4 LAYERS OF INSIGHT
DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN EXTRINSIC AND INTRINSIC FACTORS
Unlike typical consumer research scholarship which extends its focus temporally (think: horizontally) on the before, during and after, aspects purchase behaviour, MotivIndex dives deeply (i.e.: vertically), into the layers of meaning, identity, culture and belief that shape consumer choices. In a sense, we approach consumer behaviour as archeologists, recognizing that there is little in our lives that is without meaning, and much of what we can observe –such as purchase behaviour- are artefacts; pieces of evidence, whose meaning often sits below the surface. Like archeologists, our research has shown we need to dig deeper to reveal an artefact’s lineage, the personal and cultural context in which it is embedded, and thereby, reveal its meaning.
Through six years of hypothesis creating, experimentation and validation, we have learned that each action or choice a human being makes that is of significance to a business carries with it four main layers of information, each of which can be further analyzed and broken down into smaller elements (or data points) in their own right. These layers can be conceptualized as sitting horizontally, one over the other, with the top layer observable at the surface, and the subsequent layers more hidden at first glance.
The first two layers provide extrinsic information. That is, the concrete information about the consumer’s behavior (e.x.: the purchase) and the reason, excuse or justification – or as we refer to it, the ‘alibi’ - the consumer herself uses to explain and rationalize her behavior. This second layer of information (i.e.: the ‘alibi’) is generally the type of data that surveys, structured interviews, focus groups and polls will provide. If, however, we look more deeply, we find two further layers that provide intrinsic information. Information that sheds light on questions of identity, sense of oneself, one’s fears, vulnerabilities, how one seeks to assert themselves, retain membership in certain social networks or communities, or affect the world they live in, as well as the cultural context in which all of this is taking place. This is the type of information that MotivIndex's big data ethnography methodology can provide.
These 4 layers are explained as follows:
The First Layer: The Behavior.
This is the concrete action taken by a consumer. Most often this is a purchase. Let us consider a mother’s choice to purchase organic apples during her weekly grocery shop as an example of this layer of information.
The Second Layer: The Alibi.
This is the reason, or rationalization, the consumer gives for his or her purchase. To return to our example, if we were to ask this mother to reflect on why she chose organic apples, the response we would hear is most often her justification or rationalization of her choice: “I bought organic apples because I believe it’s healthier.” This is also referred to as the consumer’s “proof of innocence”, meaning the evidence they give to support their claim to having made the “right” choice. (Clotaire Rapaille, The Culture Code, 2007).
The second layer is where the majority of consumer research ends. Perhaps other data points are added to this layer of analysis, such as the emotional state of that mother at the moment of purchase, her social class, or the product’s cost relative to other options, the affects of the layout or design of the product or display, etc. To be clear, we are not saying this data is necessarily inaccurate, just that it is incomplete. Our theory of consumer behaviour goes much deeper into aspects of identity and cultural nuances that can be observed and analyzed through digital ethnography. Our studies have thus shed light on the following two further layers of consumer behaviour.
The Third Layer: Identity and Vulnerability.
The third layer of analysis concerns the consumer’s identity - their sense of self. Who do they see themselves as being? What type of person do they think they are? What is their self-image? What aspects of their identity are most crucial to their maintenance of their sense of self so as not to experience cognitive dissonance? This type of information is rarely available to a consumer in the form of an answer to a survey question. It is, however, ‘readable’ to the researcher trained in the practice of ethnographic observation and interpretation of meaning. While the mother may not be able to articulate such an answer on a survey or in an interview, through observing hundreds of her publicly accessible comments, conversations, posts and interactions in her virtual community, it can be gleaned that part of her own self-image revolves around her style of parenting, and doing so within a tight-knit, politically progressive community of other women with feminist inclinations (for example). As ethnographers, we can now ask a series of deeper questions, for example, “in what way would not behaving in this way affect this person’s sense of self?” or “how does this behaviour bring them closer to, or more distant from, select social or cultural groups?” or “how does their choice affect their status within their communities?” This type of information helps us identify the fear or the vulnerability that drives a behavior or purchase decision. It allows our ethnographers to answer the question - what would happen (to one's sense of self) if this decision wasn't made? What does the consumer fear in that scenario? And how does the product or service being purchased solve that fear or vulnerability?
The Fourth Layer: The System of Beliefs.
The fourth layer of insight, is the deepest level of insight into consumer behaviour, and the one that forms the basic organizing principle of MotivIndex’s research. We define ‘belief system’, as the (often unconscious) framework or lens through which every consumer sees the world. It is the set of beliefs which emerges from a person’s cultural context, and the social and political values that they hold within that context of how the world works and their place within it. This belief system informs their sense of self (i.e.: Who am I in relation to the rest of the world? Who do I want to be in the world? What is my role in the world?) as well as perceptions of right from wrong, good versus bad, what creates trust, etc.
For every consumer studied, our team ensures that all four layers of information are gathered and analyzed. This allows our team to ensure that it is not distracted by alibis and behavior data, to really get to the bottom of what actually drives people and quantify the portions of the population that shares in beliefs and motivations.