“If I had given people what they said they wanted, I would have built a faster horse” – Henry Ford
For years, we have gone into research with the assumption that the way to find out what makes people happy is to ask them. With more and more brands realising the need to emotionally distinguish themselves as well as (or in some cases, rather than) functionally differentiate themselves, it is important to understand how to explore emotion and translate it into valid brand currency.
A large body of research recently commissioned for a major coffee brand highlighted that when it comes to desire it is often difficult for people to distinguish between what they think (and say) they want and what they actually want. Research participants were asked to complete a survey which asked them what they wanted from the perfect cup of coffee and then asked to rate the taste of physical cups of coffee which varied in strength, sugar and milk content. When asked to select from a specific set of words what they wanted from a cup of coffee, the most popular words were Hearty, Rich and Dark. When tested, in fact, only 25% – 27% of the same panel of people actually preferred this to white, weak coffee.
In this case, there are two suggested reasons for this disparity in people saying what they wanted compared with what they actually wanted. The first is a concept called ‘Paradigm Paralysis’ where people refer to products in relation to the culture they are associated with rather than from their own opinion. In terms of brands and products these paradigms are often deep rooted connections we have made to a product or brands heritage, quality or target audience. In reference to the coffee example, what we are most likely to associate with authentic, good quality coffee is a dark, rich, hearty (and most probably, of Italian origin) roast. This is because historically, the culture (in this case, generated by the heritage of the product and visual cues stimulated through advertising) surrounding the product has told us so. So when questioned about what they want from a cup of coffee, instinctively, people will answer in the way that is reflective of this culture. This is not necessarily to follow the crowd, but because people believe that this is what they actually enjoy, even if they have spent the last 20 years drinking sugary, milky bland coffee. The second reason for this outcome of results is the way the original question was asked, giving people a list of words to pick from and asking them to rate which qualities of a cup of coffee were the most important. Using words like ‘weak’ and asking how important it should be in making a good cup of coffee, is unlikely to elicit a positive response.
At the CharityComms Brand Breakfast earlier this week, Rob George from RSPB talked us through their ‘Outside In’ report which explored current perceptions of the RSPB brand to form a body of evidence that the brand needed to be updated. Whilst taking us through some of their research, one of the things which stuck out most for me was the framing of one of the questions which was intended to explore perceptions of RSBP in relation to other charities. Rather than ask participants to functionally rate the emotional values of the brand (for example: ‘on a scale of one to ten, how engaging do you find the following brands?’), they were asked to prioritise the brands they would like to sit next to at a cocktail party. Framing the question in this context, forces the participant to consider the question in a way which is personally and emotionally relevant. Rather than asking them to engage in their emotions in a functional manner, this is far more likely to generate honest responses as people don’t have to think about and rationalize their emotions, they simply have to record what feels instinctive.
When conducting research where we are ultimately trying to connect with the consumer on an emotional level, it is important to remember that people are emotional and affected by culture, rather than assuming they are purely functional and will only ever provide rational answers to our research questions.
Cultural trends. Values-led marketing. Behavioural economics. Social & cultural capital. These are Chloe’s passions. Can you believe she used to apply them to booze brands? Now she applies them to yours, if you’re lucky.