Consumers in the modern world are complicated. They express one idea, and in the next moment contradict themselves. They convey inadequate trust in various brands and increasing cynicism about the marketing process. Using surveys and focus group interviews, marketing executives gather information about changing consumer wants and needs. Oftentimes, however, consumers unconsciously lie when they speak about life, brands, and their lives. Brand researchers understand that it is their job to grind beneath the surface to uncover consumers' inner feelings and habits.
Observational research is an increasingly popular marketing research method that that will enable brand owners to obtain deeper insights.
Types of Observational Research
A new form of market research, popular in the United States and other parts of the world, is the ethnographic research. The origins of ethnographic study are derived from anthropology. The word itself hints at its meaning: 'ethno' means people and 'graphy' means describe. Ethnographic research is conducted in the natural environments of the consumer (e.g., homes or stores) where consumers use brands, products, and service. Because of this, consumers will not act unnaturally and will be not be afraid to freely speak their minds. This type of market research is most applicable when market researchers require in-depth information about consumers (e.g., life styles or shopping behavior) that cannot be adequately explored using traditional survey research techniques.
Ethnography is an effective approach to obtaining deeper insights on: consumer segments, complex consumer environments, factors affecting product/ service usage. It brings research to the people, enabling them to describe their world as they perceive it and observing them at home, at work, the car or the department store. These studies might include personal diaries or the consumer being videotaped, with the results discussed by the interviewee, the researcher and the client.
Most of what consumers really do and what consumers say in daily life about the products and services that they use is not accessible except through direct observation where they live. Observational insight offers insights and opportunities not provided by other forms of market research. In the 21st century, in a personalized society, it is more vital than ever before to know how individuals use products and services- how they live with them in their everyday personal environments, what they think about them, what place the products have in consumers' lives - and to know the nature of the ongoing product experience.
- Is your consumer's liquid soap sitting out on the kitchen counter, or is it kept in the cabinet below the sink?
- Do your consumers take the time to enjoy the flow and feel of your hand and body lotion, or do they use it briskly as a functional, post-dish washing reparative?
- What's the quality of relief your company's medication provides to a heartburn or athlete;s foot sufferer? What makes the medication more appreciated than your competitors' remedies?
- Can families who regularly eat pasta dinners perceive a real difference between one brand an another? And is that difference the same one your advertising highlights?
These are the kinds of questions that must be answered if you want to develop and maintain a reality-based relationship with your consumer, if you want to construct a marketing strategy that talks directly to their personal needs and wants, and if you want to create and advertising campaign that talks their language and connects with them emotionally. Where can the answers be found? Not in quantitative research that records purchase preferences, no matter how sophisticated the database. You will find it in the quality of the consumer experience.
The observational research interview takes place on the consumer's own turf, in familiar, personal surroundings, not at a facility and not in front of a dozen people, with others watching and listening behind a two-way mirro. It's much easier for respondents to relax and be themselves in familiar environments.
Respondents act and talk naturally within the first few minutes of the observational research interview. It's not uncommon for respondents to reveal some of their most intimate thoughts and feelings and to do what they would usually do only in front of a close friend or relative or when they're alone:
- A middle-aged executive demonstrates how he starts swishing his morning mouthwash just before he gets into his car and then spits it out at the first stop sign. His wife comments how she hates when he does this.
- In a series of interviews with sweets consumers, a woman reveals that she hides candy in a drawer under her lingerie so her husband won't find out she indulged in the middle of the day.
- A woman who is part of a study on bathroom cleansing, admits that she cleans the family bathroom only once every three weeks. After spending twenty minutes cleaning the shower tiles, the woman confesses that her husband's approval is her main motivation.
In observational research, family interaction is often free and easy. People forget the presence of the camera or the interviewees.
Mystery Shopping Sample
In the example below, the mystery shopper discovers possible product quality concerns in a fast food restaurant. A manager of the restaurant is approached and she shows good customer service skills such as smiling and being calm. However, the video suggests that service quality in the store may still need improvement. This type of research provides companies with invaluable information and enables them to act immediately before there are any serious repercussions.