Why Do We Do What We Do? Smoking, Strawberry Jam, and Conversation Analysis
Here in lies the dirty secret and fundamental flaw in most marketing research. Our brains don't compartmentalize information and emotion very well. The influx of Facebook, Twitter, Digg, and all other forms of social media make information shared and information discovered one in the same. So when a focus group sits down with a group of ten, 25-35 year-old mothers of two to three year-old children in Wyoming to ask where they first heard about Charmin Ultra Soft, and why they did or did not buy it... you guessed it, they have no real idea.
Also, often we without realizing it , what we say we do and what we do are usually different. I read a great book recently called Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy that studies the neuroscience of decision making and advertising effectiveness. Martin Lindstrom found when studying cigarette health warnings that although people say that the gruesome pictures of cancerous lungs and bold black and white "SMOKING KILLS" warnings deter them from smoking, the research found that the warnings had no effect at all on the cravings of smokers. Even worse, they found that the health warnings stimulated the subjects' nucleus accumbens, an area in the brain associated with cravings. The researchers concluded that the warnings not only didn't help, but they actually triggered a stronger craving. The very warnings intended to reduce smoking might well be an effective marketing tool for Big Tobacco.
We like to think of ourselves as rational creatures but we aren't. We ultimately don't know exactly what we do what we do. With the average American exposed to over 3,000 ads per day, how can we possibly determine what catches or keeps our attention. The A.D.D. world we live in mixes it all up and overwhelms us. At the same time, studies show "it takes as little as 2.5 seconds to make a purchasing decision." It's clear that people make decisions with their gut and later rationalize with numbers. Whenever asked "why" we like something we usually throw our results off.
A University of Virginia study had students blind taste a variety of strawberry jams. Results showed that they strongly preferred Knott's Berry Farm, while disliking the Sorrel Ridge brand. But after being given evaluative criteria to analyze what made jam "good," another group of students reversed the taste test results. They started grading it on texture and spreadability and other factors. What people instinctively chose was overridden by an internalized assumption of why they should choose. Sometimes, too much analysis prohibits us from getting to what we know is the right answer. If we don't know, how can we tell a market researcher the truth?
I say all of this to talk about the incredible work Moxie is doing with conversation analysis and participation audits. While traditional marketers are struggling to make sense of this social world, we are leading the charge and reinventing what market research is. The incredible breakthrough that Google gave us about ten years ago was the ability to measure people's intent in real time. The volume of keyword searches show how popular a person, brand, or topic is in the moment. What social media and real-time search such as Twitter now gives us is the ability to measure and analyze thoughts and sentiment. Mining the thought-stream along with empirical tracking data on purchasing and digital traffic is helping us paint a picture never before possible in the history of all humanity. The cultural Anthropology major in me just got a little excited...
The point is that digital is changing yet one more aspect of our business and society irreversibly. Real-time data and computational linguistics can help to unlock the human computer. The data collected and aggregated is so powerful that it can overcome the human "rational vs. emotional" paradox and reveal what is arguably the "truth" about why we buy, how we influence each other, and what brands really need to truly talk with, not at, consumers. So the next time your client wants to host a focus group, ask yourself... is it better to ask about or observe behavior?