April 28, 2010

How parenting is just like market research

Determining the all-important why.

Determining the all-important why.

My six-year-old son asks a lot of questions. More questions than I ever knew one human could possibly ask. If I am lucky, I can answer maybe a third of them. Sometimes the questions are about Star Wars or subjects he learned in school, but there is always one common thread with his questions that requires both my husband and I to think quickly — he wants to know the motive.

“Why did Obi Wan die so they could get on their plane?”
“Why did Anakin go to the dark side?”
“Why did Jack’s mom get so mad that he sold his cow for the magic beans?”
“Why is Dopey so dopey?”

He rarely asks how, who or when, but always why. And my question is, why is he so focused on the why? It’s my job to study consumer behavior and analyze the motives that may influence a customer to use or not use a product or service. I spend days obsessed with the who and the why — the how and when comes later.

Is my son a budding market researcher? Is this quest for motive genetic? If so, it’s finally evidence that my DNA is in fact in my tall, blonde-haired, green-eyed child who looks like the result leaving my husband in the dryer.

When it comes to my son’s motive questions, I have a few tricks up my sleeve (read: stall tactics). But when it comes to consumer motive, I have to be a bit more strategic and thorough. Motivational research helps us determine the all-important why.

The goal of motivational research is to peel away the layers to reveal basic consumer needs and uncover hidden associations with products and services. It also is used to inform a company about how their product is utilized, and how brand perception is both affected and enhanced.

You may be thinking that you already engage in this type of research, and perhaps you do. But the more surveys I see, the more people are only being asked what it would take to buy or do more — not why do they buy at all.

There are three types:

Ethnographic Observation
— This gives us the chance to be anthropologists. Watching the customer interact with the product in their own home or office. Do you remember the job they gave Tom Hanks at the toy company in the movie Big?

Focus Groups —  Online or in person, group discussions with a guide who probes attitudes more than solicits feedback about a product.

In-depth Interviews — These take a bit longer, but the interviewee gets to feel like they are on the Barbara Walters special and the client gets to learn a ton. These interviews are guided discussions with more broad questions and audiovisual cues to determine top of mind.

I am not sure any parent can be ready for any question, and I think I have some time before the questions get more sophisticated. But one question in particular stumped me the other day:

“Why are Shaggy and Scooby always hungry all the time?’

It’s not that I didn’t know the answer. It’s that I didn’t want to introduce the concept of that motive to my kindergartner.