Many of us like to think we can read people – and that an advantage of face to face work is that you can see the colour of their eyes – or at least their body language. In my view this is not a simple matter. There are advantages to being present with people but they, like most other ‘truths’, are spoiled by generalisations, distortions and deletions.
If you download the pdf below from the New Scientist, you’ll see that it’s not as easy to read body language as we like to think. Much of our certainty about others is driven by the need to reduce our uncertainty about ourselves - and so we look for closure & simple interpretations and drive these with generalisations.
No, you must be prepared to spend time with your informants in a way that allows them to unfold & emerge before you, only then can you calibrate the weight and significance of their words and gestures – and this matters whether you are F2F or online.
Too much rush will increase your own doubt and uncertainty and lead you to jump to conclusions. It is wholly uncertain that these will predict behaviour.
Click on the Thumbnail to see the film.
Doubts about qualitative research in its traditional forms continue to gather pace. Here, in a cutely executed piece Coca Cola take a swipe at traditional processes – among them qualitative research. If you look more closely though, it is a particular form of qual that they criticise, namely “qualitative testing of scripts, an increasingly outmoded and irrelevant tool.”
Some colleagues have reacted nervously to this, perhaps wondering if it’s another brick in the growing wall of doubt about the usefulness and validity of our practices.
However, if you carry on, a few seconds later, you’ll hear enthusiastic avocation of a qualitative technique that can be used to ‘expand the creative potential’ in idea development. This turns out to be collaborative workshops with consumers, a qualitative experience if ever there was one, and is based in Coke’s idea that ‘consumers produce more brand stories than we (Coca Cola) do, so let’s move towards genuine consumer collaboration.’
This is co-creation if ever I heard it, and whether you carry it out online or via workshops is a choice. There are distinct advantages and drawbacks to both routes. In my recent paper, I define qualitative research as the study of subjective experience, it is not – and never has been in my view – a method for establishing likes and dislikes or eliciting opinions about material that consumers have no stake in. This kind of script testing work arose in the first place as big organisations back in the 80′s and 90′s established their own marketing departments and needed a handy tool to hold their ad agencies in check and provide fuel and ammunition for discussing agency recommendations with the consumer’s voice included. As I tell in the paper, this quickly became an industry standard practice and for many years many quallies lived off it, myself included. But we have found out since that it is of questionable validity and many of us have changed our methods.
We started co-creating in 1991 to resolve just this methodological issue. Glad to see Coca Cola catching up at last!
For what its worth, my own view of this film is that using a visualiser to tell a story is fine, but this story is far too processy, full of detail and jargon such that at the end the table of ‘tools’ being recommended looks overloaded and extremely crowded. I suspect its like that in real life as each of the techniques and their proponents struggle for supremacy.
This week I want to offer you a copy of my latest paper, published in the International Journal of Market Research, Volume 54, Issue 3, this month. Called Working in Depth it provides what I hope is a comprehensive description of the value of face to face work – and the principles underpinning it – derived as they are in my practice from the European schools of psychology, rather than the American: in particular from Gestalt and Existentialism.
My approach is essentially about enabling the whole person to be present in the session: if you like brief, snappy expressions, I would some it up as: “People before Products”.
I believe that many of the over-simplistic and plain wrong findings we get from formulaic ‘Question & Answer’ sessions arise from the fact that we only have 20% of each person in the room. We already know how tricky it is for everyone to get in touch with and express their real motives (see the work of Kahneman & Tversky), but there is a real opportunity to accomplish that if we set up a safe environment for in-depth work where people can join together to explore less obvious and less noble reasons for their choices and behaviour. Without a safe place where people have time to look inward, such in-depth work is impossible.
Here, without more ado is the paper! Please email me and let me know what you think – good or bad!
My model is derived from years of experience in working with people on perceptions, thoughts, feelings and behaviour – and the relationships between them.
From that work I have noticed a set of interlocking motivational drivers that persist in daily life. These drivers are made more or less potent by current events, fashions and culture.
The first driver is the need to self-actualise that I have called the Progressive Tendency. The second and opposing force is the need to Regress, to fall back on tried and tested routines, brands and behaviours. All of us experience some tension between these forces in our daily lives.
A third and integrating driver I call Reparation and it describes the need to make amends, to fix the broken or do the undone. The reparative tendency swings into play either when we have done too little (been too regressive) or gone too far (been too progressive).
The picture above illustrates this Creative Tension. Take a moment to find it in yourself – and in that way you can validate this model through your own experience.
Can you see in your life, a tendency to one or other of these extremes? Do you typically do too little or too much? Our explorations have revealed that most of us have some arenas in which we constantly do too little, while in others we do too much. That kind of imbalance in daily life leads both to the need to compensate but also to the occurrence of breakthroughs from time to time because of our persistence!
The recession has made it difficult for most people to anticipate progress in the near future. This is frustrating in an individualistic culture and, I believe drives the prominence of internet brands with their feeling of progressiveness together with those brands that practice innovation as a core competence (Apple, Amazon, Groupon). There’s also an illusion with these brands that you’re at the forefront, merely because you click on this or that.
The regressive component in brands is found among those most familiar to us and where they get their service right, allow us to relax and experience a feeling of being ‘held’ and safe. Well known names are prominent here, like W H Smith, Greggs and the NHS – at its best.
Within this blog I cannot calculate what your brand – or your favourite brand if you are a customer – stands for in terms of these drivers, but by using my diagnostic discovery techniques in empirical studies I can help you work out where you stand and what your customers want you to focus on. This is crucial information because whatever your current style through which you have attracted and satisfied your customers’ motives, it may be time either to reinforce that position or to incorporate another part of the motivational palette. The X Factor is a classic example of a ‘product’ that blends Progressive, Regressive and Reparative elements!
We have used Reframing as a tool many times over the years and I remain interested in new examples that I hear about which strike me as useful. Today I heard from my wife about a Community Psychology Group in Newcastle. One of its members, Joel Yoelli, has come up with a fascinating reframe using the idea of Accidents.
In brief, there is a growing tendency for vehicle accident victims to receive some form of psychological therapy as part of their recovery. We know that CBT and EDMR and other therapies can be effective at lessening the grip of trauma from car crashes and the like.
Joel has neatly extended this ‘accident’ metaphor from accidents with vehicles to accidents with people. The idea is that people are traumatised by accidents with people just as they may be by physical collisions. I think its really helpful.
The best early film we made summarising the methods and aims of our co-creation process, called Big Talk. Big Talks were done during the 1990′s by British Airways (6), BUPA (2), Singapore Airlines (3), Holiday Inn (3), Guinness (2), Gallaher (1), Visa (1) among others.
In this film you can see both the methods of co-creation at work and hear from the Marketing team what they were hoping to achieve.
Can you keep the warm-up down to 5 minutes?
How many times did I hear that request? It is one of the most common misunderstandings of group process to assume that you can cut the warm-up to the briefest of introductions and then proceed with your topic guide as if your participants are really there!
If you were sitting in a group of strangers in an unfamiliar setting about to embark upon an encounter that you hadn’t seen the agenda for, how much of yourself would you have readily available to put on show?
I would be pretty scared, at the very least nervous, and cautious about coming forward. If I were a participant, quickly I would appraise the moderator – the person in charge – and then my fellow members, looking for a friendly or attractive face, decide a strategy (“I’ll take my turn but not go first/make a joke whenever I can/talk about my kids/try to figure out what they really want/look at my knees/feet/coffee/play with my mobile/fiddle with my collar.”)
A whole bunch of displacement activities and mild evasions. Keeping most of themselves hidden. Avoiding awkward silences but not breaking any boundaries or norms.
Into this shy, nervous, occasionally impulsive gathering you must start to ask the questions you have agreed with your client – who may be watching you, while talking to friends and colleagues (about you?) behind the glass – with a glass of wine in hand.
Because it is so unregulated, so lacking in encouragement and invitation to come forward in that first few minutes, it is quite usual that one group member is more outgoing and forward than the others and gets the approval of the moderator for livening things up in these early moments. 30 minutes later this forward person has become a ‘dominant respondent’ and won’t shut up. Dominant respondents are only 10% driven by dispositional factors: the other 90% is the result of poor group process.
If you do the first twenty minutes differently you will never be bothered by dominant respondents again – or even if the odd unquenchable tongue-wagger shows up – you’ll know exactly what to do. See the Top Tip 10 Next Week.
Whatever you think of Tony Blair, in terms of technique the work we did for him in 2005 was a unique piece of insight work. So much so in fact that this work with its innovations in understanding the use of personality in political markets has made its way into the American Annals of Political Science and – even in the UK where Blair has been demonised – the paper was nominated for Best Paper at the MRS Conference, 2006.
People have short memories and have forgotten that 54% of us supported military action in Iraq in 2003. There is a very British tradition of gung-ho militarism that tends to fade as the real life-and-death consequences of war play out on our screens and papers. We are still not averse to the odd bit of Johnny Foreigner bashing provided we can convince ourselves that right is on our side.
My purpose in making this paper available here is not to condone or castigate Blair and his administration. It is to make the insight work that helped him recover his standing in the run-up to the 2005 election available to students of qualitative technique – particularly Two-Chair work which, under Nicky’s direction – was fundamental to this project. As far as I know it has never been used on a national issue, before or since.
Download the Paper here: Reconnecting the Prime Minister, 2005
With the previous two posts on Gestalt and Rogers I have started to focus in on the psychologists who have most influence on my contemporary thinking and practice. Another such is Otto Rank, the first non-medical practitioner of psycho-analysis.
Like many of Freud’s followers, Rank’s perspective on our nature and the developmental steps that shaped it differed from Freud’s – and on a topic that was central to Freud, the importance of the Oedipal Conflict in shaping our personality.
Rank believed that the influence of early experience made its impact long before the Oedipal period (usually said to last from 3 to 6 years). Rank cited the Birth Trauma as the experience that did most to shape our character. The essential effect of birth was, to Rank’s mind, the creation of something he called separation anxiety, the shadow of which followed us throughout life:
“Life in itself is a mere succession of separations. Beginning with birth, going through several weaning periods and the development of the individual personality, and finally culminating in death – which represents the final separation.”
We are then, to suffer ‘separation anxiety’ from birth against which we struggle by seeking to merge with or relate to others. This anxiety takes shape as a creative tension throughout life around whether to seek new untried paths or to follow tried and tested routes (e.g. products we’ve bought before) or simply to mimic others.
To summarise, we can reach a sense in Rank’s early thoughts of human life lived between the competing desires, on the one hand to separate, to individuate, while on the other to merge and surrender to the whole, to fall into the arms of another or our community. The point is that both these desires are present in the moment. This also translates to an orientation to time and process:
‘…the fear of both going forward and of going backward”
(Rank, 1929–31, p. 124).
When we translate this thinking into work and everyday life we can sense this intra-personal dilemma for ourselves, almost without exception in any moment of doubt or anxiety. Shall I go forward or backwards here – adopt a progressive approach or rely on ideas I have used before? Shall I go it alone or band together with others for support? At any moment then, in any choice, the creative tension between merging (or repeating known patterns) and individuating (striking out on a new path) must be a core influence on personal, professional and consumer decisions. For me it is vital that we encourage participants to explore the role of goods, services and brands in negotiating these issues – and arrive at a considered appraisal of where the community stands in weighing the ‘individuating’ or separating, versus ‘merging’ or joining properties of any brand now and in future.
I have visualized this tension here, which will appear if you click on this link: Creative Tension, after Rank
You can download a pdf of this summary here: Psychology on a Page 9: Rank
There is simply no place for the dominant respondent in a well facilitated group. It shouldn’t happen. But it does. The reason it happens is due to many things:
- In the first minutes of the group, people are nervous – some react by keeping quiet, others by ‘blurting’. It is quite usual that one group member is more outgoing and forward than others. If the moderator does not deal with this immediately, it may be interpreted by the talkative one – and the group itself – as tacit acceptance that this person will occupy first place in the pecking order and will speak first on every occasion. These things happen in seconds at the start of a group.
- Another reason is that forming procedures have not been handled right. Under pressure from the brief, it is far too common to barge straight into the topic. Very often the product, service or advertising makes it into the room before the people!
- Due to the lack of invitation and participation, a democratic level playing field has not been created. No emphasis has been put on the importance of including all views in the conversation and that the moderator will support and seek out anyone trapped in silence by nerves or shyness. Even if the moderator has done a two-minute spiel, talking about how important everyone is – he has not demonstrated that – and respondents will respond to what he does, not what he says.
- Another factor is the lack of listening – and lack of attention to listening in the group. If people think that their job is to speak, then those who are interested in power and status will be hard to stop – after all that seems to be the way Brownie Points are gained here. Not only that, people will not actively listen to others. They will simply wait for their turn to speak. This can be overcome by doing an introduction process in which everyone has to introduce someone else, after listening to them in a paired conversation for a few moments.
- Social loafing is common in focus groups. Make no mistake, your participants know they are being paid for their time. There is a professional transaction underlying their attendance. Some people like to do as little as possible for their money! Some moderators too!
- Production blocking is another regular feature and can be heightened by verbose types. Some quieter members will feel ‘blocked’ by the interruptions and rapidity of the responses from the eager, talkative members. This will drive them further into the background and they may need the moderator’s support in coming forward.
- Groups that are too topic focused and full of questions will lack affect (emotional depth). Such groups are hard to listen to for everyone, energy flags, responses become routine, process dominates and everyone wants to get to the end. In these circumstances a group can feel grateful to a dominant mouthpiece – at least he keeps the thing going! Make sure activities & pace are varied and that people get to be themselves in several different ways during the group.
- A group member might feel that they have genuine, unique, in-depth experience or knowledge of your topic. You have to make a judgment call on whether to allow this kind of ‘dominance’ – based as it is on larger capability. It will have effects on the feelings of the other members, but you can ameliorate these by thanking them for their listening and asking for their input immediately afterwards.
How to Set Up the Group
Introduce yourself NOT THE TOPIC, and let the group members know that you will ensure fairness, equality of opportunity and inclusion in the session. At this point people should precede products! If you are nervous about dominant respondents – or have an anxious client behind the mirror who worries about this – say something like: “I am keen to hear from all of you and will challenge you if you take up more than your share of space to an extent that prevents others. I understand that people get carried away and I will step in if that happens too much. I won’t allow bullying or overtalking or cutting off other people’s heads to make yourself look taller.”
Next you need a go round to give everyone an equal opening to speak – preferably on a subject that is important to them – like ‘what is the biggest thing in your life at the moment’ – rather than small talk about products or usage. This ensures that they arrive in the room – as themselves, not ‘users’ or ‘lapsed users’ or ‘potential users’.
Here is an example, following on from the remarks above:
“Having said that, I do want you to feel free to share your thoughts and feelings and for us all to have the chance. Let’s practice now, by introducing ourselves to the group by talking about something that’s very much on your mind today. It doesn’t have to be about the commercial topic, I’ll brief you on that in a moment. I will go first to give you an example of the kind of thing I mean.
Then the moderator introduces h/herself at the level that h/she wishes other people to share themselves. Model the kind of behaviour that you want in the group. You are the leader, others will follow you. Being a table rasa (blank observer) will frighten people and flatten your group. Also, make no mistake about it, you have a duty of care to these people.
Once people have brought themselves to the room via their introductions you should set the Primary Task: ‘we are here this evening to….’ And give the group some information about the activities and styles of work you anticipate. Also give them reassurance about time. ‘We will end at…’ They will be worrying about it even if you are not.
Now you’re ready to go. It is twenty minutes or so into the session. Rock on.
In the second video on Action Techniques we show the ‘Blindfold Game’. This is another example of the techniques we will be teaching people how to design and use on our Advanced Qualitative Course.
The point is that in the information age it’s possible to be just as in the dark as at other times. People are so dependent on the Internet & call centres for information that it can be difficult to find out what other user’s experiences are really like. It’s easy to forget that websites and call centres are biased in the sellers interest, and that in high-cost services like insurance, healthcare or education, processes are not just complicated, they are complex because they rely on so many individual elements coming together over time. Thus predictability and reliability are hard to ensure – they can only be guaranteed by putting yourself in customer’s shoes to notice the effects that different circumstances have on customers. Then you can build services to allow or compensate for them. This is particularly important in services that deal with misfortune, like insurance and healthcare. In education you can witness each year the massive ‘clean-up’ operation – known as Clearing – that swings into action due to misfortune in students A level performance.
Action Techniques like the Blindfold Game help to train staff to grasp the bigger picture of customer experiences and what it takes to serve them.
Have you got a couple of seconds? Have a look at the pictures above. They are all designed to capture or hook your attention.
I hope one of those grabbed you. By the way, it does not matter if they turned you on or off – what I’m trying to do is stimulate your fast archaic loop for processing that bypasses the cortex (which you must have returned to if you’re still reading!) and engages the autonomic nervous system – the one that controls heart-rate, pulse, feelings…more instinctive, automatic processes if you like.
The point here is that by engaging this by-pass we put your emotions more in control of your responses. Your feelings are now plugged directly into the stimulus – and will be influential in generating a response. That’s why sex sells. As does the power of ‘free’ (see Dan Ariely’s, Predictably Irrational). Nowadays there are more and more books that speak about the huge role of the unconscious in driving decisions, choices and behaviour. Here are links to just two of them:
In an era of shorter attention spans, where unconscious process are often in the driving seat, the hook becomes an all-important mechanism. The hook is the means by which you attract attention it is also the gateway to sustaining attention. In the images above the third ‘hook’ – the falling man picture – is designed to create an element of surprise and wonder – what will happen to the falling man? It also creates a dilemma and the mind does not like unresolved dilemmas, so is tempted to follow them through to resolution – and does this through active fantasy, “I wonder what happened to that guy?”
So in a world that is increasingly full of information, capturing attention is critical. It is inevitable that as the amount of information grows what will decline is the amount of attention given to any particular piece – so you need to know what captures people’s attention and why.
The hook is the most powerful device used in television programming and advertising to gain and sustain the viewer’s attention. In the hands of a master like Jimmy McGovern (who writes ‘gritty’, realistic British drama), there is a clear formula – which in condensed form also applies to television advertising and online content. This formula is not expressed anywhere as a theorem, but in reviewing the most successful TV dramas and commercials of the last twenty years I have noticed that the ‘hook’ must be employed within five minutes of starting the programme – within seconds if it is a commercial.
There are several types of hook and they vary between the sensory hooks that seize our attention because they are outside of normal experience, and the underlying deeper motive or part of us that the lure attempts to hook. We will deal with three stimulus variants first:
1. The shock – this is usually some quite spectacular or unexpected event, like the world falling asleep in FastForward, the battle on the beaches in the first minutes of Saving Private Ryan or a killing in a crime show. The engaging nature of the shock results from the adrenalin rush or excitement that it causes. In commercials, shocks are less serious, more bizarre or unreal, like the city-wide roller-coaster in the Barclaycard Contactless commercial or the flash mobs in airports or stations in the T-mobile campaign. The shock both hooks you and stimulates your adrenalin which in turn focuses your attention.
2. The puzzle. It is usual for the shock to give rise to the puzzle – and for the puzzle to be the means by which attention is sustained. Puzzles leave the watcher wondering – what, why, who, how – questions that demand resolution. It is the success of these elements in holding our attention – the shock leading into the puzzle, that make crime shows the world’s most popular entertainment.
Two interesting forms of puzzle that have contemporary value are
- The technological puzzle – a conundrum that can only be resolved using scientific and technological procedures of the highest order – many of us are endlessly tinkering with these as we try to improve our skills in surfing, streaming, downloading etc. This type of puzzle is the basis of the CSI television series.
- The paradox – here the essential hook lies in the contradiction between truth and falsity – an obvious delight for the participant, providing the paradox is ultimately resolved. What is the answer? Which are legitimate clues, which red-herrings?
3. The Competition. Who will win? Who will be best? How would I do facing these tests? Could I beat these people? Nowadays, the reality TV shows – like X Factor – in which people start out as beginners and are rapidly transformed into ‘stars’ draw the highest audiences of any TV show in the land. As you will notice as you read below, the competition plays straight into both regressive (Play) and progressive (Power) motives.
Now coming onto the deeper motivations, there are four main areas where things hook us:
1. Seduction – something is so attractive and desirable that you are magnetised and held in its sway. This can be a person, a product or an idea. It’s easiest when its straightforward sexual attraction, but you will notice that many other things are either associated with sex or presented in such style that they seem sensual. Lighting and camerawork can make a car look sleek, cool and sexy.
2. Power – the most progressive hooking mechanism is the suggestion that you will be in some way increased should you buy the product or service. It will enhance your image, your speed, your appearance, your prestige or status. Since so much of our society is preoccupied with status and standing, having more power – even if only by association – is no mean thing.
3. Comfort – more regressive in approach, these hooks usually rely upon memory or familiarity, prior knowledge or interest. Sentimentality is often a key ingredient. We all have our favourites, things we are drawn to automatically – because we are fans, because we have invested in earlier episodes or versions, because there is a lot of hype/media interest, because we know that all our friends are also using or watching the same things. One of the wonderful things about the comfort hook is that it involves minimum effort!
4. Play – again, appealing to the regressive, more childlike part of us are the appeals to play. Often these involve a large component of active fantasy as we can see in commercials for video games or new programmes/movies.
We all inhabit a world where people are increasingly setting out to hook or engage our attention. The consequence of this fight for our minds is that we have engineered increasingly sophisticated defences. The most direct of these is Studied Inattention. Its partner is rebuttal.
Contemporary opinion suggests that marketing and advertising has less power because of the diversification of channels and platforms. My own view is that this is often an excuse for work that has a low or inaccurate appreciation of hooks and/or motivations.
Click on image to see video.
I think I can confidently say that this was the first market-research sourced co-creation product in the UK. It is certainly the first to be captured on film from the moment of insight through to the delivery of the innovation. The passenger you will hear speaking in the first part of the video is actually a BA staff member. This is the beauty of the Big Talk method of co-creation – staff genuinely get to visit their ‘customer side’. Which one of us has not faced the cramped box in the loo, full of luggage as we try to freshen up or change an outfit for a meeting?
There are one or two interesting bits of New York diction, ‘slep’ for slept is my favourite.
After the first speaker the film moves to a 10 second commercial from Saatchi announcing the Arrivals Lounge, the first of its type in the world. Finally there are the first few seconds of a review of the lounge including interviews with users. I have cut most of this from the website upload, to keep it reasonably brief. If you would like the whole film (there are another 4 minutes of customer feedback) let me know.
This innovation could never have happened without the huge energy and commitment of Jayne O’Brien at British Airways. From the breakthrough sessions Jayne went on to champion a series of innovations, alongside the then marketing director, Pat Stafford who initiated the project. Shortly afterwards Jayne herself made Marketing Director at British Airways.
Many of my closest colleagues will have seen this film already, so take another look if you’ve forgotten – if not I am posting it here to bring it to a worldwide audience and as a precursor to the introduction of the Charter for Breakthrough Psychology which follows next week. I still believe that this is the best, most inspirational, yet democratic innovation process around!
Here is Mark’s entire talk from the MRS Brand Research conference in June 2011. He introduces the key idea from his new book and any of you who have read (or meant to read!) Herd should grab a copy of this when it’s out! You will find a link to Mark’s site in the right hand area of this page.
For anyone not familiar with Mark’s work, he emphasises how much of what we do is influenced by the social aspect of our nature. We spend a lot of time observing, learning from and copying each other. When you think how different this is from the huge influence of psychotherapy – where the proposition is that you can be anyone you want to be – and, above all, be an individual, you’ll appreciate how welcome and controversial Mark’s perspective is. Being the kind of rigorous and scientific thinker that he is, Mark has assembled a formidable array of evidence for his point of view. Some of it is mentioned here. As are the mysterious Mountains of Kong!
Some thoughts on the ethics of market research and where I stand.
This is a pigeon in a Skinner Box. These were the kinds of boxes used in the early behaviourist experiments where the rules of Stimulus > Reward and reinforcement schedules were worked out. Something you may not notice and which has got conveniently forgotten is that this pigeon is standing on a grid through which electric shocks can be administered. Yes, in early days Behaviourism was as interested in punishment as reward. Could you get more work from reward or punishment or from a cunning mixture? There has always been a chilling lack of compassion behind this kind of ‘investigation’. Who knows to what ends unscrupulous people might put the insights from this kind of thing.
Lest we forget, there is an ethical issue underlying the use of control procedures to do experiments on living creatures. You would not be able to use these Skinner Boxes now without producing public outcry. Nonetheless there is a growth in the attempts to use controlled experiments with matched samples on human subjects. The most common of these are the Random Controlled Trials of pharmaceutical development, where one sub-group is given the new medicine while the others get a placebo or an existing remedy.
Should the new medicine prove helpful or harmful, it could be advantageous or disastrous to be in the experimental rather than the control group. But you do not know which you are in when you sign up for the trial – or whether the people running the trial will let you know if there are problems or benefits emerging. If it is a drug for treatment of Stage 4 cancer, will they switch you to the new medicine should it work to grant you extra months of life? Even if they don’t do it during the trial, will they give it to you when it is approved for being willing to take the risk? Will they hell.
For these sorts of reasons, it becomes more difficult to recruit samples for RCT’s and more and more unemployed, vulnerable and desperate people take part – and more trials are done in countries where regulation is lax, help is cheap or the press uninterested. In defence of RCT’s you can argue that they are a potential step along the way to better health for human beings.
What’s this got to do with market research you say? Well, with the new enthusiasm for Behavioural Economics or experimental social psychology as it is properly called, there is a willingness to enroll groups of subjects in controlled tests where one thing is compared to another to see which condition or stimulus produces the desired behaviour (usually purchasing or adoption). Usually you do not inform the ‘respondents’ (MR speak for subjects) of the conditions or variables in the experiment. To some extent these experiments rely upon naïve subjects.
In this and other market research techniques, the treatment of people as experimental subjects is alarming. Another such area is the growth in use of invasive brain scanning technologies like MRI and EEG’s to see which area of the brain ‘lights up’ when we show people a product. My own family has endured more than 30 EEG procedures – and watched the doctors struggle to make sense of them – to the point where the only decipherable readings were obtained from sleep EEG’s (readings done when the subject is asleep). The idea that Market Researchers can ‘read’ these immensely complex encephalograms is frankly, ludicrous.
Common MRI side effects are:
Not to mention the anxiety that naturally accompanies the prospect of exposing your body to huge magnetic fields. I can understand that someone with a suspected tumour might be willing to submit to these procedures, but for the sake of trying to figure out how to optimize packaging or press advertising? Are we really that desperate to make a sale? What about our community and looking out for each other?
We have been here before. Following on from Skinner, social scientists became ready to fabricate conditions under which people could be tested in ever more extreme settings. The Milgram experiments in 1963 famously encouraged people to deliver electric shocks to strangers, following the instructions of ‘experimenters’.
In 1971, in the Zimbardo Prison experiments, students were allocated the roles of prisoners and gaolers, to explore the emergence of evil or brutality:
In this project, so caught up did everyone become in their roles that the experiment had to be abandoned to prevent real damage and lasting harm:
“Playing the roles
It was only when one of his colleagues intervened that the experiment was finally stopped. In total it only lasted six of the planned 14 days. Young men previously found to be pacifists were, in their roles as guards, humiliating and physically assaulting the ‘prisoners’ – some even reported enjoying it. The ‘prisoners’, meanwhile, quickly began to show classic signs of emotional breakdown. Five had to leave the ‘prison’ even before the experiment was prematurely terminated.”
What is my point here?
When you start to think about people as subjects in an experiment or game you quickly lose sight of them as human beings. This leads to what Fromm calls objectification – a state in which people are mere representatives of a larger group of people – a sample. In market research these subjects are objectified as consumers. They show up to your sessions not as Billy and Sally but as users or lapsed users. Often behind a mirror, joking and sneering sit a superior group, representatives of the producers. The viewing room is notorious for disrespectful, mildly drunken behaviour.
You might ask why does big business want to pay for these and other experiments in market research? The answer is that business is endlessly searching for means of control and influence over populations. It wants to find the DNA of choice, it wants to be able to move you irresistibly to its desired end, whether product, investment or service. And it doesn’t much care who you are, only that you comply.
I don’t suggest for a moment that market researchers and business executives are wicked or unscrupulous people. It’s more invidious than that. It is an adoption of investigative standards that is driven by cultural norms. We can do these procedures, we can measure behaviour, map brains, see nerve activity in the clinic or hospital, so why not use them for better business? Everyone else is doing it, so what’s the harm?
The point is surely that their use in clinics is for the benefit of the patient, the intention is to improve his or her well-being. In Market Research the point is to find out how to influence people to sell them stuff. One is surely a noble cause, the other is venal.
I believe there is a better way. That’s why I invented co-creation in 1991. I had had enough of sitting with ‘respondents’ in fake suburban living rooms, I believed in making the agenda open and transparent, the invitation clear and specific – to create together for the betterment of everyone involved. That’s why I don’t like viewing rooms or spying on people for commercial gain. That’s why I won’t lie or pretend to people that things are any way other than they are – because that enrols me in colluding in deception.
Co-creation was not some fancy technique or cool process: it was invented to restore a democratic, consensual, level playing field between producers and their customers. It was developed to use dialogue, empathy and co-invention to excite and engage everyone. My hope was that by standing in each other’s shoes both sides of a potential transaction would become more engaged with the other, become more social, more appreciative of each other. I still cherish that hope, though the re-emergence of the experimenters disguised as Behavioural Economists and the enthusiasm for this kind of experimentation among market researchers scares me silly!
What do people do when they put aside their professional roles? What do you and your mates do on the way home from a match or a party? What level of debate do you usually reach when watching the X Factor? What sells newspapers and magazines?
The answer to all of these is one word: gossip.
We love to chat with no holds barred about the things that piss us off, excite us, amuse us and just intrigue us. Much of this chat is superficially critical – a kind of offloading of judgments, assessments, opinions. But its real role is more profound, it generates a kind of creative commons where everyone’s input is welcome and irreverence rather than compliance rules the roost.
We have, of course in our wisdom, largely banished gossip from focus groups and qualitative research. It threatens to be too irreverent, critical and judgmental and we are worried that members of the public will pour cold water on anything given the chance. Just as you and I do!
Yet in gossip, what we really notice and pay attention to is revealed. Our envy, desire, status anxiety, drivers – both to fight and flee – are all apparent in five minutes gossip and you don’t have to ‘probe’. You only ever really have to probe if people are scared or indifferent – more often the latter than the former in market research.
So, how can you use the Power of Gossip to illuminate your work?
Here’s how. Set up a Gossip Game in the group. Here’s an outline of how I might do it.
“Let’s start with a well-known figure who polarizes opinion. Someone who has both fans and foes. Let’s take Bono of U2. Who is willing to represent him as fans, who as foes? Let’s have a couple of minutes each way. We’ll let the foes go first!”
“OK, we’re talking about salad dressings. I’d like to divide the group into two, four of you to discuss salad dressings as fans for a couple of minutes. The other four to listen and be ready to express your criticism of salad dressings in response to the praise of the fans. Don’t worry fans, you’ll get a chance to get your own back on the critics once they’ve done their bit.”
Here’s another method. Print off Mastheads from newspapers like the News of the World or the Sun and invite members of the group working as pairs to write headlines or stories about the product or service as they might appear in the Sun/NOW. They can search Google for images to go with their story. We only need the headline and the first couple of sentences of the story.
The point here is that this is emotional material, there is a freedom to express emotional positions without fear of looking bad or stupid.
The fact is that these may not be committed opinions, but they are social & cultural tropes – and so say a lot about the underlying opinions and judgments we hold. In a way, these games with gossip allow a group to reverse the process whereby they are invited to comment on an endorser or presenter associated with a brand. This kind of endorsement is obviously done to sprinkle stardust on a product, but allowing people to gossip about it will show you your product’s strengths and weaknesses quicker than anything.
We often want to maximize the appeal of the brand/person/service we’re working on. Giving people rational measurements like scales or discussions drives satisficing, not maximizing measures. Gossip is, by its very nature a maximizing activity. Everything gets exaggerated, good and bad – and in the exaggerations the true attachments or problems with the brand lie.
I am very excited about the new movies arriving on the site! In addition to Shaun’s original take on political brands and the Tories moving away from revitalizing their brand to an opportunist position, we have three leading thinkers in Rory Sutherland, Mark Earls and Wendy Gordon talking about the fundamental mistakes common to modern market research – and qualitative work in particular. Mistakes that are based in misunderstandings of our nature and how we make choices.
If you are someone who works in research, marketing, social science or related fields, you must take a few minutes to listen to these folks.
Rory manages to encompass Harrison’s clocks (Longitude), how you know whether men have committed adultery or not and how dogs catch Frisbees in an exhilarating rap about the logical errors of modern market research and why inquiring into the reasons for decisions is largely a waste of time. His talk is first, posted as I must to observe YouTube’s restriction in two sections. Both parts are on the site now!
Next week Mark Earls, talks about his forthcoming book, “I’ll have what she’s having” and makes a powerful case for social over individual learning and the role of mimicry and diffusion among groups of people driving most if not all of our brand choices.
Finally,in two week’s time Wendy gives a beautiful introduction to the principles and ideas of Behavioural Economics. Again I have divided these talks into two sections to keep the rules!
We are at a turning point in our industry. Three huge innovations, social learning, co-creation and behavioural economics are set to change the way we think about ourselves and each other. These findings have massive implications for the way we conduct and think about enquiries and cast much doubt on conventional qualitative methods.
I am proud to be able to present the wisdom and inspiration of these brilliant colleagues and friends to you. If you would like an uninterrupted, uncut version of any of these talks, just email me and I will send it to you. You will find links to the speaker’s websites in the links section on the right hand side of the page and my email address on the contacts page.
My tip this week is this:
If you are to get the most out of an inquiry or study, become immersed in the phenomenon you are investigating. More particularly, see if you can begin to reflect upon & empathise with the significance that it has in everyday lives. Do this particularly if the product or service you are exploring has little attraction or interest for you in your life.
Everything I have ever worked on has had such significance, it’s just a matter of letting yourself be open to experiencing it. It’s best to start this process long before the fieldwork actually begins. Get yourself some experience of buying, using, chatting about, taking the mick out of, finding some friends who love/hate the thing you are about to explore.
Take this on as a ‘way of being,’ not just a mere data collection exercise. Become someone who is embroiled in the laundry and all its related activities. See if you can take the automobile you’re hired to investigate for a test drive. If it’s an insurance product, get a quote and while you’re doing so, ask what the most useful and the most irritating aspects of that experience are.
Many of the products or services that qualitative researchers are asked to explore are ordinary, everyday things. Such things, although you personally may not use them, constitute significant small acts for their users and it is the researcher’s job to get under the skin of these acts in order to appreciate their weight and significance in the lives of others. Their significance will always have some psychological value too – from products that remind them of their mum or dad to those that offer hope for their children. Things as apparently commonplace and dull as washing powder and toothpaste can command this sort of significance.
It is often in the territory of ‘small significance’ that you will find the clues that can best help your client, whether h/she was prompted by strategic or tactical reasons to do the research.
My Tip this week: get your groups arguing. Read on and you’ll see why.
If you have a set of alternatives to evaluate its likely there are two main question you’ll want to answer: which is strongest and why?
There are any number of ways in which one thing may be stronger than others, but we know that liking is a key attribute of preferences that lead to purchase. In many years of market testing Unilever have established this attribute’s importance. They have also shown that ‘likelihood to purchase’ is strongly correlated with buying in the real world – so you want to ask your respondents: ‘which do you like best?’ and ‘which would prompt you to buy?’ Of course you’ll do this in the words that work best for you but my advice is to keep it simple!
Next we come to the question of ‘why?’ If yours is a qualitative project, almost certainly some degree of diagnostics will be expected of you. Here the science and the state of our knowledge suggests that our respondents are much less likely to know why they chose one thing over another than they think!
Of the ten seminal papers on this site, 1,2 6 & 7 are relevant to this issue of awareness of our own ‘reasons’.
So, what should we do? The answer to this kind of methodological question is often to be found by questioning your own daily practices. How do you and your family reach decisions about prefrences in daily life? In my family it is almost always by discussion and argument, in which one side (even if only one side of your own mind!) presents its arguments against the other and they battle it out. We try to stop short of outright fights!
In my experience modern focus groups might do a bit of discussing – if there’s time, – but almost never any argument. This is for two main reasons:
1. There is a fear of argument and dissent in groups – that this activity would make the respondents uncomfortable – and more importantly, might make the moderator and the clients uncomfortable too.
2. Rhetoric, or the skill of argument is unfashionable in this empirical age. We are not taught how to argue in a civilised manner – and thus argument often appears uncivilised!
This is where Breakthrough Psychology comes in handy. One of the key techniques of abnorming (the founding principle of Breakthrough psychology), is called the Flip. To do it you just flip what is normally done on its head and do the opposite. So, if most groups don’t argue, we must find a way to use argument – and everyday life is actually packed full of it – in our groups or interviews.
How do you do that? My experience suggests that making it into a game is the best way. To do this you divide your group up into 3 teams, two trios and a pair (for a standard 8 member group – vary numbers if you have different size groups). Each trio chooses a different route from those you are evaluating and has five minutes to come up with a ‘pitch’ to the other group members on why this route works best for them. The pitch must be no longer than a couple of minutes. Then, once the first trio has done its pitch, the second trio goes on, pitching another preferred route using their arguments.
The point of this is that in order to ‘pitch’ something, people have to grapple with the original, turn it into their own words, extract what is of value from it and also what it means to them. It is these two elements meaning and value that will give you the best diagnostics. They also have to practice condensation, another crucial ingredient of evaluation work – forcing us to summarise virtues.
The remaining pair + the moderator form an audience and create a score out of ten for each pitch. That score can be linked to some attribute if you wish, like true to the brand, strength of appeal, whatever your client is trying to understand about the value of the routes. Or they can just comment on their experience of the pitches without scoring if you prefer. I recommend getting the scores!
Whether you end up focusing on one preferred route or more in your report/analysis is up to you and shaped by your brief.
Try this out in your next focus groups or post a comment with any questions you have and I will try to answer them.