We all wish we know exactly what customers want. It would save us hundreds of hours of trying to plan the right marketing program, the best promotion, or the perfectly timed message in order to win their hearts and minds. But the reality is, consumers are people just like us. We don’t wake up telling the world what it is we want, or need, because sometimes, we don’t even know what it is yet! There are a lot of things we don’t have an opinion about, until we get prompted to express how we feel about something.
The good news is, there is a way to figure out what consumers want: through a series of techniques borrowed from the interdisciplinary fields of psychology and business. There are two components every marketer needs to know about understanding consumers: attitudes and behaviors. The research methods used to ascertain attitudes are different from those meant to collect data on behavior. Attitudinal data is about understanding how consumers think and perceive something, while behavioral data is about understanding how consumers act.
People don’t always act based on what they think. How many of us know somebody who would talk about wanting to kick a habit, but then a year later, we find the person consumed by the same habit? Sometimes, we think about doing something and then we go ahead do something completely different.
To have a well-rounded understanding of consumers, we need to know who they are inside and out.
Collecting Attitudinal Data
Surveying people is a common way to collect attitudinal data. In a survey, questions are designed to prompt people about a certain topic. Surveys typically include 10+ questions meant to get responses on many dimensions of a given subject. A good survey design maximizes the number of completions, which is the basis for successful data collection. The way a survey is designed can begin from simple questions to more complex questions, even adding “skip logic” which is a way to organize the questions so that if a person answers one way, a series of questions will branch out, or the question will skip to the next section to spare the respondent from answering questions that don’t apply to him or her.
One of the benefits of a survey is it is an instrument that can gather data at scale. The resulting data collected allows researchers to analyze them quantitatively— which is exacting and allows us to use more evidence to prove or disprove a hypothesis (by the way, every research study needs to include a hypothesis). Compared to qualitative data, you can use a lot more analytic methods on quantitative data.
However, qualitative data is also very useful to understand consumer behavior because it helps us understand latent attitudes that is hard to surface through a survey. Qualitative data can be collected via techniques such as intercept (where you stop people on the street to ask them a question) or focus groups (where you gather people in a room to probe them about a topic). Qualitative data allows you to probe a respondent further in order to get into more depth about the given subject— something an online survey can’t do because it is limited in the number and type of questions it can ask.
Collecting Behavioral Data
Behavioral data is a collection of data points meant to investigate how people behave.
Tracking pixels is the easiest way to collect behavioral data online or via digital devices. Usually, trackers are set up online or in mobile phones (ie. through the mobile browser and apps). Online websites and advertisement have tracking pixels in place so marketers can better understand who is visiting the website or looking at their ads. Typically, websites have a dozen or more trackers in place in order to triangulate the data and determine the variances between trackers (trackers count things differently, so they may have variances in counts). A simple way to find out which trackers are installed on a given website is to install Ghostery (https://www.ghostery.com/) in your browser. Once you activate it, it will show you all the trackers installed on every website you visit.
Putting it All Together
The holy grail for many researchers is to be able to match attitudes and behavior among consumer groups over time. Often times, when companies commission research, it’s either an attitudinal project or a behavioral project. In some cases, when clients are research-minded and have budgets set aside for consumer insights, attitudinal and behavior research projects are done in phases— the first phase might involve an attitudinal survey, and the second phase may involve tracking behavioral data among a statistically similar group of customers. But when doing both types of research is not possible, researchers need to be creative in the way they collect data. There are a lot of emerging research methodologies that are pushing the research industry forward, such as eye tracking, mobile research or immersive technologies. As customer behavior change, so does the way researchers track their attitudes and behaviors.