Don't ask the consumer

Swiss marketing magazine Werbewoche quiz Nir on talking to the consumer.

  • Opinion
  • BrandOpus

Swiss marketing magazine Werbewoche quiz Nir on involving the consumer in the design process following his talk at Eurobest festival:

Market research is a heavily subscribed practice within the marketing world. The best way of knowing what customers think and want seems, on face value, to be to ask them. This is not always the best approach, though.

For one thing – as stated by British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead – all new ideas seem crazy at first; it’s part of the nature of things that they will seem unlikely to appeal when they are new. And this belief has been upheld by many inventors and creatives before and after him – as it has been shown to be true with examples such as the television (which critics said would never catch on) and the walkman.

Nonetheless, marketers go ahead and invest time and trust asking consumers’ opinions when they launch a new product or embark on a rebrand. They ask if consumers would buy something; they ask what meaning their brand holds for consumers.

But they use this approach at their peril – ignoring the non-cognitive aspects of decision-making at work in all consumers, unbeknown to them. We should not be asking consumers’ opinions. We should be giving them what they want.

Nir Wegrzyn explains there are far more factors in consumer decision-making than consumers themselves are aware of – context, for example, and cultural background. “When we get asked whether or not we would buy a product, we might think we know what decision we would make. This is in fact a fallacy,” explains the branding specialist, whose agency is based on cognitive neuro-science.

Psychological processes are often neither cognitive nor rational. Decision-making is a biased process, without us being aware of it. “There is a big difference between what people think they would do, and what they actually do.”

So what alternative is there?

These methods use word- or picture-association exercises to measure people’s reactions – for example, asking them to associate adjectives with pictures.Short reaction times indicate strong links between the pictures and their meanings; longer times suggest weaker associations.

When BrandOpus created a new brand identity for chips brand McCain, the agency replaced imagery suggestive of the frozen aisle and convenience (once considered modern and popular) with new warmer associations – using sunshine imagery to create a natural, warm feel.

Marketers need to think about whether or not their branding works effectively, influencing decision-making in the way it is intended to.

Nir Wegzryn explains the history of branding, harking back to the 14th century, when “branding” was used to distinguish one person’s animals from another’s. Today, branding reorders a group of products within the context of a certain set of meanings: “A brand is like a lens,” says Wegrzyn. “When you look at something through a brand, it takes on new meaning.”

The strongest brands achieve this without explanation; without communications. For this reason, branding is a separate entity from advertising, and must be treated as such. “Brands are like people. They can communicate in different ways – standing soberly in a shop, sometimes; at other times, playfully and boisterously, at a party. The communication method can change – but the person underneath must stay the same. Brand is like a person’s identity; their personality.”

New media can come into play, changing the method of communication – but again, the brand must stay the same. When it comes to decisions about brand, marketers must ask themselves what role the brand plays; what it stands for.

“It’s not a product’s individual properties that make us continue to buy it,” explains Wegzryn. “Products change; new developments come to market. There needs to be something behind them.

“When Apple launched the iPhone, it was more than just a phone. When we look at them through the lens of brand, products become transformed.”

Wegzryn is convinced marketers can be much bolder and make much bigger changes than consumers are cognitively ready to accept. When consumers are asked directly what their reaction would be to a certain brand or product, their responses tend to be extremely conservative.

And, when asked, consumers often just don’t know why they bought a particular product – because their decisions aren’t cognitive.

Asking questions just doesn’t help. If marketers did as consumers said, all brands would come out looking the same, based on what consumers “liked” (or said they liked, that is!)

In conclusion: just don’t ask the consumer.

Mailing list

Subscribe to hear more from BrandOpus