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Marriage Encounter & Toilet Paper

June 6, 2006 - by Robert E. Stevens, GENESIS II(The Second Beginning) E-Mail:

What does marriage encounter and toilet paper have to do with one another? At onetime I would have said very little. That was before we decided to try a new approach at understanding how purchase decisions were arrived at when there were multiple purchase decision makers within the same household. In one of the rare times where we were not very busy, we decided to see what would happen if you brought two decision makers from the same household into the same room to discuss how purchases are made. Rather than just bringing the husband and wife into the same discussion we decided to try something new, at least new for us. We decided to conduct the meeting similar to a mini marriage encounter. One of the best qualitative researchers I have ever worked with, Ms. Sue Wissman, and I were the moderators and posed as husband and wife.


The meeting was divided into three phases. In the first phase, we discussed the experiences of the six couples with toilet paper and how they judged acceptability. The session was enlightening to say the least and well beyond what we had expected. Little was left to the imagination. In the second phase, the group viewed a video presentation of a toilet paper designed specifically for women. (Yes, there are different needs between males and females.) The men and women were separated for the viewing. Each person in the two groups completed two short questionnaires, one dealing with their impressions of the toilet tissue and the other dealing with what they

thought their spouses' reactions would be. The third phase brought the spouses together to discuss their reactions and how they thought their spouses' would react. Actually each person gave their spouse the questionnaire dealing with their perceived reaction for discussion.


The discussions far exceeded our expectations. Sensitive topics were easily discussed, many of which would not normally be expected in a group setting. The spouse partnership seemed to open up the discussions as if it were easier to present an idea or thought because he/she had the personal support of someone close.


 In most focus group sessions it has been my experience that there will be one or two participants who will not get involved. This was definitely not the case in this format. Everyone was very involved. Dramatic and important differences of thought were expressed between husband and wife.


The sessions were not only eye opening but they were fun. As one gentleman pointed out, his first reaction was how can we spend two hours discussing toilet paper? He said the time flew by and it was one of the more enjoyable evenings he had spent with his wife in some time. I am sure he was stretching the truth but he did have fun while we learned a lot.


There are many areas where a shared purchase decision exists and an approach similar to the marriage encounter could be useful in clarifying the basis of brand selection.

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