Can you believe what people say about their wants and wishes? (Part I)

A scientific study (Horsky D., Nelson P., Posavac SS. Stating Preference for the Ethereal but Choosing the Concrete: How the Tangibility of Attributes Affects Attribute Weighting in Value Elicitation and Choice. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2004, Vol. 14, No. 1&2, Pages 132-140) compared the attractiveness of five sporty car attributes calculated using answers provided in a market research study (what people say), and the attractiveness of the same five attributes derived from the actual buying behavior of the car buyers (what people do). The five attributes were Performance, Dependability, Comfort, Prestige, and Exterior Styling.
The relative attractiveness of the performance, dependability, comfort, prestige, and exterior styling attributes calculated using the answers in the market research study were 0.13, 0.22, 0.13, 0.16, and 0.20. The relative attractiveness of the same five attributes calculated using the real behavior in the marketplace were 0.24, 0.21, 0.13, 0.00, and 0.19 (note the change in values marked with bold letters).
According to the authors: “a rather dramatic change in the ordering of the average weights occurs ... Specifically, the tangible attribute Performance, previously one of the least important attributes on average, is now the most important to sporty sedan buyers. … In contrast, the weight of Prestige, an intangible attribute, falls dramatically and becomes the least important attribute. The remaining attributes change little.”
This “dramatic change” has dramatic implications. “The implication of our findings is that stated preferences may not be highly predictive of actual consumer decisions because the relative importance of attributes differs in value elicitation and choice. This finding is troubling because of the reliance of marketing practitioners on research data pertaining to attitudes, purchase intentions, and attribute importance rankings. If predictions based on stated preferences are markedly different from reality, marketers’ decisions (e.g., product positioning, advertising emphasis) made based on the stated preference data may be suboptimal.” In other words, “forecasts of choice based on stated attribute importances would have been erroneous.”
Summary:
So, can you believe what people say about their wants and wishes? Yes, if you have the formula that converts what people say into what people do. If, you are not using this formula, be prepared to face some unpleasant surprises when implementing the raw customers’ suggestions.

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