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The Subjectivity of Focus Groups and Ink Blot Tests


The Subjectivity of Focus Groups and Ink Blot Tests

Companies need to understand how people see their products and what they want, so asking customers about this in a focus group seems like a great idea. Focus groups can provide a valuable form of qualitative research, giving companies insight into consumers’ beliefs, desires, and attitudes surrounding a product. However, while focus groups can provide some insight, the history of projective tests (aka ink blot tests) in psychology offer a cautionary tale on solely relying on this kind of self-reported qualitative data.

Beginning in the early 20th century psychologists and psychiatrists developed projective tests to diagnose mental disorders and gain access to patients’ unconscious beliefs and desires. These tests, based on Freud’s theory of projection, were thought to allow unconscious beliefs and desires to surface through their open-ended structure, which was believed to be less threatening to people. In a projective test, someone is shown a set of ambiguous or abstract images that can be interpreted in many ways (the most famous example is the Rorschach ink blots, commonly portrayed in psychological examinations in movies), and they are asked to talk about what they see and what the images make them think of. It was believed that people will project their subconscious thoughts (desires, beliefs, etc.) onto the image, thereby revealing hidden parts of their personality that could then be analyzed and interpreted by the psychiatrist administering the test.

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Focus Groups: Why People Behave Differently When They Are Being Watched

Imagine you have been tasked with increasing revenue for an “honor system” coffee donation in your office. A collection box has been placed next to the shiny new caffeine machine and everyone is told to donate at least 50 cents whenever they help themselves, and more if they feel inclined. While this may seem impossible (who’s going to pay more if they don’t have to?!) there’s a tried and true way of ensuring consistent payment without hiring a barista: stick subtle eyespots (images of eyes, or eye shaped designs) on the machine. In an elegant study by Bateson et. al. 2006, this potentially silly-sounding method led people to donate three times more to the pot than their coworkers who were exposed to a coffee machine without the eyespots. This study fits into a growing body of research trying to unravel exactly what effects implicit cues have on behavior. An implicit cue is simply something we are not aware of which can then have an effect on behavior (the output). For instance, the eyespots in the above example were an implicit cue which made the subjects feel as though they were being watched, thereby altering their behavior, leading them to act in a more altruistic manner. When marketing research firms conduct focus groups, dozens of implicit cues (for example. the neighborhood the site is in, the furniture in the room, how the other participants are dressed, etc.) may affect people’s behavior and responses. While many of these can be controlled, research suggests that the “feeling of being watched” can have far-reaching effects that bias the results of the focus group.

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Psychologists Agree: Life is ACTUALLY Like Riding a Bicycle

Psychologists Agree: Life is ACTUALLY Like Riding a Bicycle

When you first learn to ride a bike or drive a car, you must expend an absorbent amount of conscious effort to stay in control. You feel uneasy about your new behavior, you are vigilant and conscious of everything going on. It’s a very foreign behavior and because of this the brain is experiencing each and every bump and readjustment as a new experience. But then after a bit of riding, as if the brain has suddenly found the right program to run, you are off riding around with relative ease. The conscious effort to balance, grip the handlebar, remember where the brakes are, exert the right amount of pressure with each foot on the pedal, and even keep your eyes on the front tire and road all seem to fade away out of awareness. You just experienced the transformation of a conscious process into an automatic nonconscious process.

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How to Make Blog Posts More Sharable with Personality Traits

How to Make Blog Posts More Sharable with Personality Traits

In 2012, 68% of CMOs increased their budget for content marketing, a strategy that continues to grow in small and large businesses alike. Sharable, quality content is beneficial for both you, as a brand, and your readers - it’s informative to users, increases session lengths and generates traffic from shares. Blogs are like brands in the sense people are more likely to connect with content they can relate to. Often, as marketers, we’re only focusing on half of the equation (writing good content), when we should focus on the big picture: the readers. Personality traits are a measurable approach to gauge the likelihood of a specific audience to share content and can help drive more social engagement.

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Brand Affinity and Beer: Identifying with your Customers


Brand Affinity and Beer: Identifying with your Customers

Marketers are tasked with capturing the hearts of consumers in order to create loyal customers. One effective way to do this is leveraging brand affinity through self-identification, in other words, identifying your brand with qualities your current and potential customers strongly relate to. This method can be extremely powerful as long as brands are able to accurately idenfity with their customers. 

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Why Personality Matters for Marketers

Why Personality Matters for Marketers 

“The key traits that we strive to display [through consumerism] are the stable traits that differ most between individuals and that most strongly predict our social abilities and preferences...displaying such traits is the key ‘latent motive’ that marketers strive to comprehend,” TipTap advisor Geoffrey Miller, Spent, p.15.

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The Confabulator: What it is and Why CMOs Should Care

The Confabulator: What it is and Why CMOs Should Care

According to CASRO, $8.6 billion are spent each year in the United States on consumer marketing research using online or phone-based surveys that rely on explicit reports (what people say they want). One of many challenges marketers face in this area is understanding what people are truly interested in, parsing through the noise of what people say they want and getting at the signal of what people actually want. Years of psychological research provide insight into why these explicit reports tap into only a small percentage of what goes into a consumer's decision-making process.

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