Consumer.ology: The Market Research Myth, the Truth about Consumers and the Psychology of Shopping
Throughout Consumer.ology, Philip Graves discusses market research. He explains what exactly it is and what needs to change within it in order to gather reliable information. While I went into this book with the idea that market research (i.e. collecting consumer opinions through in-depth interviews, focus groups, customer satisfaction questionnaires, online surveys, etc) was incredibly imperative in the advertising world, I came out of it realizing that these methods are not helping companies gather reliable data, and as a result, many products are failing. As stated by Graves, “at the very moment that any consumer research works on the presumption that consumers know what they think about a particular subject, in the sense that this is indicative of how they will behave when the moment of consumption arises, it has made a fundamental mistake” (31).
In most every advertising department of a company throughout the world, market research is how we learn about our consumers, our target audience. However, what Graves explains is that there are two main problems for any company or organization that uses market research. Firstly, the research techniques take the consumers out of their natural environment. Basically, places to conduct this research such as: office buildings, viewing facilities, Internet, etc, are all used for the sole convenience of the researchers. What we are forgetting is that taking people away from their natural environment is then disregarding the important unconscious persuasion that the environment has on what consumers think and do. Secondly, each method of market research further influences people thus changing their responses to the researchers questions.
Graves explains that there are several factors that influence what we feel before we are even consciously aware of our own actions. Psychologists and neuroscientists have come out to explain that not only as humans are we incredibly bad at explaining our actions but we’re also terrible at predicting what we are going to do in the future. The reason that we have so much trouble understanding these correctly is because we do not know the answer. As much as consumers would like to believe that they are capable of giving their honest opinions, beliefs, and tellings of what they will do as consumers in the future, they are in fact, not the least bit able to. In fact, throughout most everything that a consumer does in his/ her life, from huge decisions such as what car he will buy or who he will marry, to smaller ones such as what cereal he wants to purchase, the involvement of consciousness is fractional.
Instead, the unconscious mind is the force behind consumer behavior. In order to understand consumers and why they did what they did or why they’ll do what they’ll do, we cannot ask them. While it seems much more complicated to determine what is occurring in the unconscious mind, it’s not. Instead of questioning the consumers, we need to move away from the idea that consumers can tell us exactly what they want but instead, study their behavior to find out what they actually do.
In conclusion, Graves’ book was very informative in terms of market research and what needs to be done to change it. While I went into the book with one opinion, his strong use of persuasion followed by multiple examples and trials was able to convince me that studying the behavior of humans is much more important than asking them questions.