Future focusing

As qualitative researchers, we are always looking for new techniques and ways of thinking to help us get to the heart of the research in question with consumers. So we read, with great interest, an article in The New York Times entitled ‘We Aren’t Built to Live in the Moment’ by Martin E. P. Seligman & John Tierney.

The article is based on a paper written by Seligman and colleagues called Homo Prospectus which introduces an emerging field of study called ‘Prospective Psychology’. The field aims to explore our unique ability as human beings to engage in ‘prospection: the mental simulation of future possibilities’.  Essentially, it’s a form of day-dreaming.

Put simply (because I’m no academic!), the article argues that we aren’t simply creatures of habit as we often tend to believe. Rather that we are constantly, and actively, seeking information from our environment and experiences to develop our own set of possible future actions and resulting outcomes – which ultimately help us to decide how to behave. And we do all of this in no time at all – often at a subconscious level!

I think the easiest way that the authors explain their position is in terms of mental health disorders and potential treatment. They posit that those suffering from depression, for example, struggle to recover not necessarily because they are dogged by past experiences, but that they could actually struggle to imagine a different outcome in the future and thus the types of behaviours that would lead to that outcome.

So why is this interesting for us and our clients?

Well, much like psychology, qualitative research typically focuses on past or present experiences to understand consumer behaviour; in many instances asking consumers to recount a previous or current purchase/brand experience. So the focus is always, ‘What did you do, why did you do it and how could the brand do better?’. While this approach works well for some types of research, it can pose limitations when trying to understand how to disrupt consumer behaviour and encourage switching (i.e. to another brand/service provider).

What if we changed how we asked our questions to try and get consumers to think from a future-focused perspective to uncover the more subconscious perceptions, expectations and other influencers that might impact their motivations and barriers towards a particular brand?

For example, when exploring customer journeys, the focus tends to be on understanding recent experience and pain points. But what if we asked consumers to imagine ‘what could happen’ when they interact with a particular brand and ‘what could the steps in the journey look like to create the best experience?’

Or, when understanding how to disrupt consumer behaviour, why not change the outcome for them and get them to imagine how they would have got there? I.e. ‘Imagine that you’ve just purchased X from X brand and are feeling good about your experience. Talk us through what would have to happen to get you to that brand and how your interaction would go.’.

Could this change in approach help us to uncover unmet needs and expectations and help our clients develop strategies that are more aligned with future behaviour? Watch this space…

The C-word

There’s a swear jar in the Transport for London press office – and it’s specifically for use of the C-word. Yep…it’s to get them in the habit of saying Elizabeth Line as opposed to Crossrail.

<Sigh> If TfL staff can’t get it right, how are we expected to? Do we even want to call it by its proper name? Personally, no. I love the ‘what-it-says-on-the-tin’ manner of Crossrail. It’s sharp, snappy, and makes total sense. 

It got me thinking about what else is out there that still hasn’t caught on. How many Londoners ever bothered citing Barclays Cycle Hire as one of the capital’s methods of transport? Seven years on (or one new London mayor, a change of sponsorship, and a whole new colour scheme later), Santander Cycles hasn’t stuck either. We still affectionately refer to them as ‘Boris Bikes‘.

I could talk for hours about standout monikers for London landmarks (Cheesegrater, Walkie Talkie, and Gherkin, anyone?). And I could go on for ages about brand names that are widely used as verbs (Hoover, Photoshop, and Superglue to name only three).

Why do some ‘nicknames’ work better than the given name? And how do some brand names become part of our everyday vocabulary? Largely because of their simplicity. These magic words find their way into our subconscious and, before we know it, we’ve formed a long-lasting bond with them. A huge marketing tick-in-the-box. In Crossrail’s case, we’ve had that ‘project name’ and logo in our faces for so long now that many of us couldn’t possibly call it anything else. And when they announce the official name for Crossrail 2, guess what we’re (most likely) going to call it? 

On the flip side, there are some products/services/brands that really could do with a rethink. Personally, I still can’t say ‘contactless payment’ out loud without feeling like a fool. In no way does it represent the snappy payment process that it is – which, ironically, involves physical contact. Surely it should be called something like ‘Push’ or ‘Ping’?