01 September 2006

What lies beneath!

“You think you know who you are. You have no idea.”
(Dialogue from the film ‘Crash’. Also the film’s tagline.)

This bit of dialogue (delivered by bad cop Matt Dillon) from Paul Haggis’ award-winning film ‘Crash’ this year could have come from any frustrated marketer or brand manager. For, this dialogue sums up exactly why thousands of marketing and brand managers across the world struggle every day to ensure their products and brands hold their ground in the marketplace – and continue to win new consumers.

The reason for their frustration is simple: consumers do whatever they feel like with a brand. Accept it, reject it, recommend it, bad-mouth it, ignore it… change their minds about it without giving a clue to explain their behaviour. This has been a great stumbling block for the marketing profession and, no matter how skilled or experienced or gifted the professional is, no marketer or marketing strategist or advertising agency or account planner can predict with any certainty how a consumer will respond to a specific brand or brand communication.

That’s where motivational research comes in, trying to get to the root of the problem, explaining why consumers behave as they do. It tries to dig into the human psyche – using various tests and techniques – to unearth motives that lead to specific types of consumer behaviour. Motivational research can, and does, help bring to surface some of the latent motives – as well as the obvious ones – to explain human tendencies and patterns of behaviour.

But, that’s only one part of the story. Thereafter comes the consumer behaviour model: the interpretation, the correlation with market research and field sales data, even transaction data if a CRM programme is in place, and the application of the motivational hypothesis to a marketing problem at hand in order to predict consumer decision-making processes and behaviour. A question, however, comes to mind: To what degree of accuracy can human and/or consumer behaviour be predicted?

Human beings are complicated creatures. What they say, they may not do. How they respond in a motivational test may not be how they respond to an advertising campaign or a brand displayed in a retail store. Although economic, cultural, sociological and religious influences may be accounted for in a consumer behaviour model, there may still be personal and/or circumstantial biases which become evident only at the moment of truth when the consumer makes a purchase. Even then, future purchase behaviour may not be consistent with the consumer’s previous purchase.

This really is the crux of the matter. In fact, some psychologists – and some marketing strategists like me – believe that human behaviour is not stable. That, it varies according to context and, therefore, cannot be predicted with certainty through motivational research or any kind of psychological assessment or marketing model. What lies beneath the human psyche, what forms the human personality and how it manifests itself in life, what goes through the mind of a consumer, particularly at the point of purchase, is indeed difficult to unravel and predict.

No comments: