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Reg Lascaris – Can you trust what your consumers are telling you?

Consumers are the reason we’re in business. But can you always trust what they’re telling you? The question must be asked when a publication as respected as the Harvard Business Review runs the headline ‘Stop listening to your customers’.

Consumers were asked to rate four different messages for likely effectiveness in persuading them to become more efficient energy users. Real-experience turned the results upside down by showing that the message with the lowest score was actually the most effective.

The HBR writer concluded that when it comes to the factors prompting decisions or behaviors, you can’t trust consumers to give you accurate feedback. This raises interesting questions as the pace of innovation picks up. The bigger the innovation the bigger the potential for industry leadership and big commercial success – but are you likely to get big help from consumer research? When something radical comes along, consumers lack a reference point. They can’t draw on previous experience. Of course, there are example where research was carried out, and successfully ignored.

One of the most famous campaign lines in South African advertising has to be ‘It’s not inside, it’s on top’ for Cremora coffee creamer. It bombed out in consumer research, but was used anyway and became a mega hit with consumers here and worldwide. But no matter how good the research, you can never de-risk innovation. Research is a guide, not a god. Good researchers give you insights as well as data. Those insights are vital, but applying them always takes courage.