9 June 2015

Why Are You Asking Me Your Question?

A couple of days ago I noticed that some of my connections on Linked In were answering a question posted publicly. I do not want to name names, but since the question concerned two packages for dog food, it is inevitable to show the two packages.

The message on Linked In was:

Hi, Would love some feedback! Our current packaging is the design in the brown Kraft bag on the left and a draft of our new packaging idea is in the creme bag on the right. Which design do you prefer??

Beyond aesthetics and preferences for dog-food bags, there are some very serious issues with this kind of pseudo-research.

First, there is the obvious sampling error. The linked-in connections of the person who asked are not necessarily dog food buyers. I guess the budget for market research was very restrictive.

Second, it is utterly wrong to ask people which one of these two packages is preferred. Which one to pick, is the question that the marketer has to answer. However, the buyer (because the consumer is the dog – hopefully) will never ever have to make this choice.

Choices and preferences are to a large extent dependent on the context of the available options. We also know that choices imply (sometimes unconscious) comparisons. If package B is aimed to replace package A, then the buyers will never have to make the choice between A and B.

Third, the choices buyers make are not made in a void. In other words, the choices dog-food buyers will make are between competing products and one of the products (packages) presented above.

So, a correct way to do things would be to have a between subjects design with two conditions:

Condition A: N competing brands + package A

Condition B: N competing brands + package B

Here N is the number of main competitors on the market. The same competing brands should be used in both conditions.

What should be measured is the choice share for each package in the two conditions.

Fourth, asking people about their preferences is sub-optimal. Preferences are not as stable as we’d like to think. They depend on the other options the choice set has and on many other factors. In this case, it is obvious that asking people online about their future choices in supermarkets is a bit of a stretch.

Fifth, related to asking about preferences and purchase intentions, there is quite a difference between intentions / preferences and actual behavior. So the best way to do this is to measure behavior and not intentions. Though, my friend John Kearon, thinks there’s a better way to do this kind of research.  

The interesting thing is that someone had to make a choice / answer a question. This person then asked other people the question she had to answer. However, the respondents have to answer different questions to make their choices.

Now, the question I have to answer is:

Why I wrote this post on dog-food packaging when I am definitely a cat person.

P.S. The person who asked this question owes me a beer for (free) consulting… A Hoppy Cat beer :)

Later edit (15 Jan 2016): Here's another similar example (also via Linked In), different area, but the same problem:

Good morning all! I would greatly appreciate if you could comment on which logo you prefer most. I can't say much more than it'll be for a design business.   Any comments, likes, shares and feedback will be appreciated.  Thank you!

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