The Art of Consumer Conversations
Aren’t honest open conversations just the best thing ever? They have the ability to open a new window in one’s brain and inspire to reflect and see things in fresh unpredictable ways. And if such a conversation is with your consumer, then you literally have been handed a magic key, the key to their minds! Unfortunately not many consumer conversations (or consumer research as it’s called) are that satisfying or engaging for either side, leading to predictable boring reports, just to be used as crutches for impending marketing decisions — “…because the research said so!”
As someone who loves consumer research, it makes me rather sad. Speaking to a new person and understanding their behavior, their beliefs, and motivations is easily the most exciting part of an assignment; like solving a puzzle, finding something about someone that they themselves are not aware of!
Ervin Schrodinger once said “The task is…not so much to see what no one has yet seen; but to think what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees.” Great conversations are the first pair of eyes that let you get to this beyond the surface reality.
Having attended, conducted, read and analyzed umpteen research units, here are my four ‘research conversation guidelines’ for anyone who finds the idea of consumer research as fascinating as me.
DIG FOR THE ‘WHY’
It isn’t hard for people to state facts; most can do it almost mechanically, tracing their steps, recounting their actions in a given situation. As easy as it is to stop here — at the observation, the ‘WHAT’ of a situation, the gold we seek to extract, lies just a little past the ‘WHAT’, and in the ‘WHY’. Here’s how you get to it — having made your conversational partner — and it’s important to think of them as such — comfortable with some general, ‘easy to answer’ questions, start to gradually turn your game on. People in general, and when they are the partially willing subject of inquiry, in particular, will tend toward giving agreeable responses, justifiable facts as answers. To engage them more meaningfully, you need to probe a little deeper, tactfully, and gradually. Think of it as moving the conversation from the drawing room to the bar, where they’re more likely to go past the bare facts, and into the nuances of their experience — how they feel about something they encountered, what leads them to respond or behave a certain way, and how they reflect upon their emotional experience of a given situation. These are reflections on themselves as people, and take a little un-intrusive, but clear intentioned coaxing to bring out. For instance, if they say they ‘like’ something, ask them what about it they like, why this and not the other? What about it do they feel they relate to, and why it is important to them.
THE DEVIL IS, INDEED, IN THE DETAILS
If the ‘WHY’ is a professor’ly’ psychologist’s top hat, this here, is the monocle. A seemingly simple observation, could lead you a deeper insight; but you won’t find it unless you’re looking for it. So, help your collocutor to break down the activity or experience they are speaking about. Take them back to that time and place, jog their sensorial memory. Have them recall what they saw, heard, thought, and felt at specific point in their experience. The brain registers much more than we consciously perceive; doing this will help to recreate scenarios, that both the people in conversation can immerse themselves in. For instance, if you want to understand their daily routine, point them to a particular time of day, and have them describe the setting, the activity, the mood and the emotional quality of that particular scenario.
This is not so much about the specifics of the discussion, but rather, about how you carry yourself, the person you’re talking to, and the conversation itself, such that it progresses in an engaging and meaningful way.
Be human. Don’t be a question asking bot. Build rapport. Put them at ease by putting yourself briefly on the spot — ‘See? It’s easy. It doesn’t bite!’. Exchange names, offer something about yourself, to build an empathetic connect. When engaged in conversation, nurture this connect by being mindful and aware of their body language and visible emotions. A friend can read you; be their friend. “That must be difficult”, “that sounds like fun!” — encourage them to share deeper emotional experiences. Take care, however, not to sound contrived or perfunctory. Be interested, be authentic, be present.
A word of caution — Don’t try to fill out the silence. If your conversational partner is quiet, they may be they are trying to reflect on something. Let them. They may be preparing themselves to reveal something deeper. Don’t interrupt them. It doesn’t matter if you’re getting anxious — this is not about you. When the silence breaks — Behold! The gold nugget of an insight you’ve been waiting for! — Your patience will be rewarded.
USE YOUR IMAGINATION. MORE IMPORTANTLY, USE THEIRS.
It’s always easier to talk about another, than it is to talk about yourself. Help your responder project their feelings onto something imaginary, something other than themselves, and you will find, that they can be quite liberal with their expression!
Researchers call it ‘projective techniques, leveraging what psychology defines it as ‘A defense mechanism with which the ego protects itself from anxiety by externalizing unpleasant feelings or experiential elements’. When people are no longer vulnerable, they are able to articulate their feelings more freely. Have your responder personify something that they have a relationship with or notions about, say, a brand. Set a context and have them build and describe an ideal world, vividly. You could even have them write a matrimonial for a product! Free, fun and uninhibited conversation brought about by such techniques are a great way to access unconscious and unarticulated notions and needs of a consumer.
Cheers to better conversations!
Written by @runjhunpacholi, CEO and Nishant Wazir, Head of Experience Design at Idiom
Idiom frequently conducts workshops on consumer research techniques. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would be interested in attending the next workshop.