Do We Really Understand The Customers?

This article was published in the May 2016 Issue of the Online MR Magazine – CLICK HERE to read the magazine.

Online MAG BannerResearch methodologies have more or less been the same, however customer needs changes rapidly – are we changing with times or waiting to become obsolete?

David Lundahl:  We are in the midst of a time of great change in the market research industry.  There is still a gap between insights providers and users in terms of perception of relevancy.  Yet, I believe the industry is making progress in closing this gap – although maybe not fast enough for some.

What are some of the challenges posed by new age customers? How can traditional market researchers adapt?

David Lundahl: Traditional market research has developed great techniques to track what consumers do and ask them questions as to why.  However, new age consumers are fundamentally different in some ways.  Unfortunately, what consumers say they do does not always track with their actual behaviors.  Traditional research is fundamentally missing something when trying to identify insights explaining why shoppers make their purchase decisions. The challenge is to understand why these new age consumers are behaving differently.  To meet this challenge, researchers must design and interpret research using a new framework – one that is more predictive of behavior than past approaches.

Market researchers have been a bit slow to accept technological innovations – how can we speed up the adaptation process?

David Lundahl: There is more and a greater diversity of information available to researchers than at any time in the past.  Technology has a lot to do with this.However, technology-enabled research only advances the industry when it addresses questions of relevance (passes the “so what” test) with insights that go beyond the “what” of behavior to uncover insights of “why.”

For example, capturing and analyzing more data about what consumers are doing is not going to lead to relevant insights unless you have a framework to predict future behavior.  This requires understanding not only the “what” but also the “why” of behavior.  Qualitatively, observing or listening to the voice of the consumer is not going to lead to relevant insights unless you know the right questions to ask.

With humongous amount of data available at our disposal today – are researchers able to identify their customer’s needs/desires?

David Lundahl: I believe the marketing research professional of the future needs to be business minded and have a big toolbox along with the knowledge of how to use it.  Clients today are challenged with a wide range of problems.

Researchers must not only listen to their clients, but also seek to understand the business problem before designing research solutions. Having a big enough toolbox gives you more degrees of freedom to solve a wider range of business problems.  If you only have a hammer, then every problem is going to look like a nail.  Yet, you still need to have the right framework to put the toolbox to work.

Have you observed a huge difference in the purchase decision making process of customers or the fundamentals hold true today also?

David Lundahl: The cognitive processes that consumers use are fundamentally unchanged – most purchase decisions are still based on fast thinking that is more intuitive and less rational than has been believed in the past.

The average time it takes for a consumer to place an item in their basket is 4.6 seconds.  However, what has changed are the tools that consumers have at their disposal to make purchase decisions and the diversity of shopping experiences.

This goes way beyond online shopping through websites.  It includes new behaviors ranging from show-rooming, how apps are used to plan shopping trips, or the use of apps to access information at the point of purchase.  Further, the shopping experiences that consumers can choose from are much more diverse than in the past.  For example, instead of shopping at one big store for all grocery needs, consumers are shopping at different stores and channels for different items.

When shoppers are moving towards digital medium from a typical brick and mortar setup – what are the opportunities and threats for researchers?

David Lundahl:  Digital touch points along the shopper journey are changing the world of research.  The opportunities are vast to generate new insights of greater relevance in the face of this change.  The threat comes from researchers standing still and not adapting to this change.

As per your vast experience what are the various “moments” and cues/triggers that are relevant to buying behavior?

David Lundahl: Consumers react differently based on the moment – who they are with,what concerns them the most, what is the context of the experience,and what are their past memories.  When consumers are thinking fast, their purchase decisions are motivated by the cognitive short cuts they use in specific moments to navigate the thousands of choices available to them.

These shortcuts or heuristics are elicited by a short list of purchase criteria of importance that are signaled by cues/triggers.These cues are formed by past experiences in similar moments.  So, to say that any one moment is more important or that any specific cue is more important misses the point.

The point is that moments and cues/triggers are the most essential elements to what is the new framework for marketing research.  Research methods – to yield relevant insights – must be able to identify what moments are most important along a consumer’s journey and to know what cues/triggers are signaling implicitly to motivate purchase behavior in those moments. The most important moments may be prior to or sometimes after a point of purchase.

What are some of the major changes you have observed with regard to the shopper’s path to purchase – especially in the past decade?

David Lundahl: Fundamentally, most purchasing is still fast and intuitive – motivated by impressions formed from past experiences.  What has changed is the moments.  A wide range of Apps are impacting how consumers shop, how they plan their shopping trips, where they choose to shop, what are the primary purposes for their shopping choices, and how they make point of purchase decisions.

This is changing what are the moments along the journey and how moments before, during and after purchase impact the shopper’s path to purchase.  Understanding these moments and how to impact the journey in these moments will lead to relevancy for the marketing researcher.  This requires embracing a new framework for the researcher that uses the lens of moments and cues/triggers to yield insights.

Dave LundahlAbout the author: Dr. David Lundahl founded InsightsNow, Inc. in 2003. Combining research consulting expertise with technology to yield better insights has been his mission from the very beginning.

David has more than 20 years’ experience in the consumer research and the product development, focusing on the statistics and business process improvement. Working in management positions for the food industry for many years, David also has been an associate professor at Oregon State University and founded two companies.

Specializing in integrating the business decision making process with market and consumer product research information, he has also been in industry leadership positions, written for many publications and spoken at several conferences. David holds a master’s degree in statistics and a doctorate in food science, both from Oregon State University.

This article was published in the May 2016 Issue of the Online MR Magazine – CLICK HERE to read the magazine.