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Uncovering the Why Behind the Why
(Marketing Memo, August, 2001)

Email surveys and other quick surveys can be useful. If you can obtain a good list of email addresses, they certainly are easier to administer than other types of studies. However, quickly administered studies may not reveal the whole story or what we sometimes call, "the why behind the why."

Once we worked on a new product concept test which involved interviewing maintenance managers at large power plants to see if they were interested in purchasing a software product that would tell them when they needed to perform preventive maintenance on the turbines in their plants. The software could anticipate when to do preventive maintenance by noting changes in the vibration patterns of the plant's large rotating equipment. The study covered the gamut - coal, water, and even nuclear-powered plants.

After asking about the plants and the responsibilities of the maintenance people who participated in the study, we described the new product to the participants and asked their opinions. I soon noticed a pattern to their responses:

RW: "Is this a product you would consider using in your plant?"

Participant: "No! I wouldn't consider using this software product."

RW: "Why not? Why wouldn't you consider using this product?"

Participant: "It wouldn't work."

RW: "Why is that so?"

Participant: "Well, it wouldn't work in our plant."

RW: "Why wouldn't it work in your plant?

Participant: "It wouldn't get the right data. Besides, it is too hard to use."

RW: "Would it make any difference if you were trained in the use of this software?"

Participant: "No. I might lose my job anyhow. The plant won't need me if we buy devices that automatically monitor the equipment."

Notice the progression: "I won't use it." "It won't work." "It gets the wrong data, and it is too hard to use." Finally, "I might lose my job." Asking the "why behind the why" helped to reveal the sources' real feelings.

Recommendation: Ask successively more probing questions. Then, if the potential user doesn't want a turnkey solution, position the product as an adjunct to, not replacement of, the operator or user. Consider re-designing the product to include a bigger role for the user. Probe to discover the "why behind the why" for everything from cake mixes to preventive maintenance software.

Initially, cake mixes just required the addition of water. Producers soon realized they had to increase the role of home bakers to eliminate their fear of becoming superfluous, the real concern of the power plant maintenance managers, as well.

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