In market research, we often seek out the needs and values of consumers as if they can be captured and presented, but in reality our needs and values are constantly in flux as we discover new problems to solve and new ways to solve them. To better understand what consumers want in a given moment, it is crucial to leverage qualitative research to understand how those wants evolved over time and how they might evolve in the future.
I technically became a father on July 7th at 11:03am when my first child Everest was born, but in reality it was a transformation much longer in the making. It happened over the course of many moments leading up to that day and has been happening every day since.
It happened while we made the decision to start preparing for pregnancy and got all our ducks in a row. It happened during all the anxious doctor appointments and tests all the way that rule out, one by one, any issues that might require special attention. It happened as we set up the nursery to make a loving, special space for our upcoming new addition.
All along the way there were new things to learn, new concerns to manage, and new problems to solve. We swallowed new costs when we signed up for a grocery delivery service and traded in our tiny two-seater for a bigger ride. We also made new efforts to save money, spending countless afternoons and weekends picking up second-hand items we found through Facebook groups or craigslist, including our crib, bassinet, changing table, and countless baby clothes. Over these past months, what we wanted and what we valued were in flux. We made decisions about our money and time that solved problems we’d never had before and involved new kinds of activities for us.
As a market researcher, I couldn’t help but think about how this shift in my own values is emblematic of the values I seek to uncover through my research. When I try to find out what matters to, say, a grocery shopper, it’s like taking a freeze frame out of a film. Needs, desires, priorities, and the practices we engage in to meet those, evolve over time. Understanding that evolution can reveal new opportunities for meeting those needs.
As parents, my wife and I found parenting guidance not just by asking friends for parenting advice, but also by uncovering how they came to advocate for the products or practices they told us about. We learned how one parent had a doctor’s office around the block but could never get an appointment. Another couple thought their baby, who was having trouble sleeping, hated being swaddled, but in fact she slept like a rock once they found an alternative design. Our friend’s deluxe stroller was unusable half the time because only her husband could lift it. This personal research allowed us to develop our own approach informed by others’ experiences, not just values, allowing us to better prioritize our own values and anticipate our own needs.
At W5, we like to think of our ethnographic research as an opportunity to meet consumers where they are, but this doesn’t just mean a physical location, like a home or a store. It also means meeting consumers where they are in the trajectory of their lives, revealing more about who they are now through where they came from and where they are going.