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Eyes Can't Lie
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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If we are in the Information Age and consumers are controlling the conversation, why is market research even needed? If these "conversation wizards" and "unmarketing gurus" declare that we must engage consumers instead of "selling" to them, can't we trash the focus group and research departments? Talk about the savings!

No, we can't do that. There is something within human nature that makes it incredibly difficult for us to say what we really want. We have brought up Ariely's Predictably Irrational and Gladwell's Blink, and the studies within those books make it clear that consumers, when faced with choice, do not consciously understand why they make the decisions they make.

It is very interesting. Even when social proofing is adding to the mix, consumers say something that is different than their actions.

That's why market research is still needed in AdLand. Recently, it has received an upgrade.

Since consumers aren't telling marketers how they really make decisions, the industry has improved its data collection by using 3D computer simulations and eye-tracking technology. The article points out several examples of big companies putting the technology to work. Kimberly-Clark used retina-tracking cameras attached to computers to see how its subjects' eyes moved across a design when it was designing some packaging in 2009. Unilever used a same kind of software and created a heat map based off of consumers' eye movements and pinpointed the best locations on the shelves for its products.

The major breakthrough of the newest upgrade can be boiled down in this quote: "...that information has helped dispel myths about what really matters in design."

Does this mean that certain creatives and product designers will be out of a job? By no means! This means that their job not only gets easier, but it can give them the freedom to test out all kinds of new designs and creative — at a much cheaper cost — to see how consumers respond. To be able to design whatever you want, however, and have a nearly perfect testing environment is a dream come true.

There will be pushback, and that is expected. Consumers will think that marketers are "trying to read minds" in order to manipulate them into buying stuff they don't need, and even our dearest colleagues will not see the benefit of the research and cry foul, saying that it undercuts the creative process.

We have no response to the consumer argument, because no one forces you to buy anything. But our colleagues might be missing the point. The tech will help them be more efficient. The creative process will drive the research, and not vice versa. 

Let's see what happens.

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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