Better Marketing Insights from Farmers (Not Egg-Heads)
Besides market research, another job I have (as a labor of love) is working for Henry, an organic farmer. He knows a lot more about “marketing” and “marketing research” than a lot of egg-head researchers I know. So if you want to understand consumer barriers when it comes to buying healthy, delicious, and sustainable food, ask Henry.
Or you can turn to a bunch of academics and applied researchers, somewhat like me, ask for regression models and KPIs — and sometimes you will end up with ridiculous “actionable insights” like this: People resist buying ugly produce because they have low self-esteem.
This is the conclusion of new research from a team of marketing professors just published in the Journal of Marketing and featured in this month’s AMA Marketing News as well. Here is what the researchers say:
“Consumers devalue unattractive produce because of altered self-perception, which increases negative self-image and decreases their willingness to buy it when more attractive options are available. Consumers have the same response when they imagine themselves consuming ugly fruits and vegetables. Fortunately, there is an easy fix: Boost consumers’ self esteem.”
Seriously? I agree there are underlying psychological mechanisms behind consumer choices, and it can be fruitful to explore those mechanisms. But this is an obvious reminder that sometimes researchers need to get a lot closer to their topic. I have worked with and learned from Henry for several years and see exactly why people at our farmer’s market won’t buy ugly produce. Here are five top reasons, and they have nothing to do with self-esteem:
- They think it will taste bad
- They eat first with their eyes
- They are afraid the insides are bad
- They believe it will spoil faster
- They worry about chemicals and bugs
In fact, a few years back I wrote about market researchers learning more by getting closer to their topics, inspired by Henry himself. From the Ivory Tower to the Farm: Henry’s Earthly Lessons for Stellar Market Research offers three excellent lessons: (1) Know your data, (2) Know your customers, (3) Know your mission.
As much as I loved my days of academia, and as much as I value the superb research our academic colleagues do to help front-line researchers like me, this article about ugly produce is a reminder that better market research insights come from a simpler place: getting out into the field, observing what’s happening, asking people simple questions, and then sharing what we know.
—Joe Hopper, Ph.D.