Practical and thoughtful, but a walking contradiction. She made it clear that every decision she made had a purpose, and every item she bought met well-defined criteria. As she described her grocery store trips, she recalled the price associated with each and every item. In order to even make it into her cart, the items on her shopping list had to fall within an acceptable and narrow margin. And yet, her eyes lit up and you could see her lost in her memories as she described the unique metal bracelet on her wrist that she had bought on a whim for 250 euro during a trip to Barcelona. She smiled again and told me about how it was made.
Scratching Our Heads
That moment when the consumer tells you something totally incongruent with the story you’ve crafted in your mind of who they are and how they live…
Those comments that seem to contradict each other within a span of minutes…
We formulate clear pictures in our own minds of who a person is and what matters to them, only for them to turn around and tell us something that leaves us scratching our heads.
In my early years as a Qualitative Researcher, I’d find myself frustrated. Seeking patterns and convergence of themes, I was always challenged when things didn’t line up. Sure, I understood things would vary from person to person, but I was caught off guard and perplexed by the number of things that didn’t add up within the perspective of one individual.
Humans Are Messy
Of course, it didn’t take me long to realize what many before me had contemplated – that humans are, in fact, messy. We don’t follow a logical path down the road. There’s not always a reason – or at least not a consistent, or “good”, one. We don’t always make linear decisions. Sometimes we struggle with opposing internal forces that shape our mindsets and behaviors.
But then something beautiful happened.
When I looked more closely at those incongruencies within a single person, there were valuable opportunities for my client to step in and meet the consumer in the midst of the messiness. We identified opportunities for innovative products and delivery, discovered more meaningful ways to connect with those not yet using their brand, and found unique ways to give someone a great customer experience worth talking about. It was actually in those messy places we were finding our most disruptive learning – you know, the insights that make your team say “whoa, yes.” It’s exhilarating to experience those moments when you are onto something that you know will significantly and positively impact your business.
Unveiling the Mess with Qualitative Research
As a fan of both quantitative and qualitative research, I respect the ways both serve in delivering the information we need to make good decisions. Yes, enough people will tell you that quantitative tells you the what and qualitative tells you the why, but it’s so much more for me. Quantitative offers us sound decisions, confidence in direction before we set sail, and a big, delicious slice of the world. The beauty of qualitative is our ability to get in the nooks and crannies. To discover the mess and bring things into the light that just might unlock something truly magical for the brand. The rapport we build with consumers allows us a richer glimpse into what matters to them, so we can become brands that matter to them.
Embrace the Mess
Knowing that the messiness of the human heart and mind can be where the greatest potential lies for brands, we can see those moments through an entirely different lens. The next time in research you find yourself with a consumer who doesn’t seem to fit into a perfectly shaped box in your mind, celebrate! When things don’t add up exactly the way you expect them to, celebrate! You are probably onto something really good. And we go after good things.
What about you? Where have you found gold in the messiness of incongruent, inconsistent, yet beautiful human beings?
Kendall Nash is a Vice President at Burke, Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is an instructor for the Burke Institute and a past president of QRCA. Kendall’s curiosity drives her closer to consumers and their experiences. Her thrills come from uncovering what people truly want and need, and translating that so brands can win.