What kind of man chews fruit-flavored gum? Is it a clear cut sign of homicidal tendencies? Maybe it points to a medical ailment like hypoglycemia or some sort of inner-ear problem? I don’t know; I’m not a doctor. If I had to bet, I’d put my money on these fruity gum chewers being left-handed. They’re the creative types right? They’re also probably married, college educated, dog owners who walk to work.
I am consumed by a desire to know everything. I want to form hypotheses about people, places, things, and interactions, and then I want to test them to see if I’m right. I don’t mean to trivialize it, but this desire can feel like a gambling addiction—only I make bets with myself, and I design experiments to figure out the answer. It can be time consuming and overwhelming. It can cause strangers and loved ones to question my sanity. It can steal my attention and cause my mind to wander….
Back to the question at hand: how can I create a good profile of fruity gum chewers without finding myself on the wrong side of yet another restraining order?
- Is there a good side of a restraining order?
- Mom, it’s just a joke. No one has filed a restraining order against me.
Do you use your powers for good or for awesome?
The thought occurs to me that I could find out more about gum-chewing behaviour, if I really wanted to. I could probably sneak a question into my next consumer-based survey, but do I make it a single-select or multi-binary? Goodness gracious that, in itself, is another worthwhile research pursuit. Are there people out there that shuck the shackles of society and purchase watermelon and cinnamon gum? At the same time? An image pops into my head of a red siren light going off somewhere in Langley, Virginia as a CIA segmentation of purchase behaviour identifies a volatile individual with violent tendencies. Next the gum vendor quickly sinks behind the counter as men drop from black helicopters outside.
I could always ask about someone’s last ten purchases, but that’s going to capture a wide array of time frames. I buy gum in bulk, so trading out flavours isn’t going to happen that often. Other people may take several months—even years—to accumulate 10 gum purchases, and do I really trust them to answer accurately about an inexpensive item they purchased a year ago? Absolutely not.
And there’s another issue: what I consider to be frequent gum chewing behaviour may be well below average. On top of that, chewing behavior does not necessarily line up with purchasing behavior. I’m sure the two are correlated, but you never know. I’m starting to question my entire existence here. Best be safe and collect both purchasing and chewing behaviour.
On second thought, why beat around the bush? It might be best if I just follow the preference question with an open-end to figure out why one chews fruity gum.
The downward spiral
Welcome to the market researcher’s mind. It’s somewhere between the praiseworthy curiosity of a two year old and an outright mental illness. We need to collect. We need to measure, hypothesise, infer and always (always) analyse. It affects (or infects, whatever) all of us, and from what I can tell, it’s communicable. Our IT guy, for example, collects data on his daily bike commute. We’re not talking about copying and pasting the same 2.3 mile route every morning and evening. No, he’s recording side trips and stats galore; I wouldn’t be surprised if he could tell you his average speed in each gear.
Another coworker recently wrote a piece about making changes to her own nightly routine so her husband could collect better information about his sleeping habits from his Jawbone UP. One might argue that she’s become her own extraneous variable, but that’s not the point. The point is that we’re sick. But we can’t fight it, so why not just go with it? In phases, of course.
Phase 1: Get a job in market research
Ahhhhh, it feels good to be around like-minded people. Funny story: For reasons involving my status as a rather persnickety bachelor, my former boss once offered to indulge my curiosity surrounding the female population between the ages of 21 and 29 who enjoy—or, at least, tolerate—men who play video games. At first I thought he was joking so I didn’t add a question to the survey I was writing. The next time I saw him, he asked me what the data looked like.
“Excuse me? I thought you were kidding.”
“Oh no,” he said, “That would have been interesting to know.”
Missed opportunity, I guess. In the end, and without the use of survey research, I found a beautiful girl who tolerates video games quite well. Obviously, I married her. The only problem is that she isn’t very modest about the fact that she beat me in Street Fighter once (I’m pretty sure it was only one round, not even a whole match).
Phase 2: Measure everything
Our lunch room is beset with straw polls, questions-of-the-day, board bets and pasty people jotting down little observations in pocket notebooks. By the way, my pulse while writing this story was 58 beats per minute. Measure everything. Personally though, I like the design phase the best. I should probably enjoy the analysis phase more given my title and all, but sometimes it feels like the end of a good book. Fascinating and exhilarating but a bit sad.
I want more, darn it. Luckily life provides an endless supply of experiments and hypotheses. At the moment, I am devising a plan to study the elevator bank in our office building. Not that I think I can get much out of the information, but I’d like to know how many people I’m likely to share an elevator car with, how many riders are going to a floor below mine, how many travel to the same floor, etc. What I struggle with is how to control for my arrival time. The proximity of the light rail stop could wreak havoc on my data. Should I just accept this as the improbability of life? I guess time would be a valuable cut, but it would also increase the cases necessary. Perhaps I could persuade coworkers to record their trips and report back to me…
Phase 3: Profit
Truth be told, I don’t know if there’s actually a Phase 3—though profit sure sounds nice. I mean, I do benefit from the active pursuit of knowledge. Not only do I gain trivial pieces of information, but I am constantly honing my skills as a researcher. The quest to understand the elevator or the fruity gum chewer only helps to put me in the position as both the analyst and the client. I am truly a data consumer. And, let me tell you, I profit.
Adam Martin is Senior Analyst, Market Strategies International