Thursday, November 17, 2005

New Ways to Get Inside Context

Customer minds are tough to get inside. But without it, you will never understand the context in which they see your products.

Ah, let’s plan some focus groups!

Not so fast, Speedy.

We’re all getting smart about focus groups. That mirror sets up a false sense of reality. People in a group say one thing and believe another. It creates what researchers now call ‘false positives’ that can lead to marketplace failure. Besides that, it takes seemingly forever to plan, recruit, travel to remote sites, hire the moderator, run the sessions and analyze the results.

The one I like is conjoint feedback on your own website, or on specially launched research websites, or via interactive emails. Provide the customer two alternatives that are conceived to reveal their real interests or thoughts. For instance, provide choice of a whitepaper on saving money and one on improving results. Provide package design “A” and design “B” – one with a humorous tone and one more serious. Give them the right options and they will tell you what’s important.

Business Week Online took a fresh look at the problem and found a number of clever ways to understand customer context:

Looking for better methods of predicting consumer acceptance, Pepsi recently turned to Wellesley (Mass.)-based Invoke Solutions, which conducted several instant-message-style online panels of 80 to 100 people collected by its affiliated online survey firm, Greenfield Online. Pepsi delved into attitudes among Gen Xers toward drinking mineral water. In just a few hours, the beverage marketer was able to gather and process detailed feedback from hundreds of consumers. Getting a comparable result from focus groups would have taken several weeks.

Speed is just one of the appeals for political strategists shifting from traditional focus groups to online research. Mark Mellman, president of Washington's Mellman Group Inc., recently used Invoke on behalf of Planned Parenthood. A series of online panels totaling hundreds of people shared attitudes about U.S. Supreme Court Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and abortion rights, and inspired the messaging for ads. Mellman figures he'll use the method for candidates as well. The savings and speed, he says, lets him reach more diverse voters than focus groups allow -- beyond those "who simply have a few hours on their hands and want the $50 fee."

A Kimberly Clark packaging designer came up with a new approach: a camera mounted on a pair of glasses to be worn by consumers at home, so researchers could see through their eyes. The cameras let KC see what the customer was looking at, rather than pointing the camera at them.

It didn't take long to spot the opportunities. While women in groups talked about changing babies at a diaper table, the truth was they changed them on beds, floors, and on top of washing machines in awkward positions. The researchers could see they were struggling with wipe containers and lotions requiring two hands. The company redesigned the wipe package with a push-button one-handed dispenser and designed lotion and shampoo bottles that can be grabbed and dispensed easily with one hand.


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