Do we really understand what consumers want?

Date of publication: June 15, 1992


This paper describes a research project that attempts to better understand the meaning of some words used frequently by consumers to describe automobiles. In conjunction with a leading UK motor manufacturer, the research set out to try and broaden our knowledge and sharpen our research skills by 1. Developing a methodology that would be able to record and analyze what car owners actually mean when they use words identified as having unclear or multiple meanings. 2. Employing such a methodology to compare the meaning of some specific words as used by car owners and car designers. The paper is divided into three sections. The first section describes the nature of the problem and some of the conventional wisdom used by research buyers and practitioners in attempting to overcome it. Language and the meaning of words can be variable at the best of times, but automotive research finds itself relying on the same words, used over and over again by consumers. There is much circumstantial evidence to suggest that many of these words are variable in meaning, or have multiple meanings and can be used somewhat indiscriminately by consumers in a variety of situations. The second section details the methodology developed for this project. Here it is explained that the framework of a fairly new research technique was "borrowed" and grafted onto a qualitative study. After some experimentation, it seems to work! The final section presents some of the more interesting findings from the project and discusses the benefits of putting the findings to good use. There have been a number of useful outputs from the research undertaken so far, and it is clear that the methodology can be developed in a number of directions.

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