Harnessing technology to get closer to consumer truths

Everybody lies – especially in focus groups.

More often than not, they don’t mean to tell an outright lie. It’s more likely that they’re amplifying certain aspects of their character or trying to project a more sophisticated version of themselves. “I never buy Pot Noodles.” “I’d rather watch a Scandinavian crime drama than a British soap.” You get the picture.

Why does this happen?

Sometimes people in focus groups succumb to ‘virtue signalling’ and feel reluctant to tell the truth in front of others. If everyone else in a focus group says they don’t give their children sweets, it’s a brave parent who admits their kitchen cupboards are filled with Haribo.

And, all too often, people simply can’t recall their own behaviour accurately and the answers they give can be flawed.

Does it matter if respondents don’t quite give you the whole truth?

In some types of research, this is less of an issue. For example, when you’re asking people to respond or react in the moment to a new concept, product or a positioning route, accurately recalling past behaviour is less of a focus.

But when your objective is to really get closer to consumers and uncover their genuine behaviour and beliefs outside the viewing facility, getting to the truth really matters. So how can you do this?

Using technology to go deeper

Technology is opening up new avenues for exploring actual rather than claimed behaviour. At FreshMinds we use a range of tools to do this, helping our clients uncover important truths.

Let’s take a closer look at three of these techniques – lifelogging, passive tracking and exploring  consumers’ digital footprints –  to see where they can add the most value.

Lifelogging: deep diving into a consumer’s life

Lifelogging is a great way of exploring a consumer’s life in detail. How does it work? Respondents are asked to share videos, photos and complete tasks using their phones – usually over of a period of weeks.

Lifelogging is a good way of getting to the truth as you’re engaging consumers in their own environments and getting them to respond in the moment. What’s more, you’re often able to explore the different facets of their personalities – something which can be hard to do in a focus group. In more self-conscious moments, consumers might portray a more aspirational version of themselves but over time, true feelings and behaviours can seep in as they become less guarded.

I once did a piece of lifelogging work about parenting values with mums. The mums we recruited were very focused on their children’s happiness. They were the kind of parents who liked to create special experiences for their kids, making hand-crafted cinema tickets for movie nights or organising regular board game evenings. One mother told us that she loved spending time with her children and making the effort to create these special moments. Later, exhausted, she admitted to the camera: “I’m a slave to my kids.”

The sweet spot of marketing lies between who you are and who you want to be. And that’s exactly what makes this technique so powerful. With lifelogging, we’re able to uncover a consumer’s true and aspirational self. This is invaluable for brands, allowing them to fine-tune their marketing so it connects with the perfect mix of the two.

Passive tracking: the whole truth and nothing but the truth

Our second technique, passive tracking, works by installing a tracking app onto every device a consumer uses. This app captures every action that takes place on the device, producing a rich set of data that represents the whole truth of someone’s online behaviour.

Because of this, it’s right at the top of the ‘truth scale’ and it’s extremely useful for understanding digital behaviour, app usage and media consumption – aspects of our behaviour we can find hard to recall accurately.

The downside to passive tracking is that it gives you the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This can be problematic as it only tells you what people do, not why. To get the full picture, you need to add a qualitative element.

When Disney asked us to analyse how kids engage with short-form and online video content, we enriched our understanding by combining passive tracking (with full parental consent) with ethnographic in-home ‘playdates’ that helped us ascertain more about why kids were watching particular types of content.

With passive tracking, it’s this combination of new technology and more traditional approaches to research that allow us to really get to the truth.

An exploration of consumers’ digital footprints: mining the content that consumers create online

This technique involves analysing the content that people create, consume and search for online. As such, it’s fertile territory for uncovering truths relating to the things that consumers worry about, their hopes and aspirations and the image they want to portray to the world.

As Twitter usage has declined and personal Facebook pages are not usually accessible to us as researchers, Instagram and online forums have emerged as the best channels for digital exploration at present.

Instagram can be a good place to discover how people want to be perceived, while online forums such as Mumsnet or Reddit represent a space where people feel free to share their thoughts, worries and concerns.

The truth scale again comes into play here. Heavily filtered #blessed #wishyouwerehere and #YOLO holiday pictures on Instagram represent the aspirational / ’best self’ end of the spectrum. In contrast, anonymous posts on a health forum are more likely to be the unvarnished truth.

Which method is right for you?

What’s the best technique for getting to the truth? In reality, there’s no one, clear-cut answer. It depends on your brand, the challenge you face and the consumers you want to reach.

Whatever your challenge, we can offer advice on any of the techniques mentioned here. Do get in touch if you’d like to know more.