NEW YORK – How do you convince brand loyal consumers to switch to a new product? A recent article by a Columbia Business School Lecturer demonstrates how marketers can apply a distinctive mix of qualitative research methods to inspire ways to encourage consumers to adopt new purchasing behaviors. In his article, Robert J. Morais, marketing Lecturer at Columbia Business School utilizes a case study of Freshpet dog food to show that anthropological and psychological research can have surprising, yet practical applications for selling goods in competitive markets.
The study, published in the Journal of Business Anthropology, took a two-phased approach with the first phase consisting of psychologically oriented focus groups, followed by a second phase with anthropological ethnography. In both phases, the researchers spoke with prospective and loyal Freshpet buyers. The psychological study found that pet caregivers want their pets to feel as if they are truly part of the family, and used the theory of cognitive dissonance to suggest that caregivers could feel better about their dog’s eating experience – and their dog’s place in the family – by feeding their dog Freshpet. In the ethnography, researchers visited consumers in their homes and accompanied them to the stores where they most often bought pet food. Through the anthropological approach, it was apparent that Freshpet didn’t fit into a two-class typology of dry and wet dog food; the brand, which is sold in the refrigerated case, could be positioned above dry and wet food and below the gold standard of home cooked human food. Adapting a phrase from Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs, Morais labeled the proposed positioning “The Hierarchy of Feed,” a concept that would situate the brand in consumers’ minds more closely to human food than dry or wet dog food, and offer a way for caregivers to enhance their dog’s eating experience and express their love.
Small scale qualitative market research enables marketers to bring context and depth to their understanding of consumers; quantitative research is often favored for its larger samples and predictive value. However, the Freshpet case study demonstrates the immense value of qualitative research, especially when informed by psychology and anthropology. It can lead to richly informed and potentially brand-building strategies.
The study, Inspiring Brand Positionings with Mixed Qualitative Methods: A Case of Pet Food can be found here.
To learn more about the cutting-edge research being conducted at Columbia Business School, please visit www.gsb.columbia.edu.
About the researcher
Robert J. Morais is an anthropologist with a 35+ year career in advertising and market research, and a Lecturer at Columbia Business School. He spent...Read more.