Behavioral Observations

Being in a Consumer Behavior class has heightened my senses when observing people as they make decisions and consume products. That’s part of the point of going back to school, right? Well, I’ve had to analyze a few different behaviors for school projects over the years, and a recent incident at work reminded me of how weird we all are!

It’s not really weird, but weird when you magnify it and realize that people are often very predictable once you have observed and identified a pattern. I was looking to purchase pens as promotional items for the company trade show, so I had the promotional rep send over some samples. I then took the samples around the office to poll for the most popular choice. Upon handing the pen to each person, I noticed the following in almost all members of the office:

1) They held up both pens side-by-side, and turned them each to the side and back to the front

2) They felt the weight of each pen in their writing hand, and then felt the weight in comparison buy loosely holding one pen in each hand

3) They clicked each pen several times

4) They wrote with each pen

5) They repeated all the steps again

This whole process took about 3 minutes, and it was a little funny to watch, as everyone took this process quite seriously. It’s funny to me as a marketer, because I doubt that any of these people stand in a store and run these same tests when buying their own pens. But, suddenly asking them for an opinion turns it into a huge purchase decision, requiring many tests to determine the best possible choice. It’s also interesting because while I’ve asked them to choose among two, there are literally thousands of pens from which to choose. So, if they don’t like either of the samples I’ve given, in theory they would speak up and say that they want something different than what I’ve shown. However, by only showing them two choices, it seems I effectively told them those were the only options. This type of bias has been shown to be much more detrimental in the case of suspect line-ups and suspect photo books. For pens, it’s not problem for my colleagues to feel like they must “settle” on one of the choices I’ve given them. But, what if victims feel that they must “settle” on a suspect, even if the person they really want to pick isn’t offered as a choice? You see this type of decision all the time in the real world, so observing it in a smaller setting can lead to bigger ramifications.

I had a project during my time as an undergrad that required me to interview 3-5 people about their habits when brushing their teeth. How long did they brush? What did they do with the toothbrush after they finished? Then I had to observe 1 or 2 people brushing their teeth, and put that in my report about behaviors when brushing. It’s amazing how differently people perform the same everyday task when you actually start watching them and asking them to tell you about their routine. It’s even more interesting when you ask them WHY they do what they do. Even now, I catch myself considering my nightly routine, and how it differs from that of my husband.

This information can be valuable for design decisions as well as marketing strategies, and most people just don’t think about these things as they go about their everyday lives. Looking at life through a marketing lens reveals the seemingly mundane tasks and small-impact decisions are actually really complex if you take time to look at them. What areas do you find interesting when you apply your expertise to the situation?

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