Views from the Hills by R. E. Stevens, GENESIS II (The Second Beginning) E-Mail

Context - it is Relevant

The importance of context is so obvious when I am making choices, I wonder why it is not obvious to most of the people involved in consumer research.  When I am ordering in a restaurant, I find that a hamburger will have different levels of appeal depending on the other items on the menu.  If I am in McDonalds, a hamburger doesn't look too bad, but if I am in my favorite restaurant, The Grey Hound Tavern, I have no interest in a hamburger even though they serve an excellent one.  I would probably order their Walleye Pike or Kentucky Hot Brown.

What does this have to do with market research?  I believe a lot.  If we know that the context or environment has a lot to do with how we see things, why then do we not consider how important context is when we assess such things as brand appeal, container copy, pricing and other visual aspects of our products?

This particular thought came about while I was digging through some papers relating to a Customer Satisfaction Talk I gave back in 1996.  In the papers I found an article by Stephen Nolls, professor at Arizona State and Itamar Simonson, professor at Stanford.  They were writing about their article that was to appear in the Journal of Marketing Research, relating to the importance of "Positioning the Product" as it relates to in-store locations.  Their paper concluded, "You must measure consumers' preferences in the same contexts that consumers will encounter in the marketplace."  This observation is not new, check the writings of people like Dr. Richard Lutz, University of Florida, Dr. Richard Fox, University of Georgia, Dr. William Baker, University of Vermont, Dr. Gerald Bersetell, Gerald Berstell & Co., Dr. Denise Nitterhouse, DePaul University, etc.  The environmental effect has been widely expressed and totally ignored by the market research community in general.

If the above is true, would you ever test a new container copy in the back room of a mall or even on a computer screen?  I have seen a number of failures when good scoring products moved from the test environment into the market.  One in particular involved a new bottle and art work that received excellent scores in the mall test situation but when it was placed on the store shelf in context with the store environment and competition, it performed miserably.

A good friend experienced pricing context effects when evaluating a new meat entree.  It seems that he got radically different results when the entree was placed next to steaks versus when placed next to ground round.

Now to compound the problem of understanding purchase choice and motivation, we learn more about "The Science of Shopping" with the emergence of the Path Tracker® Method utilized by Dr. Herb Sorensen.  For interesting reading see the Fall 2003 issue of Marketing Research.

Winning in the marketplace is all about knowing and understanding the consumer (and the customer).

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