Yesterday I was working with 60 people exploring Action Techniques. To quote Moreno: “Don’t tell me, show me!”

At some point in any such session – where you are putting forward an approach that steps outside Questions & Answers – I am asked: ‘this is all very well and I love it…but how do you sell clients such an approach?”

There are a few points to make here:

  1. The first is that it isn’t the client who is speaking here. It is usually a research specialist who is at some level struggling with the conflict between their own usual practice and the idea of doing it differently. This is an appropriate debate and worth having. Researchers are as prone to habits and routines as anyone else. We like our comfort zones, we feel confident in them. It feels risky to venture into something different.
  2. My answer is that you can’t have your cake and eat it; in our field this means that if you espouse the importance of emotions, impulses and feelings as drivers of choice and behaviour and then do nothing to invite and explore these in your study, you won’t get the data you need. It has always amazed me that I go to conferences and hear everyone paying homage to the primacy of emotion – in whatever context they prefer – neuroscience, behavioural economics, psychodynamic groups, ethnography – and then when you see what they do, it is virtually always talking about emotions not working with them in the moment.
  3. Let me be clear, talking about something is not the same as experiencing it. Talking about the path is not the same as being on it: once you commit yourself to walking the path, all manner of things come to your assistance that you could not have predicted.
  4. The next point is that emotion is always present, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing. We have always used feelings to aid our choices. We had feelings before we had reason and that is why they are primary. All I am suggesting when recommending research techniques is that we make some space for emotion in our processes and study the results. The widespread failure to do this is one of the reasons why even in-depth procedures produce non-predictive – and therefore misleading – results. And why everyone ends up saying, ‘people don’t do what they say, they do what they feel.’ Yet still they do little to access and explore these feelings.
  5. You don’t have to approach emotion with the view that your project will be invalidated if it gets too emotional or not emotional enough. That’s what most researchers are afraid of – that they will promise to explore emotions and then fail to elicit them. Or that if they do show up, they will not know how to make ‘data’ of them.
  6. The way to engage clients is very straightforward. Here is an example:
  • You: ‘Do you think there is an emotional element to choices and preferences in your market?’
  • Client: ‘Yes, I’m sure there is – even if its just habits – but we don’t understand it very well.’
  • You: ‘Would you like to understand it in a way that you could use to improve your cut-through, loyalty or differentiation?’
  • Client: ‘Yes but how can we do that?’
  • You: ‘We try some of the techniques that have worked before, like inviting emotions into the research and seeing what happens. Would you give me permission to suggest a few ways of doing that in the proposal?
  • Client: ‘Yes! That would be interesting. [Or ‘No, that’s not what I want.’]

You can then design pitch-winning research with this dialogue in mind.

  1. You can create, resource and contain the emotional exercise(s) in your study. You can switch to an emotion-based exercise for twenty minutes, just like people get up and go for a walk to change their mood. See it as simply a variation in the type of activity that brings a new ‘window’ on customers’ worlds. You don’t have to conduct the whole thing in a maze of tears, laughter, anger or elation. In our Facilitation Workshops, we teach the generation of emotional expression in a series of easy, reproducible steps. Come and find out how to do it!
  2. You are not alone with your fear. I have walked this path for twenty years or more. I am nervous every time I talk about it do it, demonstrate it, think about it. Nerves are an expression of emotion. They are OK. If I didn’t have them I wouldn’t be alive. If you don’t have them your projects won’t be very alive either.