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Consumer Behavior

Conjoint-rational-irrational

I’m a big fan of Russ Roberts’ podcast Econtalk. While technically about economics he covers a variety of subjects with his guests and it always gives me something to think about. Recently he welcomed Mary Hirschfeld of Villanova University to talk about her book “Aquinas and the Market”. She challenges some of the fundamentals of modern Economics.

Economists typically see “rational” behavior as one in which a person attempts to maximize their wealth. This leads to the behavioral economic principles that see choices that don’t maximize wealth as “irrational”. For example, an unemployed baseball fan catches a multi-millionaire player’s 500th home run ball. The baseball is likely worth tens of thousands of dollars so if the fan gives it back to the player that is deemed “irrational”.

Dr. Hirschfeld might see this differently. She feels that economics itself is irrational…it fails to recognize the value of non-monetary aspects of a transaction. The fan might think the player actually deserves the ball more than the fan and thus puts value in doing the right thing…returning the ball to its rightful owner.

She repeatedly makes the point that wealth is a means to an end and that focusing on it will not maximize your value as a human being. The rational human thinks about what they really need materially, spiritually and emotionally. They can then make the trade-offs necessary to maximize their overall well-being. They might decide that teaching math in a disadvantaged area, even though they will make less, is a better fit for them than say taking a job on Wall Street.

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Girl-Scout-cookies-TURF-Market-Research-analysis

Every winter one of my co-workers at TRC reminds us that Girl Scout Cookie Season is upon us. GSCS (my abbreviation) is a time to call attention to, celebrate and support the agency dedicated to building “girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.”  All well and good, but when it comes down to it, I just want the cookies.

Their best sellers year after year – Thin Mints, Peanut Butter Patties/Tagalogs and Carael Delites/Samoas – contain chocolate. But I don’t eat chocolate (doctor’s orders). Which means every year I hold my breath until I learn whether my favorite GSC – the Lemonade – is still on the list. And thankfully, it is being offered once again in 2019. I ordered 5 boxes from my co-worker’s daughter.

My no-chocolate policy makes me a “niche” consumer of not only GSCs but of snacks and candies in general. When Hershey came out with Hershey Gold in 2017 (essentially a chocolate bar without the chocolate), I thought they had developed it just for me! I hadn’t eaten a candy bar in years until I tried that one. Now it’s my go-to when I need a little something sweet.

But the problem with niche markets is they are small by definition. I worry that with a limited market, eventually Lemonades and Hershey Gold will be dropped in favor of more popular products.

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trust-is-important-in-purchasing-marijuana-pricing-research

As researchers, we are always interested in understanding consumer choices. We ask respondents to rate importance, rank priorities, and trade-off among complex configuration scenarios. We discuss and make our own trade-offs in terms of design simplicity, project cost and informational objectives. And sometimes we try new approaches.

Anyone who reads the news is aware that there is a whole new consumer product category on the horizon: marijuana is now legal for medical purposes in over 30 states and for recreational use in at least 9 of those states (as of this writing). In partnership with NJ Cannabis Media (www.njcannabismedia.com), we took the opportunity presented by this new consideration dynamic to test a new choice evaluation strategy.

Essentially, we were interested in understanding the roles of 4 factors in adult recreational-use marijuana purchase decisions. A constant sum exercise (allocation of 100 “importance points”) among self-reported current and potential users yielded the following priority distribution:

factors-in-marijuana-purchase-pricing-research-1

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Tagged in: Pricing Research
brandless how-to-measure-brand-equity-with-conjoint
 
I grew up in a family that always seemed to be on the hunt for a good sale. Whether it was clothing, electronics or home goods, we never passed up an opportunity to buy an item for MUCH less than it was two days ago. Now, don’t get the wrong impression, I’m not an extreme couponer by any means. Nor do I sit outside in the cold for hours waiting for the doors to open on Black Friday. But a good sale has my name written all over it—especially clothing. Food and beverages, however, were never really something that we compromised on in terms of price, especially since I grew up in a household that favored organics. We were 100% guilty of buying a product we knew of and trusted rather than a cheaper, lesser known, alternative. I never even thought to buy “Toasted Whole Grain Oats” on the bottom shelf when “Cheerios” was right at eye level and is from a brand I know and trust. And let’s be honest— “Cheerios” just has a better ring to it. 
 

Best Way to Measure Brand Value, Price and Size of a Product 

I always wondered how companies knew exactly what consumers wanted. It never occurred to me that there were survey techniques that could be used to identify needs as well as the best way to price, size and package a product. That is until I started at TRC. I just assumed that companies use the standard question and answer format in order to get the information they desire. Once I began working on surveys, I learned that some companies were already utilizing a conjoint analysis to better understand its consumers’ needs, interests and perceptions. By showing several variations of the same product and only changing minor features across each group (such as the size, cost, packaging and other attributes), these surveys seek to identify the characteristics most appealing to respondents. This, in turn provides companies with the data they can use to assess their brand equity, while also seeing what they can do to modify their product and/or packaging, ultimately to increase sales. But is this enough to retain loyal customers? 
 

What about Off-brand Products? 

It wasn’t until I graduated from college and started working full time that I learned there are stores essentially devoted to off-brand products and are actually thriving. Imagine a store filled not only with “Toasted Whole Grain Oats,” but an off-brand product for everything you use. Yeah, that’s Brandless.com and stores like Aldi. Since realizing that I can fundamentally get the same item for much less, these types of stores have easily become some of my favorite places to shop. They have very minimal, if any, advertising throughout the store, so there is really no pressure when it comes to buying anything. Brandless.com, is just as it sounds. It takes the brand name off of every single item and shows you exactly what you are paying for. And to make it even better, both of these stores have organic products for a fraction of the cost. But, are these types of stores currently being seen as a major threat to well-known companies?
 

Can Optimization Conjoint Research Be Further Optimized? 

Typically, when doing research, we tend to only include brand-name products and services; which makes sense seeing as those are the ones that are most popular and come to your mind first. However, now that there’s this new segment of stores totally devoted to off-brand products, it may be time to break the mold and include generic and “brandless” companies when conducting choice research to measure brand equity. When it comes down to it, it’s only a matter of time before products like “Toasted Whole Grain Oats” begin to take over. How prepared is your company?
 
Tagged in: Brand Equity Conjoint
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Callmebymyname market-research-conjointIt’s well known that humans respond to personalization. But, as consumers do we respond more when our name is used when we are being sold to, and if so, why? Specifically, are we more likely to react positively to marketing emails that include our name in it? It turns out that we do indeed, as revealed by an interesting new study to be published in the INFORMS journal Marketing Science (authored by Navdeep Sahni, Christian Wheeler (both from Stanford) and Pradeep Chintagunta (Univ of Chicago)).
 
The researchers were specifically interested in understanding whether including a consumer’s name in the subject line of an email had a positive effect – in terms of the number of emails opened as well as subsequent conversion into sales leads. They ran a classic A/B test where everything was controlled to be the same except the inclusion of the consumer’s name in the subject line. This one tweak was sufficient to increase the probability of opening the email by 20%, which then translated to a 31% increase in sales leads and a 17% reduction in those who wanted to unsubscribe
 
What is interesting here is the nature of the manipulated content. It is non-informative about the product and its benefits, yet still has a significant impact on the consumer’s behavior. This would seem to imply that the effect should be generalizable to other products and contexts as well. To test this they ran two more studies where the products differed as well as the relationship of the consumers to the particular companies. The results were consistent with the first study, establishing the generalizability of the results. “Aspects of the advertising message that are seemingly unrelated to the product can affect how consumers process the message, and significantly change outcomes,” said lead author Navdeep Sahni. 
 
There is then the question of why this occurs. While there are competing theories the best one (message elaboration) seems to be that once their attention is drawn using their name, consumers process the information more carefully. This, of course, has a potential downside in that if the message is not relevant to the consumer then the more careful processing could translate into fewer sales leads and more people unsubscribing.   
 
A rather clever 2x2 design was used to tease out this effect – the recipient’s name was included in the body of the email (or not) and a relevant piece of information in the form of a product discount was included in the email (or not). By including the name in the body of the email, the chances of the recipient processing the message increases. By including the discount the relevance of the message itself becomes higher (or not). So if the psychological mechanism at play is message elaboration, then the condition where attention is drawn and a relevant message is presented should provide the most leads – and that is precisely what they find.  
 
Additional (regression) analysis showed how the pieces fit together. Seeing the name increases the likelihood of the message being read and processed, and increases the chance of a positive outcome – if the message is compelling. By itself, the personalization still has an effect but not as much as it otherwise could with a relevant message.      
 
This research does not tell us what happens when more and more marketers start using email personalization. Will consumers get desensitized to the effect? What if the domain is sensitive? Would consumers get offended resulting in a backlash? The answers are not available in this research as the datasets examined here do not fall into these categories. 
 
But, for now, we can say that email marketers could benefit from including the recipient’s name, and can enhance the effect by having a relevant message in the body of the email.     
 
Tagged in: Consumer Behavior
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