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Uncovering Latent Needs Through Consumer Diaries

By Dorota Rewinska

Participant adding a consumer diary entry

It would be so nice if everyone knew exactly what they needed. It would certainly make buying Christmas presents easier! However, many of us can’t quite explain what it is that we need, or want, and that’s what latent needs are to me – something we can’t quite figure out. A particular need that we either are not aware of or don’t know how to explain to someone else.

This creates a challenge for any innovation department or business who want to compete based on those unmet needs - if the customer can’t express what the need is, how is a business supposed to know what product will do the trick?

Not all is lost though and I don’t want you to start thinking that just because customers can’t always explain what they are looking for, you shouldn’t bother trying to find out. When it comes to tapping into the unrecognised needs of consumers, running a customer research project just requires a certain level of creativity. Here are some ideas on how to do it:

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"Tapping into the unrecognised needs of consumers requires a creative research approach."

Reverse Assumption

You could run a reverse assumption task – instead of explicitly asking what yourn customers need and risking a blanket ‘I don’t know’ response, focus on what they have and ask them to imagine life without it. What would happen then? How would they react? What would they do? Which products or services would they opt to lose? This will give you an indication of how they choose between different products and what determines their use of a particular one. It will allow you to understand the needs they are searching to fulfil.

If you are interested in this technique, Michael Michalko offers a great description of how the reverse assumption technique works.

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"Asking your customers what they could live without... Reveals what they can't."

Projective Technique

Use a projective task – this will help customers express the needs they can’t currently articulate very well. By asking them to project their attitudes, opinions and beliefs on an object, you will be able to understand their way of thinking and identify their unrecognised needs (for them). The challenge is to pick the right object for your customers to ‘project’ on.

For ideas on how to apply a projective technique, visit Richard Walker’s blog.

A word of caution...

Projective and reverse assumption techniques require some level of abstract thinking, an imaginative way of looking at products and services, which may not always be something customers are comfortable with or prepared to do. The more abstract you go, the harder the task will be. Before applying either of these techniques, consider your audience and your product to determine the appropriate imaginative depth.

An alternative solution to the ones above is more straightforward.

Diary Study

Consumer diaries don’t require any level of imaginative thinking from a participants’ point of view, which is a strong benefit of this method. Simply ask your participants to keep a dairy of their routines, daily tasks or habits and collect as much details about their lives as they are willing to share with you. The more ‘in-situ’ the diary the better, so an online platform is a great tool here – it gives you instant access to your customers’ thoughts and experiences.

Better still, you can incorporate projective and reverse assumption techniques within a diary study if you wish. Our diary tool allows you to create additional one-off tasks where you can use these techniques to add another angle to your study. That way you get the best of both worlds.

It’s important to note that whilst a diary study is easy for participants, it can be more challenging for you. It requires excellent moderation from your researchers, in order to engage with participants and encourage them to open up. More importantly, your researchers need to be very good at ‘reading between the lines’ and interpreting shared feedback. A diary study requires researchers to critically analyse every post and identify the hidden needs within. These skills are essential to the identification of business applications, rather than just a collection of interesting feedback. Done right however, the insight in my experience, is invaluable.

What are your experiences with diary studies? Share you stories with us here.

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Dorota Rewinska

Dorota Rewinska- Head of Research and Insight

Personal Bio: Dorota joined FlexMR after completing a PhD in Applied Mathematics. Across 10 years, she has worked with brands such as Sure and Aegon to develop products, communications and market opportunities.
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