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The difference between intentions and actions

November 8, 2016 By: Greg Dubejsky
trying to understand behaviour is like trying to smell the colour 9

My last blog post was about creating an inspirational design target to lead to a better end-state solution and an overall larger market.

Once you have a design target or character in hand, the next step is to validate your assumptions about that character. Do you actually know who they are? How they behave? And why they behave that way?

There are many unique market research techniques that can help you to gain a deeper understanding of your customer, but the idea I want to reinforce today is the importance of understanding your design target’s behaviours (how and why they do something) rather than just their intentions (what they tell you they think they do).

There is a host of interesting research and popular literature on the subject of behaviour, including topics such as  behavioural marketing, behavioural targeting and behavioural economics. I’m not enough of an expert to try and synthesize it all here, but I will say that I’m an advocate and a believer. (Send me an email or a message if you’d like to see my reading list on the subject.)

What I can speak to from my practical experience as a corporate innovator and intrapreneur is the power of leveraging behaviour-oriented learning to get to better ideas. Let me explain with an example from my Procter & Gamble days.

Skincare in Korea

korean night time skin routine

Typical Korean Skin Care Routine. image source

I was on an ethnographic research trip in Korea to learn about Korean men’s skin-care habits. Korea has some of the most skin care–involved consumers in the world, so one of our inspirational design targets was a Korean man highly involved in skin care.

I visited several retail outlets and local beauty establishments like spas, immersed myself heavily in authentic local culture and, of course, met with several Korean men in their homes to ask them about their skin-care routines. We wanted to know whether their skin-care regimens were highly involved and if the health and appearance of their skin were key concerns. Generally, the interviewees’ answers indicated that skin care was not a big deal to them and that their routines were not that complex.

Next we would go into their bathrooms and ask them to take us through their actual routines— and what a difference that made! Most of our interviewees used upward of seven different products, including toners, firmers and face masks. They had very specific methods of applying each product and were unwilling to share their products with others in the household. Yet, when asked again, they remained adamant that they “weren’t that skin-involved.”

Interestingly enough, in the broader Korean context, these men likely weren’t actually all that skin involved. After all, Korean women’s skin-care routines often involve up to 19 different products. Still, compared to our original assumptions, the men’s skin-care routines were on a completely different level anticipated.

By combining what we heard from the men themselves with what we observed, and then putting it into the context of our local immersion, we came away with an entirely new vocabulary for the problem we were trying to solve. This, in turn, led to different avenues for our concept, product and go-to-market positioning. Our research was extremely helpful not only in developing our solution for the Korean market, but also for targeting markets that are much less skin-involved (and much larger), like North America.

Korean Outfit

Was it essential for me to make up my own K-pop persona to understand my target? Maybe…

My point here is not that you need to take an extended trip to another continent and invade people’s bathrooms to get to a better end-state design. (Although, if the opportunity arises, you should.) Rather, my point is that getting to the root of what your target actually does—and why they do so—is critical to delivering on what they actually need and are going to pay money to use.

Take the time to build a robust understanding of your design target  and use multiple sources of input and observation to build that picture. This is something you can do regardless of the size of your company or the resources available. Scale your investigation to the means at your disposal, but make it a priority.


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