Consumer insight: Why you should not just do what consumers say



I saw this video  in a post on Seth Godin's blog.  As a person who studies consumer behavior, I found it analogous to the work I do.  Before you read on, you should watch at least the first half of the video. 

I did not miss the bear the first time.  Most likely, this is because it is my job to pay attention to what's going on behind what consumers are telling me when I interview them.  Most consumer interviews go exactly like the video.  Consumers go on and on about the game; how they played it, what they were thinking, etc.  They are so used to playing around the bear, they don't even think that he might have an impact on them.  And he IS having an impact on them.  They are careful not to hit him, and that impacts their choices.  So many companies are trying to learn to integrate consumer feedback into their processes.  It often goes wrong for several reasons. 

First, consumers are typically not overtly aware of what drives them.  You can talk to them, they can tell you what they like, but they cannot tell you what to do.  If you literally do what they say, you are doomed.

Second, the web makes it easy to get consumer feedback.  In terms of the video you just saw, getting self-reported, written feedback is like trying to understand what's going on in the video while wearing a blindfold and having someone describe it to you.  And most likely the person describing it does not see the bear.

Finally (for today at least), companies often have trouble translating what a consumer says, does, means, or needs into a viable product offering.  This is true whether they see the bear or not.

I'm interested in the human aspects of what's going on with technology and the web.  People get so carried away with the mechanics of what they are doing, they often lose the point behind it.  And losing sight of the main point is usually the reason for losing relevance in the market.

Find the bear, understand his impact, and keep your eye on him.