to be pre­sent at at least some observations/interviews to build up the necessa­ry empa­thy for customers/users. Usual­ly the ques­ti­on for the right num­ber of inter­viewees ari­ses in user rese­arch. If it comes to psy­cho­lo­gi­cal fac­tors as litt­le as 10 inter­viewees can be enough to pro­vi­de a gene­ral under­stan­ding of user action and thin­king (quan­ti­ta­ti­ve image rese­arch howe­ver needs at least 100 par­ti­ci­pants, but depends stron­gly on level of ana­ly­sis).

Know­ledge is Power - when buy­ing or using your pro­duct, or when using your touch­points, kno­wing which need people are try­ing to satis­fy, what attri­bu­tes they value, and against which back­ground they per­cei­ve your offer, helps tre­men­dous­ly impro­ving your offer and thus sti­mu­la­ting brand pre­fe­rence!