Stuff shoppers may not tell us


Soldiers and Family members participated in th...
Even the Armed Forces uses focus groups

At the same time marketing pundits are proclaiming that focus groups are dead, they’re trying to unearth what makes consumers tick. 

Used to be if you were a manufacturer and wanted to get some real qualitative (as opposed to quantitative) info on your new product, you’d put a focus group together. 

Get a small group of women together in a room all day, feed them well and pay them something, and they’ll tell you anything…Fact is, focus groups, when done well and includes multi markets and profiles, can give you information you can’t get anywhere else. 

Qualitative info(the hard numbers) you can get from scanner data.  Intimate stuff, such as what truly turns a shopper on:  things she would never tell anyone outside that room, that’s what makes focus groups useful.

But it seems this practice has gone the way of the Dodo bird, as “mystery shopper” clubs, chat rooms, on-line surveys and mobile apps appear to provide marketers with enough fodder from consumers.  Although these arguably much lower-cost tactics have their proponents (on-site focus groups can be very pricey), they still can’t be compared with being able to gauge the immediate reaction on the face of a group participant.

Now it seems this psychographic profiling and what it reveals is making a comeback.  It’s interesting that marketers claim they now want to get inside the consumer’s head when what they’ve been doing is mainly blitzing coupons at her…

In any case, Kraft just announced they’re developing a sophisticated new science of  “emotional profiling to provide actionable answers”  both for them and their retailer partners, according to trade pub CPG Matters.  Apparently, they are splitting hairs about whether shoppers “like” or simply “prefer” something, and how that spells the difference at check-out.

We’ ve always tried to look at the “need to have” vs. “nice to have” component of any marketing outreach.  Especially in today’s economy, folks are going to look carefully at what they buy, and probably prefer the former.  Do we really need the “green” detergent that costs so much more?

Yet food is a different animal.  There exists strong triggers — look, aroma, taste, and emotional ties — that make the food decision for us, regardless of logic.  How else can you explain the Australian expats’ continuing love of  Marmite

One of the key challenges facing manufacturers like Kraft is that this emotional reaction to food means, as they put it:  “that two identical-looking products could achieve the same score in acceptability tests, but perform wildly differently in the marketplace.”

That we shop with emotion is nothing new, and psychographics have been part of the marketer toolbox way before we knew what to call it.  Importantly, though, the increasingly ethno and income segmentation of the population adds complex levels to marketing plans.

We used to rely on reports from AC Nielsen and others that provided snappy, “canned” profiles we loved, such as “Bluehairs in Sun Country”, which neatly encapsulated all residents of, say, Vero Beach, FL.  Sure was easy to do specific-store marketing then…

 Today, with ethnic groups making up almost half of some metro markets, things are different.  Importantly, the cultural diversity means traditional tools like focus groups don’t work as well. 

For example, Latinos will typically say things that may not be true just to please the researcher.  Also, the acculturated/assimilated Hispanic may shop more like an Anglo…except when she’s with her mother.  You get the changing picture.

Trying to make this emotional connection to the consumer is nothing new.  It’s just so much harder today.  That’s why if the Big Guns are seeing the need to reinvent segmenting strategies to hold onto their brand dominance, we smaller guns should also.

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One thought on “Stuff shoppers may not tell us”

  1. Respondents who aim to please can certainly cross up earnest marketing researchers. And group-think has long been the bane of the conscientious focus group moderator. The skilled ones know how to keep these phenomena within bounds.

    Last week I reviewed a new book, “What She’s Not Telling You” by marketer Mary Lou Quinlan, that makes a convincing case that women respondents – especially – may hide the whole truth in research settings.

    Their reasons seem benign (good intentions, approval-seeking) or less so (martyrdom, ego protection, secret-keeping). For marketers the watch-out is the same – don’t assume you’re getting the entire story from the first set of one-on-ones.

    Kraft’s emotional profiling efforts may be intended to get beneath behaviors to the motives behind certain purchase decisions. Food in particular is an intimate purchase. It goes inside the body, after all, making it perhaps more personal than even underwear, and certainly more intimate than laundry detergent.

    But food may simultaneously be a visible expression of personal creativity, cultural values or social relationships. These may be hard to divine in a research setting, especially when your respondents are holding back for emotional reasons.

    Even imperfect marketing research, however, is vastly more dependable than reliance upon the marketer’s instinct or experience.

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