Understanding People in a Downturn

28 Mar 2009|Steve Diller

A client focused on understanding a global markeplace asked me recently about the likely impact of the recession on obtaining consumer insights. It’s difficult to know exactly how the current economic situation will show up in our work. It’s essential to know how to listen to people in the context of their lives, of course, so the question is very timely.

We can anticipate that it could play out in a few ways, including:

1. People may be holding off on purchases. Because we know this is happening in the US, we can adjust recruiting so that, if people are intending to purchase relevant items in the next year (normally, we’d look for those planning on doing so in the next six months), they will qualify to participate.

2. People may be re-thinking the pricepoint they’re willing to consider for the relevant product category. We can’t predict the extent to which this is true, but we can detect it through the questions we ask respondents. Their sense of how their price sensitivity has changed over the last year isn’t entirely reliable, but at minimum, we can get a good read on how pricepoint is influencing their choices.

3. People may be re-thinking brand. Here too, respondents’ sense of how brand appeal is changing isn’t entirely reliable, but nonetheless, it’s important to dig up what is influencing their thinking currently.

It’s important to keep in mind that purchase timing, price sensitivity and, to a lesser extent, brand preference, are always subject to change under pressure of changing circumstances. Experiential preferences, however, are generally not, except in the broad sweep of a person’s lifestages. For instance, an individual may want to pay less than in the past, but their desire for excitement and accomplishment (two high-level experiences) is unlikely to be fundamentally altered by an economic downturn. Since the most valuable perspectives on people are grounded in the experiences people seek, our task will be to unearth enduring experiential preferences.

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