Then, as the interview progressed, I noticed a few activities that didn't quite fit the stay-at-home-mom story. For example, she taught a child-birthing class at a room she rented downtown. She regularly spoke at church. She ran a discussion group with other mothers in the community to talk about politics. And another about nutrition. She participated in several book clubs. And a gourmet club. She started a fundraiser for the family of a school teacher who passed away. And one for Katrina victims. She organized her annual block party. She worked out every day. She loved traveling to Europe and India with her husband. She recently fired her housekeeper.
These contradictions in modern life are increasingly common. They were first observed around 10 years ago, as trend-trackers started reporting how people shopped at Costco one day and Barney's New York the next. Now, we see people reading "You On A Diet" while sipping a Mocha Frappuccino at Barnes & Noble. We're increasingly multi-tasking our multi-faceted lives in order to fit everything in. And yet we're still yearning for simplicity.
The problem for market researchers arises when we try to identify a person's priorities. How can we determine priority when everything sounds like a priority? For example, which was a bigger priority for that suburban mother?
What compelled her to use my client's home-delivery brand? Was it about spending more time with the kids? Or more time for herself?
Some people are bouncing between so many pursuits, it's impossible to determine their priorities. But most of the time we can cut through the "I do it all" cover stories and discover the real person, by focusing on behavior. In other words, actions really do speak louder than words.
Here, then, are a few practical approaches to gathering behavior. They are distinguished primarily by the length of time between the incidence of the behavior and its recording.
The first approach is gathering past behaviors. This approach is most reliant upon the interviewee's memory capacity and accuracy. The key idea here is using visual and other sensory cues to help the interviewee recall past behavior. A recent example was the approach used by JWT and JetBlue in 2006.
The airline set up "story booths" in eight cities, where passers-by entered and recorded recollections of their experiences flying on JetBlue. The booths recreated the interior of a JetBlue aircraft with seats, overhead bins, tray tables, TV screens, snacks and other details. They even had crew members to guide the customer storyteller through the experience.
Another great example of this has been used for years in automotive market research: car clinics.
As a general rule, the more stimulating the visual and other sensory cues, the more interviewees will be able to accurately and vividly recall past behavior.
The second approach is gathering recent behavior. This approach still relies on the memories of the interviewees, but only short term. For example, JetBlue placed postcards in seat pockets of their aircraft, which passengers used as mini-journals for their journeys. They also sent e-mail and postcard requests after flights to request stories. These methods gathered memories that were still fresh.