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Scale-related Pet-Peeves

Blog #21


Using the Wrong Tools for the Job

We live in a time when it is relatively easy to obtain data, sometimes in real-time, that allows us to know many details about what customers are doing. My beef is not with this technology nor the skills to use it in managing a company’s marketing activities. Instead, my beef is that, even though this information helps us understand what customers did or are doing, it does not tell us why they did it or what they will do in the future. For those things, we need to get inside customers' heads and hearts. My fear is that too many researchers either do not understand this or minimize its importance.

For example, if you manage an e-commerce website, you probably have information from your analytics about the number of customers who visited certain pages, how much time was spent on a page, and the percentage of them who bought something. But, what you do not know is how many of them intend to shop there again in a certain period of time. You do not know why some shoppers left the site without buying anything.  Further, you do not know why some part of the market is aware of your site but has decided it is not worth visiting. There are thousands of other important questions you could ask but behavioral data can not provide the answers. Instead, you need to get inside your shoppers’ heads and hearts.

The next step is to realize that, while some simple questions might be answered acceptably in a quick-and-dirty survey, examination of complex variables and relationships requires more precise instrumentation. Asking just one question per psychological variable is inadequate.  It is like a home owner being told by a sloppy carpenter that he doesn’t need to measure all the walls in a kitchen red-do before cutting trim because he can do a “good enough” job with just one measurement. You wouldn’t want a carpenter with that mind set to renovate your kitchen, so why would you let a survey builder use inadequate measures of your market?  Again, to use the carpentry analogy, the well-known adage “measure twice, cut once” is applicable to measuring psychological variables.  Properly constructed multi-item scales are literally measuring multiple times and the quality of “the cut” can be measured.

The bottom line is that BIG DATA and behavioral analytics are not the right tools for getting inside consumers’ heads and hearts.  At the other extreme, researchers probably do not have to go through the effort and expense to develop high quality psychological measures appropriate for consumer surveys. Instead, they can build upon the work of scholars who have created and tested thousands of multi-item measures over several decades and are available for others to use.