All posts by Kathryn Ambroze

Addressing the WEIRD problem in consumer science: Representation in Research

To explain the WEIRD problem, let’s start with a weird analogy… 

Every career involves some type of research, which inevitably helps professionals get better at their craft. Consider a baker with a specialization in pies. Custard, cream, and apple pies are all second nature to this person because they learned as much as possible to become an expert in this particular domain. Yet, the credibility of the baker becomes questionable if they start saying they know everything about every type of food using only the knowledge they have about pies. Pies are such a small percentage of all the different types of food in the world- how could this baker possibly make claims over all types of food?  

This is the exact situation occurring within social science, but rather than worrying about misrepresenting pasta or pastries, there is a bias in participants recruited. Henrich, Heine, and Norenzayan (2010) were some of the first researchers to expose the massive amount of disproportionate sampling within behavioral science. The demographics for the majority of research fell into the WEIRD acronym coined by these researchers. WEIRD stands for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. Although some consumers do fall into the WEIRD category, it is very safe to say it’s not all-encompassing. Recruiting only individuals within this bracket would not present an issue if all humans shared the same reactions and behaviors, but human beings have a lot of variability. Similar problems have been noted in biology and neuroscience where a lot of research solely studied males in neurobiology animal research. In either situation, overarching claims easily misrepresent populations. Ingrained beliefs, values, past experiences, and social conditions all impact judgment, perception, and behavior. Therefore, measuring only a small subsect of the population and generalizing it to all humans is not only misleading—it’s wrong.  

What types of issues does this create?  

Cross-cultural studies have demonstrated the need for diversity in research by suggesting the WEIRD population is actually more of an outlier than a norm (Muthukrishna et al., 2020). Patterns within the WEIRD population are cited for being more individualistic, independent, and analytical, and impersonally prosocial (Schulz et al., 2019). To complicate matters even more, variability even exists among, within, and across the WEIRD population (just ask any New Yorker visiting rural Kentucky). These differences highlight the need to understand cross-cultural context in consumer science.  

Henrich, Heine, and Norenzayan (2010)’s paper shares that only 12% of the world’s population was utilized in 96% of psychological samples. This implies there is a much greater likelihood of being studied when attending a Western university as opposed to any person you may pass on the street. Additionally, this disproportionate analysis of human behavior is perpetuated by many of the big labs, journals, editors, researchers, and conferences who also are WEIRD. The study of culture is informed by the researchers’ culture. It is important to have more diverse researchers in the field to help appropriately investigate particular individuals. Without fully knowing what it is like to live in someone else’s culture or society, important questions or specifications may be overlooked. Therefore, a lot of the foundational research may be flawed or inaccurate in its generalizations when replicated with other groups of individuals. The cycle of researching only a small subsect of the population and assuming its applicable universally creates distortion about behavior by neglecting trends and patterns within other groups.  

Expanding the scope of research is challenging; however, the current literature regarding judgment and decision making is heavily biased since the focus was driven by the WEIRD population. The past literature has a lot to offer in terms of framework, design, as well as cautionary limitations. Findings from any piece of research must be considered within its cultural confines. As scientists, we must acknowledge and appreciate the gaps in research in order to learn more about the human effect. Reviewing the main effects of research under this critical lens may be messier, but it is especially important in consumer science. Exposure to ads, products, or packaging can vary drastically depending on the context. By addressing the differences within cultures and societies around the world, companies can cater to consumers better to meet their personalized needs. While it may feel overwhelming, there is an opportunity to make major improvements by adjusting the research to better serve the target demographic.   

The Mess in Measures  

The implications of the WEIRD problem extend into the tools used to measure populations. Having a scale or methodology be validated and reliable with one subgroup does not guarantee its effectiveness with another. Advances in technology have provided many benefits for faster and easier communication, data collection, and management; however, not all tools are made equal or accessible. Customizing the choice in methodologies to the research question is crucial when trying to explore a concept for a certain group. It is important to be aware of the constraints about each tool or technique in order to determine if that limitation will compromise the study.  

Certain advancements also may isolate certain populations. For example, consider a study using an app as a way to record daily experiences of participants. Having a smart phone compatible with the app is a major limiting factor in recruitment. Furthermore, within that population, many individuals may be technologically inept and find using the app challenging. An inability to handle the app is just as concerning, since the data will not be recorded if the participant cannot access the right interface. As seen in this example, to meet scientific goals, it is important to account for the culture and conditions of the participants. For research innovation and advancement to take place, studies must have strategies in place to understand and account for the differences that may occur.     

Blind Spots in Technology  

As market researchers, HCD looks to produce the best quality results for specific research questions. By constantly exploring new and emerging technology, it is important to consider how scalable the technology is and how useful its application will be in any of our client’s studies. One of the most important parts of evaluating new technology is understanding how to use the tool, which includes understanding any barriers. Critically evaluating the tools is one of the first safeguards to ensuring useful data. We are motivated to seek out new methods and technology for specific research questions to ensure there is a consideration for the validity of the findings through its connections to the cross-cultural context.   

Awareness of WEIRD is important because research can plan and design in ways that address the issue. The way consumers live will have a major impact on the way they see, hear, and experience any product, ad, or package. As the research is crafted, the population explored, and the tools used to measure any effect, should not be taken lightly. Screening questions must be carefully constructed with consideration of complex components such as gender identity and mixed races. These decisions must have a strong justification as they will have ramifications on other research decisions such as sample size and scalability.   

Getting comfortable with familiar methods may be tempting, but the objective is to be effective not compliant. In The Art of War by Sun Tzu, he shares wise advice very applicable to consumer science research, “Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.” Understanding context is how this field will continue to grow and evolve, but only if the appropriate measures are used to accurately report an experience.    

If you are interested in starting a conversation about using the right tool for the right question, please feel free to contact HCD Research via email at info@hcdi.net or call 908.788.9393. 

References:  

Henrich, J., Heine, S. J., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world?. Behavioral and brain sciences, 33(2-3), 61-83. 

Muthukrishna, M., Bell, A. V., Henrich, J., Curtin, C. M., Gedranovich, A., McInerney, J., & Thue, B. (2020). Beyond Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) psychology: Measuring and mapping scales of cultural and psychological distance. Psychological science, 31(6), 678-701. 

Schulz, J. F., Bahrami-Rad, D., Beauchamp, J. P., & Henrich, J. (2019). The Church, intensive kinship, and global psychological variation. Science, 366(6466). 

Beauty: The Update that Saved Cosmetics

Washing your face with a cleanser, putting on foundation, or using lip balm to help chapped lips are some of the many personal care rituals integrated into consumers’ lives. Personal care is an intimate part of a consumer’s day, and the reality is that the circumstances of 2020 forced many of us to reconsider personal care routines, since our daily lives were disrupted. This created a domino effect, making industries, like the beauty industry, refocus on new needs. Since consumers’ routines were modified, the products involved in certain regimens were also reconsidered as essential, luxury, or unnecessary. This was a time for beauty brands to identify the new practices in place and learn where and how cosmetics can better support the consumer.

The pandemic obviously impacted not only the act of personal care but the means of exploring and purchasing products. While online shopping has been steadily becoming more normalized the past few years, store restrictions or personal health precautions pushed this digital approach to the forefront of the shopping experience. Going digital opens up a lot of opportunities, but it absolutely comes with some cautionary concerns. Reflecting on these advancements in the beauty industry shows how retailers and brands combatted the challenges of 2020 by creating novel ways to keep the consumer close and connected.

Selling in a Digital World  

The dynamic online experience holds a lot of opportunities for beauty brands to uniquely express themselves and connect with consumers in an innovative forum. The beauty industry has needed to adapt new strategies to attract consumers as well as meet changing needs. The biggest shift can be seen in the switch to both digital products and communications.  

As the world of shopping has shifted from in-store to online, especially in the wake of the pandemic, consumers have lost the ability to touch, feel, and experience products in person. In the past, this was a key selling point for cosmetic products where consumers could see the colors next to their skin or even try on test products. In those moments, consumers could evaluate the coloring or consistency in-person to help feel confident in a purchase. However, with this shift to digital, marketers have needed to find ways to emulate the tangibility and accessibility of experiencing a product at shelf, including free trials and samples or influencer campaigns in social media, to help consumers review and evaluate a new product without being able to touch it. These consumer-centric tactics help build a connection and trust in the brands and products in the absence of direct experiences.  

The nuances of social media marketing, however, are no longer a surprise. We all anticipate seeing personalized (some eerily so) ads when scrolling social media platforms. The ability to integrate offline experiences to the digital world is no longer a “nice to have” but presumed by consumers. Therefore, cosmetic companies must welcome creative ideas to deliver unique and impactful experiences that are superior to the competition to be able to stand out. Beauty brands must manifest novel ways to keep the consumer excited and engaged. The future of foundation is not only an interactive beauty application (through virtual try-ons, interactive questionnaires, beauty scanning apps, etc.) but also through truly personalized care. Truly innovative, creative, and authentic personalization, however, requires investment into really understanding consumer behavior, expectations, and drivers of purchase. Otherwise, brands risk losing consumer trust and loyalty. 

Smart Technology, Smart Consumers

Understanding how vital the smartphone has become to most consumers, beauty brands began to invest in technology to stay in touch with the consumer—literally. From tapping the screen to applying formula on the skin, beauty brands want to be at consumers’ fingertips. Finding ways to ensure products perform well includes any initial interactions the consumer has with the brand prior to purchase all the way until final use. The technology should ease the process and make a complicated process simpler. A convenient outlet offering a wide variety of options creates a strong consumer-centric message.   

Smart technology can be interactive by giving feedback or advice, emulating the counter service that diminished during the pandemic. Through outlets like the internet, the consumer is becoming more educated on components of life to consider when exploring personal care items. The beauty industry is aware of this growth, thus highlighting how context may impact which product to purchase. For example, evaluating a consumer’s skin does not only mean recommending certain shades to best match. The consideration of environmental factors (like humidity, air quality, or UV exposure) as well as consumer priorities (such as fine lines, pore visibility, or dark spots) makes the serum feel unique and catered to consumer lifestyles. Companies are trying to help consumers feel satisfied with the products by finding innovative ways to get the most out of a beauty routine. By incorporating consumer electronics into the beauty industry, brands can use the behavioral data to follow the trends and priorities of consumers more precisely and, therefore, adapt quickly.

From curating personalized recommendations through AI (artificial intelligence) to using an app with augmented reality (AR) capabilities to virtually sample different products, the beauty industry has adopted new technologies into the product process to give consumers confidence in their purchase without physically handling the product. Enhancing the sensory experience in this process is critical since consumers are more frequently removed from the aisle and arriving at a phone screen. Using devices to formulate results through an easy interface gives the perception of higher quality and overall professionalism. The no-hassle approach is appealing for consumers interested in testing out various looks easily. The user experience is no longer just the product and package itself but includes the virtual arms attached to the product. Whether it be an app with voice-enabled commands or the ability to virtually try-on various shades of eyeshadow, the technology informs the consumer in a digestible manner, thus helping make the new tech part of an established regimen.

Using technology does require foresight into how this addition will be incorporated into the product experience. A balance must be achieved to ensure its an appropriate application of the technology. While it is cool to incorporate trendy features and gain the perception of being cutting-edge, the improper implementation may cause the tech-push to fall flat. When choosing the right technology to include, consider the value it will bring to the consumer in the context of buying personal care items. The digital technology should support the actual product rather than overshadow it. Consumers will know if the technology isn’t intuitive or doesn’t add value to a product. So, even though offering personalized experiences at scale through digital means gives the consumers a sense of individual attention, ensure the technology proves itself as part of a product with purpose rather than some wacky add-on gadget. The technological tools should be used to enhance the overall product experience.  

The Data is in the Details

The truth about digital products, such as apps, search engines, or websites, is that there is a lot of tracking done with the data. This resource of information is often managed by for-profit companies, allowing channels of communication and access to collect, store, and analyze user behaviors. The “big brother watching you” mentality has caused some consumers to be weary to utilize smart technology, while others either recognize it as a tradeoff for the service, or worse, don’t realize this is occurring at all. For companies to appropriately utilize smart technology while promoting a trustworthy image, transparency must be at the forefront of the user experience. New laws, such as the CCPA, are being enacted to protect the consumer with data privacy objectives. While these basic requirements illustrate the need for a level compliance, companies also benefit by being upfront with consumers. Allowing consumers to agree to the well stated terms and conditions gives a sense of ownership and autonomy back to the consumer. Furthermore, being forthcoming about the data creates a positive brand image, ultimately promoting the overall goal: to connect with consumers.  

When beauty tech products emphasize a certain formula for a consumer, the individual should always have the agency to defer to a different product, brand, style, or nothing. Technology can help consumers in making decisions, but it can never make the decision for the consumer. If the consumer decides against a suggestion, the marketers and designers may learn what is driving interest elsewhere and push the company to create better products. The benefits and hesitations about data usage are valuable to know and give a clear understanding of the product. By taking ahold of the narrative, the company can set the proper expectations for consumers to feel both comfortable and satisfied with the overall experience.

Being compliant to privacy mandates adds a sense of authenticity to the brand image since the consumer knows what the deal is upfront. Transparency not only keeps the brand honest, it also sets a precedent which can have ramifications if broken. The integrity earned in sharing this information should not feel like a threat or a reward but a fact of the matter. Consumers should have the right to make an informed decision, which ultimately benefits the company because openness helps avoid backlash. Using the digital experience is a proactive approach to informing and enhancing the beauty buying journey. Support the consumer in the fine details by aligning product objectives with consumer expectations.

Moving Forward 

From using skin-scanning devices to customize regimens to tracking results through a smart mirror, smart beauty devices are helping companies learn the driving forces behind consumer preferences. Having this insight is crucial for brands to grow with the consumer. The shift towards digital advances requires companies to anticipate ways to address future scrutiny. Brands must prepare to be able to effectively communicate how the technological medium benefits both the consumer and the company. Further, brands must be ready to explain the inner workings of the app or device to let consumers be aware of its impact.

The world of cosmetics continues to expand as innovations rush to meet the needs and interests of consumers. Some changes from the pandemic will extend far beyond the year 2020. Being camera-ready for video conference calls or finding ways to combat acne caused by mask wearing (“maskne”) were not major concerns until Covid-19 occurred. Keeping up with the general consumer is a challenge, but smart technology is a way to provide lifestyle relief. Integrating technology should have an objective for creating products that consumers do not see as a whacky machine but as something that adds value to their daily routines and lifestyle. The beauty industry is one of the many industries effectively trying to elevate the standard experience by leveraging higher engagement with modern mediums.

If you are interested in learning more about technology that helps to better understand the consumer, please reach out to Allison Gutkowski at Allison.Gutkowski@hcdi.net

The Power in Knowing: How Media Marketing Optimized the “Now Streaming…” Craze

Streaming services such as Netflix, Spotify, Twitch, and even social media platforms like YouTube or Instagram Live, have infiltrated the entertainment business from various angles and are poised to become (if not already) more popular than cable services. Even if your household doesn’t subscribe to one of the many on-demand options for shows, movies, or music, the concept of streaming is most likely not foreign. With this increase in streaming entertainment, the means of traditional media-based marketing has needed to adjust to accommodate changing behaviors towards advertising and types of marketing exposures. The evolution of how leisure time is spent impacts how consumers establish connections and, therefore, requires marketers to develop innovative ways to discover consumer preferences. 

To convert new customers, media consumers are inundated with promotional activities to get hooked. Having family rates or bundle deals are some of the many ways companies attract viewers to their platform. Behaviorally, rather than a one-time payment, these streaming services typically utilize monthly subscriptions. Access to different levels of service and benefits may be determined by the amount you pay. Hulu, as an example, offers a base service with the option for add-on networks. The freedom to access entertainment on-demand is convenient and enticing but has ultimately and fundamentally changed how consumers consume and retain information. Understanding consumer preferences and priorities gives developers and marketers a better gauge as to which messaging, offerings, and designs are best to promote. Addressing how the streaming industry uses market research strategies to combat consumer hesitations reveals the value in really knowing the consumer. Through the appropriate use of media market research, information gleaned can be telling of which strategies are best to employ.

The Marie Kondo Motive: Does it bring (the consumer) joy?

The streaming industry has unique challenges to overcome compared to other forms of entertainment. Streaming companies must act aggressively to compete with the other content providers offering similar services. Critical components, such as differentiation and price, will influence the audience willing to consistently subscribe. Consumers have adapted to the on-demand lifestyle and find streaming a very personal experience since the suggestions seem customized to the individual. This discipline of consumer goods, known as digital offerings, does not fit the mold of traditional goods and requires the field to get creative in the marketing space.

The relationship between consumers and content providers has shifted due to the advancement in streaming. Prior to streaming, most individuals would have a cable package or own a physical copy of a DVD, VHS, CD, vinyl LP, etc. Both cable and physical copies have features which may be enticing to consumers. Cable TV offers many types of news outlets as well as local community channels which are not options for many streaming services. Flipping through different channels is also a fun pastime for viewers. Further, owning a physical display, like an impressive CD collection, can have sentimental value or feel like a higher echelon of appreciation due to the continuous process of maintaining and curating. While both cable and physical copies have benefits, it is clear the convenience of streaming technology is enticing many to make the switch. The flexibility of a monthly subscription, personalization of the media, and minimal ads encourages digital adoption.

Modifications to consumer preferences are even represented by the medium in which the entertainment is shared. Entertainment is now accessible not only from the television but also from mobile devices, gaming devices, or tablets. Following the growth of products associated with the service itself helps to learn what best resonates with certain audiences. Awareness of the challenges of traditional means facilitates solutions and improves the advantages of the alternative to better suit consumer expectations.  

One Big Hurdle: Making the Virtual More Tangible

Any new digitalization must prove itself as a real value to consumers’ lives. The physical purchase has a tangible component which is challenging to obtain with streaming. If you cancel a subscription, the service no longer exists (or now includes ads after every few songs or videos). The fragmented experience of streaming altered the expectation from ownership to access (Micken, Roberts, & Oliver, 2020). Kirk and Swain (2018) recognized that physical versus digital entertainment products are an innately different experience both fulfilling the same need; therefore, consumer media habits must benefit by one over the other in order to commit to its use. 

Companies are aware of the disconnect created by selling a service as opposed to tangible items. Different strategies are implemented from behavioral economics to trigger a stronger feeling of ownership. One common concept frequently tapped into is known as the endowment effect, which suggests consumers value items more when they personally own it (Knutson et al., 2008). To trigger the endowment effect, companies try to make the experience as personalized as possible. By insinuating the consumer is associated with the service, it suggests the platform tells something consumer identity. Further, the personalization implies a sense of ownership over the service. For example, offering a three-month free trial taps into the endowment effect by making the service actually available for consumers to use.  Not only does this offer allow consumers to get familiar with the platform, but the interactions give consumers more of a reason to stay. Getting hooked on a new series or creating personalized playlists continues that feeling of ownership, even in a virtual environment. This particular strategy also makes the endowment effect more apparent by setting a limit. After the three months are up, consumers either have to downgrade or start to pay the cost. Having a designated cutoff forces the consumer to be aware of the loss potential of the service. This makes the endowment effect more apparent since consumers have lived the experience of using a streaming service, thus creating a sense of ownership.

Utilizing these strategies from behavioral economics helps companies to encourage service adoption, but the value in keeping the consumer engaged is inherent in the design. Customer retention and increased satisfaction creates brand loyalty, thus making it easier to listen and consider the consumer response. To see what causes certain consumer responses, marketing research can help to analyze behaviors and understand intentionality of the viewer.

The Media Marathon

When investigating media testing, it’s important to consider all the components that make up the final product. Each medium, from advertisements to movies, includes a multitude of variabilities which can impact the experience. It is important to reflect on the overall message of the media research to build a research question addressing key objectives. Commonly explored areas of media testing include attention, affect, memory, and desirability which are constructs used to determine effectiveness. Further, traditional measures, such as self-reports or interviews, can address measures of liking or excitability (Venkatraman et al., 2015). By leveraging the different sources of information from market research, content creators and marketing teams can gain insights into what is engaging the viewer. How entertaining is the experience? Did the viewer notice the call to action at the branding moment? Is the storyline memorable? Behavioral, psychological, neuroscientific, and traditional tools can create more informed decisions to improve the final product and determine what components are enhancing or hindering the desired effect. By collecting the appropriate behavioral data, psychophysiological research, or conducting survey research, the consumer perception of the particular media experience can be revealed. The table below shares some useful methodologies to integrate with media testing from Venkatraman et al. (2015).

ToolFunctionThe Media Advantage
Heart rate/heart rate variability (HR/HRV)Records the electrical activity of the heart through skin electrodesProvides insight into motivation, emotional arousal, and attention
Electroencephalography (EEG)Records the brain’s synaptic waves in volts across its surface to examine brain functions and responsesQuantifies brain states such as cognitive load, engagement, or motivation about an experience
Galvanic Skin Response (GSR)Measures changes in skin conductanceProvides insight into engagement, intensity, and excitement
Facial Electromyography (fEMG)Measures electrical pulses in facial muscle activityRecords positive and negative emotional valences
Eye trackingCaptures visual attention via gaze behaviorIdentifies visual patterns, areas of focus, and the sequence of visual events
Implicit MeasuresMeasures the strength of associations among conceptsUnderstanding consumer perceptions reveals facets such as brand affinity, attitudes towards stimuli, and emotional valence

This table reflects just a few of the many innovative tools which can be used to advance media testing. Designing a study to best answer the research question involves considering all the different tools available to know which is the most appropriate to utilize. Interest in stopping power may need different assessments than evaluations on branding moment or overall attention. By developing a strong research question, the insights can help not only the developers, but the end-viewers as well.

Time is of the Essence

Time is a very valuable resource for companies and consumers. Now more than ever, it’s crucial to create engaging media content to truly have your message received by the viewers. The end-design must best reflect the consumer, or they will just find other content libraries in the vast streaming market. This competitive landscape of media and entertainment pushes the quality of the content to be innovative and engaging. To make that consumer connection, learning about what shapes attitudes, behaviors, and preferences is key to having a successful media campaign. So, the takeaway for mastering the ever-changing consumer media consumption is really quite simple: in order to grow, you have to know. By collecting quality data, an opportunity is created to design a strong, valuable message or service with a lasting effect.   

If you are interested in learning more about how HCD Research can elevate your media testing, please contact Allison Gutkowski at Allison.gutkowski@hcdi.net.

References:

Kirk, C. P., & Swain, S. D. (2018). Consumer psychological ownership of digital technology. In Psychological ownership and consumer behavior (pp. 69-90). Springer, Cham.

Knutson, B., Wimmer, G. E., Rick, S., Hollon, N. G., Prelec, D., & Loewenstein, G. (2008). Neural antecedents of the endowment effect. Neuron58(5), 814-822.

Micken, K. S., Roberts, S. D., & Oliver, J. D. (2020). The digital continuum: the influence of ownership, access, control, and Cocreation on digital offerings. AMS Review10(1), 98-115.

Venkatraman, V., Dimoka, A., Pavlou, P. A., Vo, K., Hampton, W., Bollinger, B., … & Winer, R. S. (2015). Predicting advertising success beyond traditional measures: New insights from neurophysiological methods and market response modeling. Journal of Marketing Research52(4), 436-452.

Making Claims that Stick: Webinar Panel Recap

The world of wellness can be complicated to navigate as new products and players are constantly entering the market. From the consumer perspective, wellness involves actively making choices towards a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle. This is done by continuously learning how to create a lifestyle to fit specific needs and values. Wellness products may include self-care habits, such as gym weights, mindfulness apps, or aromatherapy diffusers, to aiding recovery through lotions, supplements, or weighted blankets. With the wellness space continuously growing, marketers are trying to find ways to differentiate from competitors by highlighting a special ingredient or benefit. For these claims to be successful, they must not only resonate with the consumer but also adhere to regulatory standards such as validation through clinical or efficacy research. Having strong, validated claims satisfies consumer needs, business objectives, and cross functional priorities. 

In the webinar Making Claims that Stick: A Frank Discussion on the Science of Claims Testing in Consumer & Wellness Products, HCD’s VP of Research and Innovation, Michelle Niedziela, is joined by a roundtable of expert panelists to discuss the rules, rewards, and repercussions regarding claims research. To help get a taste for this exciting conversation, we listed out 5 key moments from the webinar. Curious to learn more about identifying a claim and how you can make one? Keep scrolling!

Keep your claims clear.

Bethia Margoshes and Kristine Wilke kick off the conversation by defining a claim and also sharing the importance of keeping any claim study focused, clear, and targeted. Although it may be enticing to try to get as much out of one study as possible, having a broad amount of data can cause muddy results and potentially create inconclusive findings. Contradictions within the research survey or design can negate the claims and create conflict if the claim is questioned.

Let the claim you are trying to make frame the research.

Dennis Sawchuk shared how claim substantiation can be proven in many different ways, depending on the type of claim being made. While literal claims may be able to use formulation proofs or chemistry research to provide evidence, other claims may require consumer input for descriptive analysis to help prove the claims. Space between different types of claims, such as nutritional or functional, can get complicated quicky. Using resources such as the Significant Scientific Agreement standard (SSA) or the qualified health claims may guide the research to better address any overlap by learning about the general consensus within the literature.  Having data to support a claim is important in order to understand the full extent of the safety and efficacy within the specific research findings.

Make sure to define your terms.

The nuances in the wording of the claim can make or break its impact (and its legitimacy). Clearly defining the intended response of the product allows the claims research to better address the effects in question. Michelle Niedziela brings up the example of different ways to use the term “relax”—does the product promote relaxation? Cause relaxation? Maybe the product relaxes the consumer. Each of these three claims has distinct differences, and thus requires unique research approaches to prove the benefit. Once the core team creates a list of potential claim options, the panel agreed seeking legal or regulatory counseling to navigate which claim is most appropriate is critical. Creating a claim is a team effort among internal departments, including marketing, R&D, and legal. Internal communications and discussions avoid something being overlooked. Martha Bajec reminds everyone to reflect on the potential claim statements to make sure the product can actually deliver what the claim is stating.

Know your audience.

In setting up a claims study, the panel discussed how to be aware of the limits to the claim. Consumer segmentation should be discussed prior to running any studies and will influence how the claims study is set up. Exploring demographic distributions, such as age or gender, is important to justify by explaining the rationale behind why the claim is only applicable to a certain population. Bethia Margoshes suggested exploring Section 9 of the ASTM guidelines to review ways to prepare for a claims substantiation study, especially when selecting a population. As an example, Margoshes explained how the campaign “Choosy mothers choose Jif” focuses on mothers who expressed a choice (aka being choosy) rather than all mothers which would then require the inclusion of mothers who were indifferent. With this carefully crafted slogan, Jif clearly defined the subset of the population in a creative, conspicuous, and catchy way.

Anticipate a challenge from any direction.

Throughout this panel discussion, the importance of planning and preparation is emphasized. From demographics to an analysis plan, claim substantiation requires a thorough assessment of its risks. Is this claim worth investing in? Will the consumers even care about the specific benefit researched? Additionally, Bajec recommends considering any form of possible scrutiny since the claim is going to be evaluated by regulators, governing bodies, competitors, and consumers. To ensure the attention will benefit the company, the claim must deliver. Learning about what motivates the consumer will help develop impactful wording which will resonate with the target demographic. Being efficient by designing a narrow study with clear objectives will enhance the quality of the findings and create an overall more productive experience. Having a streamlined approach avoids any deception or confusion, giving reliable scientific evidence if ever needed.

The complexity surrounding claims research and industry standards can be overwhelming, but learning the best approaches to designing this type of research provides a unique opportunity to connect with consumers. Creating a straightforward design for the claims which need substantiation (or additional actions, such as clinical trials) gives both the company and the consumer confidence in the product or service. Ensuring best practices for a truthful claim is a mutually beneficial experience to be distinguishable in the marketplace and exciting for the consumer. If you are interested in connecting with Team HCD to discuss the claims research process, please contact Allison Gutkowski (Allison.Gutkowski@hcdi.net).

Word Bank of Acronyms:

FTC: Federal Trade Commission 

FDA: Food and Drug Administration

FDC: Federal Data Corporation

FD&C: Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act

ASTM: American Society for Testing and Materials

SSA: Significant Scientific Agreement

SSP: Society for Sensory Professionals

It depends, and it’s complicated… What the Health?!

The health and wellness sector has demonstrated tremendous growth over the past few years, which has encouraged brands to explore the space more in depth to meet consumer expectations. Although the market is expanding rapidly to meet demand, entering the health and wellness space is not as simple as it may appear at first glance. The innovation in this market category requires not only a well-thought-out approach but also consumer trust. The healthcare and overall health of the consumer should be at the forefront of decisions while developing the products, packaging and communications.  Consumers interested in integrating mindful products into their everyday lives entrust companies to conduct quality research in order to make informed decisions about the items or ingredients representing the brand. Breaking down the target consumer, ethical and legal concerns, and ways to execute a strong research plan are just an overview of the many components involved in the health and wellness space. To gain more insights, advice and examples about this topic, check out HCD’s webinar “What the Health?! Consumer Research in the Wellness Market” presented by Michelle Niedziela, PhD and Martha Bajec, PhD. 

The Conscious Consumer

The health and wellness category is an umbrella term for a lot of items: vitamins, supplements, stationaries, creams, smoothies, blankets, etc., and this market continues to expand as more and more products pivot to somehow address mental and physical wellbeing. Looking to find ways to curb the stress and anxiety, a specific group in the market is emerging—the conscious consumer. Some characteristics include being interested in holistic approaches to healthcare and actively engaged in preventative opposed to reactive strategies. Additionally, the conscious consumer has an awareness of environmental impacts sown into this narrative, since the objective to optimize health and wellbeing extends to the notion of a clean, natural, and sustainable lifestyle. (You can hear Michelle touch more on the profile of the conscious consumer here). Through those purchase behaviors, the conscious consumer is taking control of personal health by focusing on long-term benefits via small, consistent decisions. 

The attention put towards product decisions to help consumers best achieve health and wellbeing goals involves marketers listening to those new needs. Consumers are taking an interest in understanding the ingredients within a product and knowing the benefits or limitations of a service. The behavioral shift in priorities to focus on self-care requires marketers and developers to adjust the products to better serve their audience. Through careful planning and consideration, highlighting specific values of products can shift expectations. Recognizing the fast pace of most consumers’ lives should be reflected on products, packages or communications. Consumers want information shared in a concise manner, while still being informative. Learning how to communicate with the target demographic through strategies such as simple language or clear infographics can keep consumers engaged; however, misleading messaging can lead to negative consequences.

A Note on Ethics

Consumer research in the health and wellness market depends on clear definitions of terms and uses. Unfortunately, the wide spectrum of goods and services within this category results in a vague definition of what is dictated as market or clinical research. Wellness items can be categorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a food, food additive, cosmetic, dietary supplement or drug (Dronkers, Krist, Van Overveld & Rijkers, 2018). The regulations and requirements that must be upheld legally are based on how the product is labeled. If the product is intended to treat a disease or disorder, clinical trials are required by the FDA, while items considered a dietary supplement may not need the same level of consent.

Other government organizations, like the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), are predicted to follow the FDA’s lead by placing regulations on some health and wellness products such as probiotics (Aleixandre-Tudó, Castelló-Cogollos, Aleixandre, & Aleixandre-Benavent, 2019). However, since requirements currently vary depending on how the product is categorized, companies themselves must reflect on the specific intentions of the product. The safety of the consumer is imperative when considering if it could be perceived as a potential treatment. The fundamental questions about the type, the intention and the claims of the product truly impact the making and marketing of it. By reflecting on the specific product details, the research question can cater to major concerns and result in stronger, more valuable findings.  

Companies must uphold a level of accountability when a claim is made to meet the standards of government agencies and consumers. Legal ramifications may result from an improper claim while trying to fit into the niche market of health and wellness. From R&D, to branding, to packaging, the product should uphold a level of efficacy as a viable option for consumers. Scientific evidence can create strong proof to guide the exploration. As noted by Michelle here, “This allusiveness creates both opportunity for people to create new products, but also confusion for companies looking to take advantage of the wellness movement.” While it may be challenging to distinguish prevention from treatment, it’s crucial to take concern over the type of claim being made and strategize how to best describe a product authentically.

How Would You Measure It?

Trying to introduce a new product or reposition the brand into the health and wellness space involves a lot of uncertainty. Yet, there are many potential avenues to explore as a means to test and adjust the product, package or communications prior to making a full launch. The best research options are subjective based on the type of product being tested as well as the question being asked. Luckily, a lot of tools and research methods are available, making it feasible to determine the best methods for your particular question.

Consumers perceive and process cues differently based on context and experience; therefore, reactions can vary from certain sample populations. Selecting the target demographic is a really important decision because external factors (i.e. health, age, sex, etc.) make it challenging to minimize confounds. While keeping a tight sample of participants is always the best, it is important to be realistic during recruitment.  Seeking out “unicorns” may be great for a directional exploration but may be unrealistic for claims research since the sample size may be too low. Considering time, objectives, and budget constraints can help determine the best recruitment route for health and wellness research.

Health and wellness research can include something as simple as a survey or an interview to the use of psychophysiological tools or eye tracking and be as involved as collecting blood or urine samples. The location of the research is dependent on the methodology utilized. Some research opportunities permit home use tests (HUT) to learn about the product performance and evaluation in a natural usage environment. More invasive research will need to involve a clinical research organization (CRO) to help manage the study, whereas a market research facility may be acceptable for higher-level, noninvasive experiments. Revisiting how the product is being used can help determine the level of granularity necessary within the research design. Furthermore, the potential need for an ethics committee such as an Independent Review Board (IRB), a Research Ethics Committee (REC) or a General Medical Council (GMC) should also be considered when making a research plan. By having the information about the protocol organized and structured early in the exploration phase, it will eventually help promote a better understanding of the measured effect.

Jiving with the Concept

The possibilities are endless when it comes to researching novel avenues within health and wellness. Part of the fun in researching new ideas within product, packaging and communications is recognizing the endless possibilities (for better or for worse). Particular goods or services may fit directly in the “wellness world,” while others try to blend in through small, meaningful pivots. Keeping a pulse on consumer preferences helps to determine if that particular innovation is actually worth pursuing. Martha summarizes this point beautifully here in stating, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Make sure the extra health benefit is enticing to consumers. Chasing a health halo, aka overestimating the healthfulness and wellbeing of an item based on its appearance or communications, may be displeasing to the consumer if the experience doesn’t meet the expectation. For example, if you are craving a greasy bag of chips after a long day, indulging in a package advertising a new recipe with 70% less saturated fat may be less satisfying. Learn what values of the product are important to the consumer and emulate those characteristics in the packaging and communications. To put it simply: grow with the consumer, rather than against them. 

The New Product 2.0+

It is safe to say consumers want more from products. From Goldfish Veggie Crackers containing a third serving of vegetables to Dr. Organic Extra Whitening Charcoal Toothpaste, consumers want the product to solve additional deficiencies. Pushing multipurpose items as a way to solve some problems allows for an easy opportunity to address consumer values. If cream can act as a moisturizer while also having SPF in it, then two pain points are being addressed in one product. However, it is important to consider consumer needs and ask if consumers will agree with merging two items. Researching consumer interest, likability, or believability may help prevent spending a lot of money on a product that flops in market. Throughout the research process, it is important to periodically take a moment to reflect on the goals and accomplishments needed to succeed.

Martha brings up an easy way to start your thought-process on wellness product innovation. She suggests considering the downstream effect by thinking about how these products may be used by your friends and family. The product itself, as well as the claims or packaging, is relied on by the consumer to uphold its promises. By conducting the best research feasible and creating a strong end product, consumers’ validation will prove itself through longevity and loyalty in buying behavior.

For great examples of the complexities within the health and wellness space and where this field is going next, please listen to Michelle and Martha chat more in depth in our “What the Health?!” webinar available on Youtube! Additionally, if you are interested in conducting research within the dynamic space of health and wellness, please contact Allison Gutkowski (Allison.Gutkowski@hcdi.net).   


References:

Dronkers, T. M. G., Krist, L., Van Overveld, F. J., & Rijkers, G. T. (2018). The ascent of the blessed: Regulatory issues on health effects and health claims for probiotics in Europe and the rest of the world. Beneficial microbes9(5), 717-723.

Aleixandre-Tudó, J. L., Castelló-Cogollos, L., Aleixandre, J. L., & Aleixandre-Benavent, R. (2019). Tendencies and Challenges in Worldwide Scientific Research on Probiotics. Probiotics and antimicrobial proteins, 1-13.

The Neuroimaging Games: Who will come out on top?

Neuroimaging tools offer a lot of information by providing insight into the structure and function of the nervous system. The concept of functional neuroimaging involves creating several images of the brain to identify changes over time. Neuroimaging allows researchers to analyze the structure, function and pharmacology of the brain. The techniques and methods vary based on the research goals, but some neuroimaging tools are becoming more mainstream for commercial use. It’s important to have conversations about the drawbacks and limitations of neuroimaging, since the technology continues to advance as researchers seek out best practices for understanding the brain. Productive discussions about benefits and limitations promote good ideas to help make improvements and really find out if one champions the rest.   

Neuroimaging can be divided into two approaches of exploring neural firing: a direct measure recording electrical activity and an indirect measurement which subscribes to the assumption increased blood flow and metabolic responses are a result of neural activity (Bunge & Kahn, 2009). Electroencephalography (EEG) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) are techniques which directly measure electrical activity in the brain, while methods such as positron emission tomography (PET), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) detect increased blood flow and metabolic activity as a means of indirectly measuring brain activity. Reviewing the technology available for a comprehensive understanding of the various approaches to viewing brain activity gives insight into current capabilities, as well as conceptualizes how the field can progress. Diving into both direct and indirect measures of neuroimaging will help determine which (if any) of these tools are best applicable to certain research designs.  

Straight Shot: Direct Measures of Neuroimaging

EEG is valued for its ability to record neural activity in real time. While it is sometimes debated if EEG qualifies as neuroimaging since it does not take a snapshot of the brain, the technology can provide a graphical representation of brain activity allowing it to qualify as a neuroimaging modality. Furthermore, advanced quantitative EEG (qEEG) provides a visual representation of neurofeedback (Figure 1). How does it work? The net flow of electrical current is determined using electrical dipoles which helps to give a global context of different brain states (Bunge & Kahn, 2009). Similarly, the electrical activity occurring in the brain is used to determine the magnetic field during an MEG (Figure 2). The scan both detects and amplifies the magnetic signals and develops a magnetic source image which shows any abnormal activity in the brain. MEG and EEG can have high temporal sampling rates, with MEG reaching as fast as 1200 samples per second (hertz) and EEG being anywhere from 250-2000 hertz, depending on the type of headset used (Boto et al., 2019). Commercial-grade EEG headsets are available to the public with prices ranging from as little as $200 to well over $25,000. The prices vary based on how many electrodes are included in the cap. MEG scanners cost upwards of 2 million dollars each, and renting the equipment is an hourly rate of a few hundred dollars. While cheaper EEG sets may be tempting to utilize, it is important to consider the quality of the output if limited sensors are used.    

Figure 1: A pictorial representation of brain activity being mapped via qEEG  from Penrod (2018).

Source localization, or knowing where the signal is coming from, is a big drawback when using direct neuroimaging measures. EEG and MEG struggle to isolate the precise origin of the signal. Using an academic-grade EEG cap permits more sampling from neurons than MEG; however, it struggles to get a clear signal due to the interaction with the skull and scalp. Additionally, the mesh cap required for an EEG cannot have the muscles move around the head because it increases inaccurate data referred to as artifact. Magnetic fields are unaffected by the skull and scalp; thus, making MEG a better option for localization between the two direct measures, but not by much. The sensitivity to poor spatial resolution is hard to resolve; however, if the research aims to achieve a global understanding of the brain with a strong temporal reading, either EEG or MEG may be the preferred neuroimaging option.

Figure 2: MEG set up for recording magnetic fields to explore brain activity. 

Winding Around for a Winning Way: Indirect Measures of Neuroimaging

Indirect brain imaging involves a few different approaches. The BOLD response (blood oxygen level dependent) is the standard technique used in fNIRS and MRI technology. When neurons need oxygen to be replenished, as messages are being communicated throughout the body, a protein in our blood called hemoglobin delivers the oxygen to neural activation sites. This type of response is referred to as a hemodynamic response (Bunge & Kahn, 2009). Measuring levels of oxygenated hemoglobin is collected by both MRI and fNIRS; however, it is in different ways. The MRI records the magnetic field difference when blood changes from oxygenated to deoxygenated, while NIRS reports on cerebral oxygenation, blood flow and metabolic activity of regions in the brain by reviewing the absorption of light.

The fNIRS methodology came along in 1977 by Frans Jöbsis at Duke University. Professor Jöbsis measured oxygen levels to analyze neural activity and hemodynamic responses (Quaresima & Ferrari, 2019). Light is used in fNIRS to gain information about blood volume, flow and oxygenation by either being absorbed into, transmitted through, reflected off, or scattered into a medium (such as skin, bones, etc.). Optical technology sends infrared light into the tissue and reports on the light that is scattered back. The difference between the original intensity of the light emitted compared to the amount returned gives insight into concentration of oxygenated and deoxygenated blood and brain activity levels (Quaresima & Ferrari, 2019). This methodology detects concentration changes in light absorption (aka the amount of oxygenated or deoxygenated blood at that moment). By obtaining concentrations over time, the images project neural activation responding to stimuli which results in an increased blood flow to the activated area. A compelling reason to use fNIRS is also due to its ability to differentiate between deoxygenated and oxygenated blood; however, it is accomplished through differences in optical properties.

Figure 3: An example of an fNIRS set-up with the cap.

Other indirect imaging includes PET scans which work by detecting gamma rays via a radioactive tracer. PET scans provide visual information about biochemical changes in    neurotransmitters through the metabolic activity of cells in body tissue. However, PET scans are extremely expensive, have poor temporal resolution and require a radioactive injection (Bunge & Kahn, 2009). Due to the need to remain completely still during this test,  certain populations may not be the best candidates, such as children or patients with uncontrollable movement (i.e. Parkinson’s disease). The motion tolerance obstacles hold true for fMRI as well, since it requires participants to remain completely stationary in a narrow tube, sometimes leading to the onset of anxiety, dizziness or claustrophobia. The fMRI scan creates images by using magnetic fields and pulses of radio wave energy. Since the fMRI acts as a giant magnet, it is also unsafe for individuals with implants. The fNIRS method is an up-and-coming technology to make neuroimaging a more naturalistic and comfortable experience (Figure 3). Optode sensors on fNIRS technology are intentionally tight on the scalp, to minimize movement, yet it still allows participants to fidget or walk without major interruptions to the recording (Quaresima & Ferrari, 2019). The freedom to stand during an fNIRS procedure opens doors for the exploratory neurofeedback of more realistic and interactive research.

Let’s Get Deep: The Truth about Neuroimaging

While the expansions in neuroimaging technology are very exciting, the limitations of what can actually be accomplished must be at the forefront of any research conversation. Neuroscientists are often excited by the concept of mapping the brain as a means to link neural activity to subjective experiences (i.e. emotions). It does sound enticing to use a neuroimaging scan to suggest certain mechanisms are associated with XYZ, but it can undermine the complexity of the brain. Overemphasizing one mechanism’s function can make the idea of mindreading seem not too far off, but to be clear: no measure discussed in this blog has the ability to read anyone’s mind. It is important to recall how areas of the brain have multiple uses which may result in contradictory functions. Activation and inhibition are constantly occurring in the brain for a multitude of reasons that may or may not include the emotional stimuli being researched. Additionally, variability among individuals makes it even more challenging to promote such claims. These tools have a space to truly give unique insights into the brain’s interconnectedness, but researchers must be cautioned to not rely on any one tool to give the full picture… (pun intended).  

Additionally, collecting data may be hindered based on the neuroimaging tool used. Specific brain areas, depending on the equipment being used, are much harder to read than others due to penetration depth. For example, fNIRS can only read roughly 1.5 cm into the cortex. Places such as the forehead and top of the head are easiest to get signals from with fNIRS, but it cannot reach deeper brain areas such as the cingulate cortex or the olfactory cortex (Quaresima & Ferrari, 2019). The MRI scan can measure deep brain structures that fNIRS is unable to achieve without major artifact. EEG is also capable of having signal depth of the whole brain; however, it can easily be clouded by noise and electrical crosstalk. EEG has more flexibility than MEG in terms of recording capabilities, since MEG requires the recording activity to be parallel to the surface of the brain, limiting where information is picked up (Boto, 2019). PET scans can also retrieve information encompassing the whole brain; however, images can be misinterpreted based on how the tracer reacts to inflammatory conditions, high blood sugar and small tumors.     

Among the Neuroimaging Nominees—Who’s the Winner? 

While comparing the different potential methodologies, each technology has a lot of limitations and benefits. The PET scan is the most expensive and invasive protocol discussed, requiring additional compensation for its nuclear component. The MEG data easily merges with anatomical fMRI or EEG scans to give a comprehensive analysis of brain activity; however, MEG lacks versatility to measure different head shapes and explore naturalistic paradigms (Boto et al., 2019). Although fMRI has similar restraints, it can indicate complex patterns of neuroclassification, activation trends across populations and determine engrossing stimuli. It also has greater signal depth and special resolution compared to fNIRS. Due to the optical technology, fNIRS can only evaluate the surface, therefore having a fast temporal reaction to fMRI. Yet, the BOLD response is slower than EEG, which analyzes electrical impulses in muscle activity, but has much higher sensitivity to noise. fMRI is also prone to statistical biases and noise from the machine, or brain activity can corrupt the data.

For multimodality studies, fNIRS may be the best option due to its portability and cost-efficient characteristics. The fNIRS machine has relatively few accessories and is easily transported. Additionally, fNRIS is an excellent option to test challenging populations such as infants, people with implants, or those with special needs. The ability to move around also affords a naturalistic experimental paradigm where participants can be embedded in real scenarios rather than conformed to a tube. Improvements to fNIRS are still being engineered to make the headgear lighter and more comfortable. Some obstacles when trying to record with fNIRS include running participants with thicker and darker hair, like dreads, because it interferes with the sensor reading. The back of participants’ heads, where hair is most dense, can also be a challenging area to get a strong sensor reading. fNIRS is also easily integrated with fMRI, EEG, PET or event-related potential to compensate for the lack of anatomical information and spatial resolution (Quaresima & Ferrari, 2019).  

Deciding among the various neuroimaging scans truly does depend on the type of research being conducted. Many oncology patients must undergo a PET scan as a means of learning the status of potential tumors, while other populations may be hesitant to undergo imaging involving radiation. Furthermore, if the research is seeking a similar tool to fMRI, but has a smaller budget, fNRIS may be a better fit. The cost of neuroimaging can be a major deterrent, making equipment such as fMRI, PET and MEG less feasible in consumer research. By asking questions not only about the neuroimaging applications, but also context of the research question, determining the correct approach will emerge. Neuroimaging technology is progressing and becoming more prevalent by expanding from universities and hospitals to industries such as marketing, entertainment, public health and communications. The expansion into new disciplines encourages refining existing methods while also increasing opportunities to critically think about the value of the data compared to the expense of the research. Making sure the new technological advancements bring additional value to the project is imperative to ensure sophisticated analysis of the data that is validated and interpreted with confidence.       

References:

Boto, E., Seedat, Z. A., Holmes, N., Leggett, J., Hill, R. M., Roberts, G., … & Barnes, G. R. (2019). Wearable neuroimaging: combining and contrasting magnetoencephalography and electroencephalography. NeuroImage201, 116099.

Bunge, S. A., & Kahn, I. (2009). Cognition: An overview of neuroimaging techniques.

Penrod, J. M. (2018). Innovating the Mind: Three Essays on Technology, Society, and Consumer Neuroscience (Doctoral dissertation, Virginia Tech).

Quaresima, V., & Ferrari, M. (2019, September). A mini-review on functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS): where do we stand, and where should we go?. In Photonics (Vol. 6, No. 3, p. 87). Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute.

Augmented Reality

The term augmented reality (AR) originally may have been overshadowed in the public eye by virtual reality (VR); however, its technology is more frequently being intertwined in everyday life. Apps like Pokémon GO and IKEA Place are filling our phones with content equipped with AR technology to help elevate its use. AR adds new components into a space of pre-existing objects in the real world. Blending physical and virtual worlds in real-time further simulates an immersive environment, making applications of AR valuable to marketers, educators, entertainers, and engineers. Funding for research is a promising inkling into the growth of AR technology, with the industry expected to reach $7.9 billion by 2023 globally (Caboni & Hagberg, 2019). Implementing AR into research has a lot of potential, thus having a foundational understanding of what it is and how it impacts research designs is vital for fresh innovation.   

How does augmented reality work?

AR can be defined as a form of mixed reality which aligns both real and virtual objects within the same dimensions of space and time (Van Krevelen & Poelman, 2010). Most people associate AR with changing the visual environment; however, when reality is being augmented, it is not confined to one sensory experience. Visuals, sounds, vibrational movements and smells can all contribute to an augmented reality. The original intention of AR use was for fields such as the military, medicine and industry, but it has now expanded to gaming, retail and commerce (Caboni & Hagberg, 2019).

VR covers every pixel within a visual environment (creating an entirely new environment separate from reality), while AR enhances the natural current environment with the superposition of additional context, such as music or text (and can include any number of sensory environmental additions from audible to visual, smell, taste, and haptics). AR may overlay a video-feed of reality, share the real-world perception with transparent filters and/or project AR onto real displays (Van Krevelen & Poelman, 2010). The displays are projected via headpieces, cellphones, tablets, laptops, or projectors (such as flashlights, holographs, etc.). The versatility of AR inspires a lot of potential opportunities to deliver a valuable experience within multiple disciplines.

Possibilities Are Endless

Developing simple and easy integration of AR into daily life helps make the technology more ubiquitous. Currently the three main applications of augmented reality are online, in-store and mobile:

  • Online: The use of a webcam allows consumers to scan both their bodies and movements to have a virtual fitting-room. Consumers can immediately see the look of the outfits on the screen and have the agency to change sizes, colors, and styles quickly. Zenni Optical has a “Virtual Try-On” which integrates pupil distance information to display how frame styles look on consumers’ faces. By taking a 3D picture, consumers can view the different frames scaled to fit. 
  • In-store: To engage consumers while in the store, videos and projectors are used to personalize the experience via AR. Cosmetic brands, such as Sephora, superimpose different make-up products on consumers via an “augmented mirror.” Similarly, dressing rooms with AR technology have been adopted by retail stores. The “augmented mirror” allows consumers to visualize how potential new clothes look on their bodies without changing their initial outfits. With the augmented mirror, the consumer can mix and match outfits from the store’s inventory, compare pictures of different clothes and share potential choices quickly with friends (Caboni & Hagberg, 2019). Having an AR in-store experience is interactive, informative and versatile, giving consumers ease in exploring a multitude of options in an efficient manner.   
  • Mobile Augmented Reality (MAR): Most consumers utilize a smartphone, camera, or tablet within their daily lives. Many companies turned to mobile apps as a way to connect with consumers more intimately. With the AR technology embedded in the app, consumers can try products in the places where they will be utilized, whether that be trying on an outfit at home or buying new décor for an office space. Self-augmentation increases the interaction the brand has with the consumer (Caboni & Hagberg, 2019). Snapchat has monetized on MAR by offering sponsored filters from companies ranging from Applebee’s Bar and Grill to Disney’s Frozen II. These initiatives break down the barrier between the brand and a consumer’s personal space, thus making it easier to integrate an item from a store to home.  

The three main approaches of augmented reality are applicable to many industries. Doctors use AR for training and operating purposes, while it provides patients with medicine reminders (Chen et al., 2019). AR navigation or warning displays guide individuals through a visitor experience in places like historic sites to large malls (Van Krevelen & Poelman, 2010). Retail also uses AR to share a plethora of information about any product without even opening the package. Additionally, the technology allows consumers to explore multiple products in various styles quickly while giving companies an idea of which features are preferred.

What does AR look like in Marketing Research?

The goal when exploring any new technology for market research focuses on whether its application can help better understand consumers. Integrating AR with qualitative research, such as a shop-along, allows for a full, uninterrupted experience of consumer decisions. Insight into consumer preference is also easily done with AR research since different prototypes can be redesigned quickly. Likewise, getting data on predominant categories selected from augmented facts or values about a product can give an indication of consumers points of concern. As a new form of research, AR will only continue to become more prevalent as technology advances and consumers are normalized to it. Furthermore, the balance of entertainment, education, esthetic and escapism promotes consistent engagement during AR experiences, thus encouraging market researchers to dive into its applications in research design.

Market research can easily utilize AR for exposure to various stimuli without changing the physical environment. An empty space is a blank canvas for anything to be programmed into an AR device for researchers to build upon. Using the AR system ensures each condition is presented uniformly from the same perspective. Product development and concept testing can be effectively created and brought to life via AR, providing a feel of the product in relationship to the environment. Furthermore, AR sets the stage for exploring multiple conditions easily. Rather than create several physical prototypes of a package, AR can program different stimuli for the participant to experience quickly. Imagine- shelf testing may not need to include shelves! The changes can range from small adjustments to entirely new designs. These conveniences streamline translating research findings into plans for improvement, while also saving time and energy dedicated to the framework set-up.

Some forms of AR research can also be done remotely, affording participants the opportunity to experience certain stimuli in intimate environments, such as their homes. The boundaries between the participant and location of use dissolves in this application. Being in a more natural space may encourage participants to provide feedback more comfortably. Furthermore, by overlapping real and virtual worlds, consumers can easily manipulate where the virtual product is placed. Having the environmental context fit the participant’s real lifestyle helps determine if a product or concept fits or disrupts established preferences. Pairing AR with other additional qualitative or quantitative research methods allows researchers to further evaluate behavior and reactions of various stimuli from a new perspective.   

Hearing out some Hesitations

Misuse of any technology can result in negative consequences. Reality is compromised to a degree when using AR, which can result in causing individuals to be less vigilant in acknowledging their surroundings. Additionally, augmented components may distract from reality. Alarms or car horns can easily be confused with augmented features, which could be detrimental for research and take away from the intended experience. Having a third party to supervise may be a helpful precaution; however, that is not always feasible. Informative concept forms and disclaimers should be utilized prior to the AR experience to remind users of the potential dangers. Like with anything, the overuse of AR in extreme cases can lead to disassociation of reality. Finding a healthy balance in understanding personal habits will make introducing AR into certain components of life a safe and easy transition. Considerations for usage should be considered when developing a screener for a research project including AR.

Since the implementation of AR on popular platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram, AR has become generally socially acceptable; however, it may have some critics concerned about privacy and data breaches. These concerns must also be addressed when recruiting participants.

Unfortunate technical drawbacks of AR also include requiring higher accuracy, wider input variety and longer ranges when compared to other virtual environments (Van Krevelen & Poelman, 2010). Depth perception is a challenge within the interface while developing the graphics. Consideration for programming and developing the correct type of immersion does not come cheap. The technical expertise of programing AR designs can be cost prohibitive, especially if it involves an intricate design. Determining the value AR may bring to a company is subjective based on the objectives in integrating this novel technology.

The response to implementing AR into different industries or the use of AR in market research can be analyzed with various psychological tools, such as an implicit association test or a self-assessment manikin (SAM). Advancements in AR research also suggests integrations of applied consumer science technology, such as eye tracking or heart rate. Using these tools can elevate research exploration as well as consumer responses to novel technology.

Concluding Thoughts

AR seeks to enhance the user experience by providing tools to make theoretical situations easier to comprehend. Whether used by researchers or consumers, AR gives stimulation testing a new medium. Learning consumer preference and behavior for companies to digest encourages future innovations. AR builds a personalized relationship with the user, ultimately increasing engagement.

The future of AR is budding, with new progressions making the technology more adoptable. For instance, hardware is evolving to make headsets more user-friendly. Other potential opportunity designs include merging AR and VR together to create a device capable of alternating between VR and AR. Product development, packaging testing, concept testing and other facets of the consumer experience can benefit from the integration of AR. Multiple iterations of a stimuli can be designed faster to improve existing prototypes, while combining AR with projective research gives consumers the opportunity to virtually create their ideal products for the R+D team to build upon. Interacting in the AR environment brings the user closer to the augmented object, whether it be a consumer product or experience. The growing trend of AR will continue to bring about creative content to interact with users and ultimately strengthen a relationship through convenient, exciting and valuable engagement.

To learn about innovative ways HCD can help you design strong research methodologies to connect with consumers, please contact Allison Gutkowski (Allison.Gutkowski@hcdi.net)


References:

Caboni, F., & Hagberg, J. (2019). Augmented reality in retailing: a review of features, applications and value. International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management.

Chen, Y., Wang, Q., Chen, H., Song, X., Tang, H., & Tian, M. (2019, June). An overview of augmented reality technology. In Journal of Physics: Conference Series (Vol. 1237, No. 2, p. 022082). IOP Publishing.

Van Krevelen, D. W. F., & Poelman, R. (2010). A survey of augmented reality technologies, applications and limitations. International journal of virtual reality9(2), 1-20.

The Three R’s Pushing Consumers’ Eco-Friendly Carts

as seen in INsights mag

From plant-based burgers to paper straws, environmental initiatives are expanding to meet the demands of the conscious consumer. Indirect suggestions known as behavioral nudges emphasize positive characteristics, such as eco-friendliness, to impact the decision-making process. Yet, do consumers prioritize environmental incentives enough to break pre-existing routines? How can marketers encourage consumers to value eco-efficient products? Exploring the gap between what consumers say and do may provide some context into the intentionality behind the shopping experience and reveal if marketers are polluting or promoting a greener lifestyle.  

Behavioral economics utilizes theories from psychology and economics to focus on how consumers act when confronted with decisions under certain circumstances. In recognizing human idiosyncrasies, patterns in consumer behavior emerge as systematic, thus making it easier to understand what influences them. By applying nudging tactics, certain components of a product be can highlighted. Using the lens of positive environmental benefits to solidify a purchase, the value of nudging is explored.   

Reduce (Options)

Simple labeling nudges are used on packaging to streamline a decision. Association influence is seen in the “halo effect” where consumers assume additional unrelated characteristics about a product based on its overall impression. As a form of confirmation bias, the consumer interprets marketing components to affect perceptions and guide inferences about unknown information (Amos, Allred & Zhang, 2017). Assumptions are a fast way to holistically evaluate an item, even if the perceived interpretations are wrong. Furthermore, environmental packaging or labels (such as organic, fair trade and natural) promote superior associations. For example, biodegradable material is associated as a nontoxic, sustainable option, yet it can increase landfill methane gas production (Amos et al., 2017). Consumer perception drives incentive, regardless of a product’s reality. Human perception adapts quickly to comprehend the incredible amount of information it is interpreting at any given time. Mental shortcuts, known as heuristics, are employed to conserve energy. While heuristics allow consumers to respond quickly and streamline efficiency, it also results in biased decisions. Asking “Do I like brown eggs?” versus “Does eating cage-free eggs make me feel more ethically sound?” is a form of attribute substitution where consumers relate to different, simpler questions. Acknowledging mental strategies of categorization, marketers can intervene and entice consumers through subtle suggestion. 

Reuse (Positive Connotations)

Shopping is a habitual experience. Habit loops consisting of cues, routines and rewards are reinforced every time the action is repeated. By perpetuating a cycle that meets an expectation, the strength of a connection increases. Psychological tools, such as the implicit timed reaction test, analyze the strength of associations towards a product or stimulus. Companies may track the visceral perception of a brand, concept or product over time to evaluate strategic opportunities. Consumers are less likely to deviate from the norm to avoid switching costs but will evolve with the product if the perception of innovations is consumer-focused.

Green products are a specialty since alleged efforts are implemented to meet eco-efficient desires. Companies must pay to review the negative impact of energy and raw material consumption. While the expense of meeting label requirements ensures quality, some marketers take advantage of the eco-friendly associations by deceiving consumers into believing a product has environmental benefits through meaningless claims. The tactic known as “greenwashing” developed from marketers intentionally pushing suggestive eco-friendly labels as a means of tricking the consumer to attribute sustainable characteristics to a brand or product (Amos et al., 2017). Regardless of the label authenticity, green products have a high purchasing power by linking them to a subscribed concept of sustainability (Lopes & Veiga, 2019). Furthermore, personal benefits, such as saving money long-term as seen with solar panels, drive consumer engagement with prosocial action (Usrey, Palihawadana, Saridakis, & Theotokis, 2020). Social norms within messaging impact consumers behavior through context. Van Bavel et al. (2020) suggests phrases such as “the overwhelming majority of people in your community…” to persuade public response. Social proof can compel consumers to follow the majority, whether to work from home, shop online or use leftover fabric for facemasks.

Consumers justify high costs through the emotional association attached to the sustainability characteristics emphasized in the product’s presentation through the orientation of communication via packaging, ads and usage. However, the justification of a price may not equate to buying behaviors. Consumer attitudes may desire to live a greener lifestyle while still choosing the cheaper, conventional alternative. Green products compared to the conventional alternatives are associated with poorer performance. Usrey, Palihawadana, Saridakis and Theotokis (2020) suggest understated green credentials, while features such as performance are highlighted simultaneously, receive better evaluations and increase purchase intent. Determining what influences deter or attract consumers to a purchase allow the marketers to cater the product information to consistently better fit the demands of the consumer.

Recycle (Ways to Share Information)

Converting information about a product into digestible, memorable marketing is crucial to connect with consumers. Nudging accentuates features that portray certain options as superior to others. The decoy effect is one method that involves marketers intentionally displaying similar, less attractive product to increase satisfaction for a midground option. Slapø and Karevold (2019) used traffic-light symbols to explain the climate impact of each dish, which improved consumer eco-friendliness. Consumers chose the yellow option, suggesting the middle choice appears more attractive when compared to two extremes. When using three options, the decoy phenomenon is reinforced by the compromise effect, where restructuring the choice motivates consumers to commit to the perceived less risky selection, typically a middle option. The decoy effect is frequently applied to pricing structure and a certain characteristic, such as design or function. If a consumer is choosing among a generic, a hypoallergenic and a patterned band-aid, the most expensive option (with a cool design) steers the consumer to the second most expensive choice, the hypoallergenic one. Consumers are satisfied with the purchase since the asymmetry of the third patterned band aid reframed the decision, making the hypoallergenic band-aid more appealing.       

Framing is another technique which modifies information to adjust the product depiction. This technique changes consumer interpretation by highlighting a statement either positively (gained framing) or negatively (loss framing) (Tu, Kao, & Tu, 2013). For example, “Using LED lights reduces carbon emissions” provides a benefit or a gain, while “Unlike LED lights, noxious chemicals are found in florescent lights” stresses the negative of florescent lights. Choosing how to best frame energy conservation can motivate action. Perception of the value changes when differences between green and non-green products are noted since social influence, personal responsibility and environmental attitude impact consumers when evaluating items (Tu et al., 2013). Explaining how a behavior (such as buying LED) equates to certain outcomes is a persuasive messaging tactic since it mitigates risk. The decoy effect and framing nudge at elements of messaging to change perception, thus subtly effecting the consumer evaluation.

Consumer motives are influenced by knowledge and appeal. Marketing communications informs via messaging, packaging and actual product experience to strengthen consumer impressions. Adopting the eco-friendly narrative within products helps promote the acceptance of a brand and purchasing intent of a consumer with matching values. When consumers feel moral responsibility for product sustainability, it is easier to subscribe to the promotional strategies that encourage safe environmental behaviors. Through simple nudges, consumers are encouraged to expand beyond their habitual tendencies and explore new options of perceived benefits to live more environmentally conscious. As alternative means of production shift towards sustainability, it is the consumers’ buying patterns that ultimately motivate the companies to uphold greener standards. Shifting the standard of sustainability to an expectation rather than a luxury, the norm and nudges are reinforced with each point of purchase.

References:

Amos, C., Allred, A., & Zhang, L. (2017). Do biodegradable labels lead to an eco-safety halo effect? Journal of Consumer Policy40(3), 279-298.

Lopes, E. L., & Veiga, R. T. (2019). Increasing purchasing intention of eco-efficient products: the role of the advertising communication strategy and the branding strategy. Journal of Brand Management26(5), 550-566.

Slapø, H. B., & Karevold, K. I. (2019). Simple Eco-Labels to Nudge Customers Toward the Most Environmentally Friendly Warm Dishes: An Empirical Study in a Cafeteria Setting. Front. Sustain. Food Syst. 3: 40. doi: 10.3389/fsufs.

Tu, J. C., Kao, T. F., & Tu, Y. C. (2013). Influences of framing effect and green message on advertising effect. Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal41(7), 1083-1098.

Usrey, B., Palihawadana, D., Saridakis, C., & Theotokis, A. (2020). How Downplaying Product Greenness Affects Performance Evaluations: Examining the Effects of Implicit and Explicit Green Signals in Advertising. Journal of Advertising, 1-16.

Van Bavel, J. J., Baicker, K., Boggio, P. S., Capraro, V., Cichocka, A., Cikara, M., … & Drury, J. (2020). Using social and behavioural science to support COVID-19 pandemic response. Nature Human Behaviour, 1-12.

Let’s Reflect: How to Explore Personal Bias

Perception is a fundamental factor in decision making. The lens in which we live our lives influences every choice, including the choice of inaction. Decisions are grounded in the concept known as implicit bias which are attitudes or stereotypes that impact a person’s perspective and actions (FitzGerald, Martin, Berner, & Hurst, 2019). Life experiences shape these implicit associations. Therefore, as a white young woman writing this blog, it is crucial to acknowledge my innate privilege in society which factors into how I conduct research, interact with others and view the world. The goal is not to become impartial, since mental constructs are not innately bad. However, by defining implicit bias, learning about its effects as well as ways to analyze it, there is an opportunity to be proactive in mindfulness and growth.

Seeing Life Through Rose-Colored Glasses

When directly asked a question about a certain topic, it is common for people to choose the perceived “best version” of themselves. It happens all the time with New Year’s resolutions. Drinking less, exercising every day, and getting eight hours of sleep are all really great in theory, but come February, old patterns sneak back into daily life. The same limitations of introspection occur when answering a questionnaire. It is easy for a survey respondent to reject a controversial topic like race, gender or religion by assuming biases align with expectations. The misconception is caused by assuming bias and bigotry are one in the same. Implicit biases do not equate to prejudice, since the participant’s internal bias may contradict conscious preferences.

Due to the unintentionality and unawareness of implicit biases, asking someone to articulate them is extremely challenging. Without realizing it, the brain categorizes groups known as schemas constantly. Bracketing objects, concepts or people allows our brain to infer and react to future situations more efficiently (Berkman, 2018). While that is a very normal human experience, misjudgment (both positive and negative) is common due to schemas. Unfortunately, the consequences of implicit bias slipups can be grave. Therefore, the way a person reacts and behaves as a result of the implicit bias is what raises concern. 

Assessing the Damage

So how can we address implicit bias? The first step involved in discussion of implicit associations is acknowledging that everyone has them, and therefore, each person’s bias has the potential to be explored. One common psychological measure used to assess implicit bias is the concept of implicit testing. The general theory behind implicit testing is if a concept and a word match a person’s perception, there is a high association which causes a faster response compared to a word that clashes with the concept (Morley, 2019). If a concept is about broccoli, a participant may have a high association for the word “healthy” compared to the word “sweet.” Implicit testing has multiple variations which approach uncovering biases in different ways. The type of implicit testing best to utilize is dependent on the research question being investigated.

Project Implicit is a great resource for explanations on implicit bias through services such as lectures, workshops and IAT tests specific to certain social topics including gender, disability, sexuality and others. When taking this test, participants sort pictures of European or African faces with positive or negative words into groups as quickly as possible (Project Implicit, 2011). (Take Project Implicit’s IAT here!) The IAT is paired with survey and demographic questions before results are provided. The results are clearly expressed and explained, describing how the IAT determines the results based on speed of response to certain stimuli. The description of the preference includes one of four options (slight, moderate, strong or no preference) which indicates the strength of the response (see Figure 1). For a person with no association or bias, the response should remain consistent regardless of the different variables presented (Morley, 2019).   

Figure 1: An example of an output from taking Project Implicit’s Race IAT (ProjectImplicit, 2011).

IAT is linked to neural and affective processes (Devine, Forscher, Austin, & Cox, 2012). Since brains are malleable and adjust to situations constantly, the results of an implicit test will also adjust accordingly. This means that the implicit race bias of the IAT is representative of a single moment; therefore, it does not have high test-retest reliability. However, the tool has been cited for giving insights when comparing levels of implicit prejudice or stereotyping with certain populations to analyze correlations in behavior differences (FitzGerald, Martin, Berner, & Hurst, 2019).

Being immersed in a society can either reinforce or change implicit associations over time. The recent tragic event concerning George Floyd reminds us black people continue to experience discrimination and adverse outcomes compared to their white counterparts (Devine, Forscher, Austin, & Cox, 2012). Strategies and interventions are widely researched to expose implicit biases and prevent them from impacting an individual’s interactions with others (FitzGerald, Martin, Berner, & Hurst, 2019). Research suggests counter-stereotype exposure and education interventions can decrease implicit bias, thus depleting negative stereotypes (Kang, 2012). Self-understanding also allows for cognitive improvement on the topic, with research suggesting equal decision making upheld when the influence of bias is brought to the forefront of attention (Casey, Warren, & Elek, 2012). Increasing awareness and concern is a crucial component in altering the implicit bias. Through such efforts, a conversation about the principles of equality will encourage all to work towards resolving the issues of discrimination.  

The Rundown of Implicit Applications

While implicit testing has helped shed light on implicit bias of stigmatized groups, the implicit testing can also evaluate attitudes of any type of concept- person, place, thing or idea. Biases are an innate factor in how humans’ function and can help build habits, advance our ability to learn and improve the way we live. HCD commissions implicit testing to measure consumer perceptions and bias to improve concepts, packaging and products. The validated research supporting implicit testing has proved to tackle a range of questions within market research, as well as in multiple sectors of social psychology, medicine and education. Using this tool helps us gain a deeper understanding of individuals’ personal biases, giving a window into subliminal values and beliefs. Implicit testing is one of the many ways we can work to better understand ourselves, as consumers and as people, to promote positive change.    

If you are interested in starting a conversation about implicit testing or the topics covered in this blog, please feel free to contact HCD Research via email at info@hcdi.net or call 908.788.9393.

HCD’s Commitment to Diversity

HCD celebrates diversity, equity and inclusion for its employees, customers, partners and participants of every race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, marital status, military or veteran status, gender identity and expression, genetic information, or any other factor protected by law. Our commitment to equality allows us to build strong connections, develop innovative research and provide better service to all.

Marketplace Alienation: Avoiding Consumer Discontent

Heraclitus said it best when mentioning “change is the only constant in life.” To keep up with the ever-changing consumer, companies work hard to remain relevant by repositioning and reformulating products. Whether the change is due to advancements in technology or shifts in regulation, companies must evolve while consistently meeting consumer needs. However, these changes within a product or company include the risk of current consumers feeling left behind by the advances. With careful consideration and keeping consumers at the forefront of development strategies, companies can still make positive innovation while minimizing disappointment.

Consumer Opinions

Imagine returning to one of your favorite restaurants to learn your go-to meal was taken off the menu or replaced with a new version of the dish. While some customers may shrug it off, others may find it heartbreaking because that dish motivated them to make the reservation. The experience of feeling isolated or abandoned when a product (in this case the meal) changes is referred to as alienation. Alienation occurs when the expectation is underwhelmingly unmet and can lead to changes in buying behavior. Consumers often become promiscuous when dissatisfied, looking towards other options to better suit their needs, such as making a reservation at a competitor’s restaurant.

Products are not the only components of an experience that are able to alienate a consumer. Rebranding through communications or aesthetics can also lead a consumer to feeling disconnected. To avoid consumers reaching a place of marketplace alienation, it is important to find a balance of advancing without neglecting loyal consumers. How? By listening to the consumer through the idea of brand harmony. Brands consist of products, emotional, sensory and positioning experiences, as well as the visual identity. Creating a synergistic relationship promotes consumer relationships, understanding limitations, learning areas of potential growth and developing a unified company message (Petromilli & Morrison, 2002). The product or concept change still must meet expectations of the consumer experience to ensure satisfaction. By understanding the emotional reaction that target demographics have towards an item or a service will help companies build products to fit and flourish within consumer lifestyles.

Creatures of Habit

Daily activities are embedded with products, services and messaging. These components of life effect how consumers interact with products, including buying behavior. Habits have a major role in decision-making due to the formation of a habit loop of behavior consisting of cues, routines, and rewards (Eder & Dignath, 2019). Identifying the habit loop provides an opportunity to modify different parts of it, allowing product development to focus on consumer lifestyles. Using information gathered about consumers’ routines and acknowledging the existing footprint of the brand within the habit loop helps to create products that meets the needs of the consumer. The consumer-focus during the entire product cycle builds up the consumers reason to believe in a product. By ensuring the item or service fits the perception, the product experience as a whole can set the overall expectation.     

Risky Business

An estimated 80% of new products fail or underperform every year (Prahalad & Sawhney, 2011). A contributing factor to the huge turnover comes from not correctly identifying or contributing to an occasion. Considering the nature of the experience is crucial, since the context determines much of how a consumer will respond to it. For example, reformulating a cookie to have less sugar can seem like a great adjustment! It may even taste delicious, but is it what the consumer wants? If the value of the cookie is being a sweet treat, the new formula will be disappointing. Even if the cookie is an improvement by being better for the consumer’s health, the experience that the consumer anticipated is different. Furthermore, the innovation does not represent consumer expectation. To avoid alienating consumers, companies question if the change is noticeable and then explore how it is interpreted. Ultimately, the success of the change is decided by the positive or negative response of the consumer.

Changes within a company for any reason entails risk that current consumers will feel alienated and reject the new product. Some innovations may be an easy switch, while others are hard to adopt. The reformulation must consider the risk involved in making changes. Low risk changes are small pivots that are viewed as an extension of the overall product experience. Examples of low risk changes include Microsoft investing in gaming and Disney rolling out Disney+. When using implicit testing, the low risk prototypes are determined to have some harmony with the brand and concept but have a high certainty of response. With careful planning in messaging and communications, the change can be eased into the consumer routine and promote acceptance. 

Contrastingly, more extreme jumps have a higher risk of rejection because it’s a bigger stretch and may start a new narrative rather than stay consistent within the established brand identity. High risk products can be detected as prototypes with little to no harmony with the brand and/or concept and have low certainty during implicit testing. The disconnect between brand and product may confuse the consumer, potentially leaving them upset. Kendall Jenner’s infamous 2016 Pepsi commercial was not well-received by audiences due to its ignorant connotations of fixing systematic social issues with a can of soda. The backlash caused the commercial to get pulled, and Jenner had to make a public apology for her part in the ad. Brands work hard to build relationships with the consumer to enable loyalty. Altering perceptions of a product or person through bad messaging can feel like abandonment to consumers who identify with Pepsi or Jenner. Even if the product itself is wonderful on its own, the perceptions can overshadow the product experience. To mitigate risk, alienation market research can include learning the brand associations to help companies meet or surpass the accepted perceptions. 

Holistic Approach

No company goes out to change its product for the worse. The inevitable renovations and repositioning are built to improve, not challenge, consumers’ lives. Yet, the purpose of the product often misfires because of the disconnect between the product and the three types of consumers: potential, existing and lapsed. Reflecting on the consumer risks against benefits can help determine if the best strategy is being implemented to remain inclusive. Ignoring consumers only hurts the company by blindly attempting to rebrand or cut costs. The product, packaging, concept or communication is worthless unless someone validates it through use. By researching certain components of the overall product experience, companies can pinpoint places to cutback or lean into more to better position themselves in alignment with the consumer. Alienation testing engages with consumers to quantify the risk that may alter their purchase behaviors in response to the product changes.

Traditional research tools, focus groups or interviews, can provide the language consumers use. Starting with the consumers at the foundation keeps the innovations close to the users. The research design is dependent on what the company is trying to learn. By using the appropriate tool, the information can provide actionable results that can guide development. HCD employs a large amount of traditional and psycho-physiological tools to monitor interactions within the consumer experience. Using flexible and customizable research methods, companies can further explore how certain elements of the overall experience integrate into the consumers’ lifestyles. Evaluating the overlap of product experience with brand harmony bolsters success when introduced to the market by ensuring the product meets the promise. For more on HCD’s take on Marketplace Alienation, feel free to watch our latest webinar or episode of The HCD Vidcast at the links here.

References:

Eder, A., & Dignath, D. (2019). Expected Value of Control and the Motivational Control of Habitual Action. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 1812. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01812

Petromilli, M., & Morrison, D. (2002). Creating brand harmony. Marketing Management, 11(4), 16-20.

Prahalad, D., & Sawhney, R. (2011). Predictable magic: unleash the power of design strategy to transform your business. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Pub.