Data Point No. 2: Leading packaged goods companies like Kimberly Clark, Unilever and Procter & Gamble are now using special glasses equipped with eye-tracking technology to understand how people process information in grocery store aisles. The new technology is showing real business results, lowering the cost of product development and increasing sell-through. Vanderbilt University marketing professor Steve Posavac succinctly captured the reason why: "There's a big disconnect between what people want to do and what they say they want to do."
These are just two data points, I know. But we could add to them many others that lead to an inescapable conclusion: the best research is the real world.
Yes, focus groups have their place, but they can be notoriously misleading. Quantitative studies are statistically reliable but are often mistakenly interpreted. And copy testing tends to quash breakthrough ideas. There's simply no way consumers can effectively and reliably articulate how they think, feel or act about real-world stimuli in an unreal environment.
The best (though still imperfect) research is that which is designed to observe and understand the behavior of people in their natural habitat--qualitatively (like Jane Goodall sitting among the chimps), quantitatively (through test market programs) or anything in between. We humans are incredibly complex creatures with highly efficient information processing capabilities that science doesn't yet--and may never--fully understand.
Marketers that draw too hasty or overly simplistic conclusions based on the false authority of an impressive looking research report are doing a disservice to their brands. Consumers don't often know why they do what they do until they do it, and perhaps not even then.
Steve McKee is president of McKee Wallwork + Company, and author of When Growth Stalls and Power Branding. A marketing strategist for nearly three decades, Steve has been published or quoted in many top news outlets and industry publications, and writes a monthly marketing column for Businessweek.com.