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No, People Do Not Know What They Want

Market research, like any good science utilises a scientific approach to reaching valid and reliable conclusions.  That is, a systematic way of collecting information about a phenomenon to be studied. One of these methods is a research survey, whereby marketers ask respondents various questions related to the applied topic and the answers are recorded by the experimenter for analysis. This method of gaining insights into customer’s minds has numerous benefits: they are relatively inexpensive when measured in terms of cost per respondent, they can be administered in many modes and they are dependable insofar as the anonymity of respondents are guaranteed, therefore enticing people to give more truthful answers.

However, even the most truthful answers leave much to be desired when we examine how the mind works. Take for example an experiment conducted by Daniel Kahneman, in which he asked respondents the following question: “A bat and a ball together cost $1.10. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?” Probably the first answer that comes to mind is the one of 10 cents, and not the right answer of 5 cents. This is because people often substitute a ‘hard’ question for a related, but different (easier) answer. Only when you really think about it, will you realize your mistake.

Another example of where people are often oblivious to changes in their immediate environment is choice blindness. An experimenter will ask a respondent to choose between two cards, each displaying the face of an attractive girl. With a quick sleight of hand, the experimenter switches the cards to reveal the card of the girl the respondent did not choose. Asked why he chose this card (that is, the wrong one) the respondent quickly justifies his choice with a sensible explanation. This happens in roughly 75% of cases. These two examples show how people often make choices that they think they are totally conscious of, but in reality, these choices are actually made subconsciously.

New advances in neuroscience and technology in recent years has given rise to eye tracking (eye movements), Electroencephalography (EEG – brain waves), galvanic skin response (changes in skin conductance), and facial coding (facial muscle movements) among others, which has made it possible to more objectively monitor people’s behaviour and obtain a clearer picture into the ‘mind’s eye’ in marketing. These technologies are used in marketing research laboratories all over the world. Eye tracking has been used to optimise website design, product packaging, store layouts etc. As these technologies improve, it is sure to give us more objective perspective of what people actually perceive, feel and experience.

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Werner van Zyl
Phone: +27 84 810 22 74
Fax: 086 604 8175