Friday, November 7, 2008

Dear Businessman: How Do You Get Consumer Insights?

I believe in having the "consumer in the loop" of any new and existing business that delivers a product or a service to a user. The ones who do, mostly/generically do so through focus groups and online/offline surveys. I was engaged in consumer innovation at Procter & Gamble at the company's Innovation Centers where we used immersive and experiential environments to obtain consumer insights. Innovation Centers remain one of the best ways to have "consumer in the loop". My feelings on the subject are echoed in Steve Jobs' statement back in 1998:

"It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them."

Statistical analysis is driving small to large to massive decisions (with economic and social impact) in all spheres of commerce and government. Below are two examples of caution:

First, I like to share the results of an in-depth study on the threat to human health from mobile phones. The Economist publihed an evaluation of this study conducted by Interphone started in 2000 and ending in 2006 costing $30m with 50 scientists engaged in 13 countries working with 14,000 people. The article "Mobile Madness" here states:

" “LONG-TERM mobile-phone use increases risk of benign tumours!” “Clean bill of health for the mobile!” “Mobile phone-cancer link not proven!” [...] even by the standards of modern news, it is unusual to see such contradictory headlines about the same piece of research."

My goal is to highlight the fact that translating qualitative information to quatitative data for making decisions remains a difficult place.

Second, to make it even more obvious see yet another article from the Economist "Mind Your Phone" here. The article discusses people's "electrosensitivity" or physical response to the electromagnetic fields that surround phones. What is interesting is (as the articles states):

"Dr Landgrebe and Dr Frick used a body scanner called a functional magnetic-resonance imager to see how people’s brains react to two different kinds of stimulus. Thirty participants, half of whom described themselves as electrosensitive, were put in the imager and told that they would undergo a series of trials in which they would be exposed either to an active mobile phone or to a heating device called a thermode, whose temperature would be varied between the trials. The thermode was real. The mobile phone, however, was a dummy."

The article concludes:

"The paradoxical upshot [...] is that mobile phones do indeed inflict real suffering on some unfortunate individuals. It is just that the electromagnetic radiation they emit has nothing whatsoever to do with it."

The above example shows that simple surveys and focus groups would have yielded results that may not provide the correct insights to base decisions on. Yet, an example of impact such evaluations as I stated before is:

"Sweden, has recognised such sensitivity as a disability, and will pay for the dwellings of sufferers to be screened from the world’s electronic smog."

So, how do you choose to make decisions for your business?

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