Reverse Engineering

Since most of us are loathe to confront our less-than-rational feelings we rarely welcome opportunities to confess them to researchers. It's less ego-deflating for a prospective Neon buyer (Chrysler's 1994 AMA New Product of the Year award-winning subcompact) to channel a discussion of needs into "practical" issues -- stuff like 34 miles to the gallon and wider wheel base -- than acknowledge a very personal desire to appear cute, lovable and approachable. And confess the desire is somehow satisfied by Neon's wide-eyed head lamps that seem vaguely reminiscent of a perky cheerleader.

For that reason the tool uses a simple but well-documented psychological technique to start at the end-point: the recognition of personally relevant wants/aspirations/life goals that drive purchase decisions rooted in intuitive logic. Having identified the drivers, it's a matter of backtracking to identify the tangible product technologies that both trigger the need and serve as a plausible means to accomplish the desired end.

More often than most of us suspect, consumers use an intuitive right-brain process -- they call it "feeling" or "sensing" -- to assess the personal relevancy of a new product concept. In these situations the purchase behavior is driven by an intuitive form of logic in which the ego asks, "what's in this for me?" and roots through abstract potentialities -- fuzzy issues like life vision, personal goals, aspirations...belief systems governing behavior, even daydreams or flights of the imagination -- to find the answer.

In these situations, it's necessary to ferret out the abstract end-benefit. Then work backwards to identify the tangible product technologies and pragmatic performance cues that suggest the means by which the product will accomplish the desired end

The tool uses projective techniques to help respondents sort through stereotyped images of people to discover a few the respondent "knows" well enough to predict brand behavior and underlying motivation. Inevitably the respondent paints a self-portrait of self, psyche, personal values and motivation. It happens because the alleged subject is the stereotype, so the ego's off the hook for any non-linear -- or less-than-rationale -- logic patterns that drive intuitive behavior.

Having identified the abstract motivation, a means-end laddering process then backtracks the logic chain to identify the tangible product technologies and pragmatic performance cues that suggest the means by which the product will accomplish the desired end. For instance Miller, in qualitative depth interviews, discovered an identity crisis among entry level drinkers: The self-doubts inherent in the age cohort produced a need for self assurance -- specifically a need to assert an independence and the worthiness of one's individuality. This abstract value served as the end-point in which product attributes and related consequences linked together in an orderly and logical sequence that proceeded from specific concrete elements upwards through increasingly abstract and personal levels. Ultimately the means-end ladder emerged: Beer serves as a social facilitator --> acts as a "badge" identifying personal values & belief systems --> leading to social recognition --> creating personal status --> which ultimately produces a degree of self-assurance.

The perceptual structure linking abstract values to product functionality represents the strategic springboard from which concept development teams brainstorm new concepts.

The tool discovered the strategic concept for Red Dog -- Miller's "beer-with-an-attitude" -- a brand urging entry level drinkers to "be your own dog" and designed as a badge of independence and macho non-conformity. Proved to be effective in developing ant and roach insecticides that protected the fragile ego -- and self esteem -- of Combat's heavy users: Core city residents of multiple dwelling housing units. Identified test market concepts for a premium category of cigarettes for RJR Tobacco smokers threatened by the declasse perceptions of users (Malibu and Premiere). Spotted the $1billion casual pants opportunity (khakis/Dockers) for 40 year old Boomers who had outgrown -- physically and psychologically -- their Levis 501s.

The tool has hi-tech applications to develop PC Notebooks for status-seeking Road Warriors. Develop user friendly technology to alleviate the technophobic apprehensions of prospective WWW users of almost any new commercial or financial service. Establish Apple products to serve as the last bastion of creativity and non-conformity. Hi-touch applications might include Neutrogena's Retinol anti-wrinkle cream. KC Masterpiece BBQ sauce. "Riven", Broderbund's sequel to "Myst." New ways for Armor All to polish the self-image of 18-28 year old car buffs. The commonality? The purchase decision for each brand is driven by intuitive -- and primarily non-linear -- logic patterns in which abstract personal values impacting the ego will play a predominant role.

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