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

"Simply Asking the Question can Create Attitudes and Opinions"

These are not my words but I agree wholeheartedly.  In the spring 2003 issue of Marketing Research, Dr. John Liefeld of the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, writes a very intriguing article titled, "Marketing -- Consumer Research in the Land of Oz."  If you have not read the article, I highly recommend that you do so.  While the article was aimed at researchers in the academic world, it is very fitting for the corporate world.  This six-page article holds many stimulating thoughts.  Following are just a few:
"Simply asking the question can create attitudes and opinions.  It's possible, even likely, that survey respondents express an opinion because being asked the question challenges them to have an opinion even if they didn't have one before.

The way and the order in which the questions are asked also lead to distortion and misrepresentation."

Most of the article focuses on an element that has been near and dear to me, that is, the idea of Assessment in Context.  Following are just a few of Dr. Liefeld's comments:
"Writers have lamented our reliance on what consumers say rather than what they do.  We collect data through obtrusive surveys rather than unobtrusive observation or secondary data.  Mark Pigott described what's wrong with this practice:  'So often we're obtaining data and information in environments that taint the value because they're being acquired in artificial circumstances.'

What consumer researchers need to do is observe consumers in their native environments -- making choices, purchasing and consuming.  It's time we started observing actual consumer behavior instead of playing obtrusive word games with respondents about what they say they perceive, believe, think or intend through unnatural laboratory experiments and surveys.

I am skeptical of research that asks people to respond by checking off points on scales in non-purchase or non-choice situations.  I also question results garnered in response to linguistic descriptions or to hypothetical products, situations or advertisements.  How can these responses possibly reflect reality?

In consumer research, we too often short-circuit these necessary conditions for external validity.  We have an all-too-easy escape hatch to the tedious business of observation:  It's called language.  We simply ask subjects about their beliefs, opinions, perceptions, attitudes and intentions and then make gargantuan assumptions that these obtrusive measures of intentions will predict behavior."
The above are just a few of Dr. Liefeld's comments.  I found this article to be mentally stimulating as well as challenging.  However, as usual, there are a few comments that I would disagree with, but not many.  If you are a market researcher or use market research, do yourself a favor and read this article.

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