HBS Working Knowledge has an interview with Gerald Zaltman on his latest book “How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market.” Excerpts:
Probing the unconscious mind of the consumer has tremendous value beyond advertising. For example, learning that a communications device or even a personal care product invokes deep thoughts and feelings about social bonding can be very helpful to R&D experts. In the case of a communications device, this suggests that tactile experiences of social bonding be “engineered in” through the design of how the product is gripped in the hand and in the choice of finish in the device’s housing material. In the case of a personal care product, colors and scents known to be evocative of social bonding experiences can be used. In both cases, the basic idea of connection is central to the product’s value proposition and becomes a more profound basis for developing marketing strategy than, say, technical superiority or long-lasting benefits. While the latter attributes are important, it is because they serve the deeper needs of connection or social bonding.
The insights offered by methods that probe the unconscious mind are relevant at all stages of the product life cycle. For instance, when introducing a radically new product, it is necessary to understand how consumers currently frame their experience of the problem addressed by the new offering. That is, no matter how radical a new product is, it will always be perceived initially in terms of some frame of reference. It is essential that this frame be understood, especially if it is an inappropriate one detrimental to early trial of the product. For a mature product, insights about the category or a specific brand can lead to modifications that will extend its life and sustain its economic value to the firm. One firm with a very “tired” brand explored consumers’ hidden thoughts and feelings and discovered a relevant, basic emotion that had been overlooked by all brands in the category. They were able to connect this emotion with their brand giving it a major sales boost. Other firms use the hidden treasures of the unconscious mind to identify new product opportunities. Using metaphor-elicitation techniques, firms providing farming supplies, home appliances, office systems, and beauty care have identified important unmet needs. R&D departments use information about the architecture of these needs to identify opportunities for new products and services.