Conventional wisdom in market research circles holds that the best predictor of future consumer behavior is past consumer behavior. In other words, if you want to know what consumers are likely to do in the future, study what they have done in the past and project the results forward. I learned this lesson well in the many years I worked in marketing research for big corporations. But once I founded Unity Marketing and started working directly with client companies to develop marketing strategies that produce results, I discovered the absolute, utter failing of this conventional wisdom. The simple fact is if you study past consumer behavior, all you learn is what consumers did in the past, not what they are likely to do in the future. But many businesses continue working under the erroneous assumption that you can use the past to predict the future, so they study, quantify, validate, and make predictions and projections on historical but ultimately meaningless data.
Another piece of faulty market research conventional wisdom has to do with consumer motivation. Many researchers say you don't need to understand why consumers behave as they do because it is irrelevant. They believe all you need to understand is the what, how, where, when, and how much of the consumer equation. The why isn't really important, it is reasoned, because if you ask consumers why they do something, they really can't tell you anyway. Bunk! Being an aficionado of the murder mystery genre, I know the only way to solve the mystery is to uncover the motive. All the clues at the scene of the crime may point to one or more suspects—usually red herrings—but the mystery is only solved once the true motive is revealed. So too in market research. While the behavioral data is important to understanding the consumer, the real insight into what drives a consumer to buy is the why.
Ultimately, the goal of any market research study is to provide information and insight about consumers to support business decision making. The focus of those business decisions is what will happen in the future, not the past. Market research, therefore, must enlighten and guide corporate future vision. You need to know, or at least have a pretty good idea, how specific marketing strategies and new products and services will impact or change the consumer market. In other words, are consumers likely to buy more of what you have to sell because of your strategies?
Hockey great Wayne Gretzky put it best in his apocryphal anecdote. When asked in an interview what made him so much better than the other hockey players on the ice, Gretzky responded, "Everybody else skates to where the puck is. But I skate to where the puck is going." In business our "hockey puck" is the consumer and rather than trying to catch up to where the consumer is today or was yesterday, we need to get out in front and anticipate where the consumer is going and what he or she is going to want when they get there. Unfortunately, this challenge of gaining future vision of the consumer market is getting harder and harder today because the consumers are moving so much faster than they ever did before. Businesses must keep ahead or risk becoming increasingly irrelevant—nonplayers in the consumer market.
In my research work with clients, big and small, over the past ten plus years, I have discovered two secrets of gaining future vision about where the consumer market is going and what companies need to do to be ready for it. The first secret, and the subject of this book, is to understand why people buy. The second secret, and the topic of my next book—entitled Let Them Eat Cake: Marketing Luxury to the Masses (As Well As the Classes), to be published by Dearborn Trade Publishing in early 2005—is to track changes and moves at the luxury end of the market to predict where the mass market will be in the near future. In other words: First the rich do it, then everybody follows.
Unfortunately, this challenge of gaining future vision of the consumer market is getting harder and harder today because the consumers are moving so much faster than theyever did before.