Doug Pearn

Director, Strategic Planning

Doug Pearn

Director, Strategic Planning

Reading Your Data: People Can Mislead, Customers Won’t

SEP_7145 (2)


Range of Answers
We have been collecting, segmenting and analyzing consumer survey responses since the first days of Zone Marketing in 2006. Internally, this process has been lovingly referred to as ‘slicing and dicing’ the data. Our ongoing goal is to provide our clients with true actionable insights, supported by our analysis. During an in-depth ‘slicing and dicing’ process, we happened upon an interesting insight. While it is not a big revelation to see that for most businesses, people fall into two big categories: (1) Purchasers and (2) Non-Purchasers, we do see that ‘purchasers’ answer particular survey questions quite differently than ‘non-purchasers’. When we look at both groups closely, the distinguishing features that separate the two are quite significant.

People: Playfully Misleading
We have seen people offer extremely creative answers to the most basic vehicle ownership questions. For instance, on one survey we ask what vehicle you are currently driving. It is a simple question that gives our clients a potentially useful base line data point. The responses we collect fall into a broad range of answers from obscure, never-offered-on-these-shores brands such as SEAT (the European brand which is part of the VW Group) to familiar brands with intentional misspelling: !H0NDA, _F0RD or #CHEV. You can see they are code for the real brand name. These creative, yet misleading answers also have a certain playfulness designed to confound any segmentation process. Let’s safely assume these people are not planning to make a purchase any time soon. However, it is also a big mistake to think that ALL your data is made up of only these people.

Buyers: Painfully Accurate
On the flip side we find that buyers take extreme care to be accurate in all areas of the survey. They indicate when they are in market, what product holds their interest and how much they expect to pay. We believe that by providing accurate information, these people are attempting to attract some form of discount. It is in their self-interest to tell us all about their purchase plans with the objective of receiving a worthwhile incentive. Why else would they bother to go to such lengths?

The Difference: Self-Interest
When reviewing the data collected from your events, think about the two types of consumers: People vs Customers. The average consumer has no vested interest in telling you the truth, while a real buyer has a distinct interest in making a purchase and therefore wants you to know. Perhaps it will trigger a lucrative incentive or an attractive discount.


We also know that consumers will move from ‘non-buyer’ to ‘buyer’ status over the course of time. Therefore you could also conclude that the people who recently provided us with such playfully inaccurate answers will soon be attempting to attract a lucrative incentive offer with completely sincere and accurate responses at some point in the future. Like all of us, they will be motivated by self-interest. The next time you ‘slice and dice’ your data, the trick is to identify the indicators, read the signs and understand the motivations of two distinct groups.

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