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The two most important truths marketers need to know about

The truth is easy to work with, it gives you confidence and helps you make great decisions, especially where your target audience are concerned, right? So, why then, when it comes to researching people, are the two most important truths that marketers have to work with the biggest traps of all?

The two truths I speak of are half-truths and inconvenient truths. Let’s unpack them and understand why they are so important and what to do about them.


Starting with half-truths. Some might call them deceptions, or even lies - rarely of the purposeful kind however. When you sit people (your customers or target audience consumers) in a focus group and ask them what they did and why they did it, you’ll get a response that doesn’t tally with the actual truth. You see, we humans are irrational, and we are not great witnesses of our own behaviour, so when researchers rely on recall alone they will give you the wrong steer. Recall is based on rational thinking. Actual behaviour is more often irrational, emotional or, as Daniel Kahneman calls it, System 1 thinking. It's part of the reason why we prefer online qualitative research where what people disclose can be tested later on in depth and detail. Here's how we do it, if you're interested.

It’s not only the likes of Kahneman and Dan Ariely that have spent years looking into our irrationality, Google have been doing so too. Pick up the book ‘Everybody Lies’ by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz and see for yourself how, from analysing behavioural data from Google searches, social media, online dating sites, and even pornography sites reveal the real truth (and subsequently the half-truths) about what people really do and what they think.

We humans don’t mean to deceive, it’s simply how we operate and how our brains are wired. But if you are on the verge of making big business decisions and risking significant investment then you need to work with experts, such as social scientists, anthropologists and psychologists to see through these fabrications. 

Inconvenient truths

The second most important type of truth that marketers need to be aware of is the inconvenient truth. Painful as these are, inconvenient truths are those that point to some significant change of the kind that will be hard, challenging or disruptive. Inconvenient truths challenge what people know, or thought was the right way to go.

Disruption isn’t easy to deal with. It’s fraught with tension, especially for some stakeholders as they might have to change what they’ve been doing for a very long time, and we know how hard change is. Being told that the way you’ve always done things for customers 'isn’t working' is tough to hear. So too is the inconvenient truth that your latest idea or innovation isn’t cutting it with your target user or customer, or that they don’t value it as highly as you do and that they are happy with what you are already serving them up. Inconvenient truths are very common, and ignoring them will often lead to failure. But, here’s how you can manage them.

So there you have it. Beware of the traps, half-truths and inconvenient truths at your peril. You have a responsibility to maximise your companies investment, so get expert help and advice on how to spot and work with these truths. You’ll look good and make that next promotion if you do!

Want to get to the bottom of how people in your target audience behave, think and feel?

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