New Product Development Advanced by Personal Construct Psychology: How One Word Made All the Difference
June 28th, 2010
One word changed the construct research subjects used to answer a question…and opened a flood gate of new product development insights.
We recently did some new product development research for a manufacturer trying to learn how tradesmen evaluate competing power tools. Personal construct psychology informed our approach.
Personal construct psychology (PCP) is a framework for understanding the categorical templates that people use to organize the realities of the world. Each person’s templates evolve in accord with what they learn from past experiences. They lay their templates over new, similar experiences to anticipate what will happen.
By understanding which constructs customer use to distinguish offerings, you can begin to understand which elements of message, product, package and experiential concepts differentiate offerings in customers’ eyes and which don’t.
In our initial draft of the discussion guide, we asked tradesman, “What makes some of these tools better than others?
We got these answers:
- “Durable. It’s going to get banged up on a construction job.”
- “The manufacturer stands behind their product. They’ll take it back if it breaks.”
- “You can maintain it easily to increase its working life.”
- “How much it costs to use.”
While these comments were helpful, they weren’t entirely satisfying. We felt we had tapped constructs that tradesmen use to evaluate the quality of tool manufacturing. This was only tangentially related to what we wanted to know: what constructs do tradesmen use to select tools they’re going to buy?
So, our client agreed to change the question from, “What makes some of these tools better than others?” to, “What makes some of these tools more useful than others?” The word, “useful,” evoked a different contextual construct. It surfaced memories of on-the-job customer experiences where some tools were frustrating to use.
Here’s what we learned over and above what we heard before…
- “Speed. How fast it does the work.”
- “Maneuverability. It needs to fit in tight spaces. It needs to be lightweight.”
- “Portability. Sometimes, electric plugs get kicked out by other workers on a job site. That costs me time. Help me avoid having to use extension cords.”
- “Safety, Make sure it can’t tip over while it’s on. Put a guard on it so no one backs into and hurts themselves. Pat a safety lock on this so there’s no change it will turn on when it gets knocked around in my tool bag.”
- “Run time. Make it so I don’t have to replenish the power source as often. Give me a way of knowing how much run time is left so I can replaced the power source before I start a job.”
- “Adjustable controls. Let me adjust the power to a level suitable for doing the job.”
Much richer stuff. In this case, using just the right word meant the difference between acquiring pedestrian insight and scratching the surface of strategically valuable wisdom. It informed a variety of decisions about the product design and package copy.
We typically find that customers in a product category,
- cluster into groups who share common, but not identical sets of, constructs that help them anticipate what their experiences will be, and
- assign varying levels of importance to each dimension (e.g., speed, maneuverability, portability, etc.) across these groups
Personal construct psychology informs approaches that complement segmentation. At times, it can provide insights that go deeper. You learn not only what customers needs exist, but also how customers distinguish new products that will help them better meet their needs.
Bottom line: If you know why and how your prospect thinks and feels (not just what they feel), you can anticipate how they’ll act in new situations. That focuses creative thinking around those few new product ideas worthy of developing further.
Jason M. Sherman is president of Whyze Group, the leading customer experience research and innovation firm. Whyze Group works with B2B and B2B2C Fortune 500 organizations. The company has been recognized by the Baldrige National Quality Program, business associations and numerous business media as a leader in research and innovation. Inquiries: Jason@whyzegroup.com, (440) 785-0547.
Entry Filed under: Qualitative Research and Innovation