Consumer Motivation - Two Types

I find it useful to think about two types of consumer motivations; those that are explicit, and those that are tacit. 

Motivations that are explicit are those that consumers can tell you about directly.  For example, if you want to improve your product you can find consumers who use it, and directly ask them what should be improved.  These improvements could be things like enhancing ease of use, changing product placement so they can find it easier in the store, adding new features, or delivering the same features in new ways.  You can see how you would map out a plan to implement these ideas, and your company can decide how or when to invest in them.

Motivations that are tacit are those that consumers cannot tell you about directly.  For example, let's say that the consumer tells you that one improvement would be to enhance ease of use of your product.  You may be able to improve the direct experience of using your product, but what if the real motivation behind that comment was deeper than that?  What if the consumer lacks confidence in performing the overall task that your product is a tool in accomplishing?  If that is the case, then improving the experience of using your product may not help them to achieve their overall goal.  You may need to develop an entirely new product that addresses their needs more holistically.  Or you may be able to market your product more broadly as a tool within a larger process that you can then own.

When you are thinking about innovating in your company, it is useful to make a clear distinction about whether you want to improve your current products or develop something new and different.  This will dictate the type of consumer research you will need to guide development efforts. 

Product improvements can be guided by explicit consumer motivations, and they can be discerned through direct research methods.  These methods are relatively quick to conduct and interpret, and can guide improvements directly.

Inventing new products, business models, or other types of disruptive innovations are best guided by understanding consumers' tacit motivations regarding your category.  These methods are exhaustive in their depth, and require people who are very skilled in this type of work to spend a lot of time analyzing, hypothesizing, and evaluating their conclusions.  Getting it right, however, will yield unlimited inspiration by which you can guide innovation efforts and evaluate their potential success.