You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Reading a decent book, came across a great point:

The book is Start With Why and it really labors on the fact that great businesses lead with their WHY right out front, not their WHAT (or their HOW). Okay, but how does this relate to evaluation?

The author discusses how laundry detergent brands had forever been promoting how their formulas got clothes “whiter than white.” They had, smartly, conducted focus groups and asked people what they wanted out of a great laundry detergent and “whiter than white” was the answer. But when they rolled out that marketing campaign, competing with one another over which was whiter (that sounds weird), it didn’t have much of an effect on the consumer. Good thing they brought back in the scientists, anthropologists to be exact, who studied people washing their clothes. That’s when they discovered – a ha! – the first thing people do when they pull a load from the wash is to smell it. Yep. The fresh smell was more important than the level of whiteness. (Now you know why that aisle is so ridiculously scented at the supermarket, with dozens of fragrance variation.)

Back to evaluation: Focus groups are so often to go-to resource for needs assessments. Close seconds might be surveys or interviews, but these are other forms of self-report, where we are asking people directly about their needs. But those end up actually being their wants, more often than not. As Jane Davidson calls it, unconscious needs are really what we are after when we are designing programs and interventions. Those unconscious needs are the ones people are less likely to be able to articulate, simply because we humans are often lacking self-awareness. Perhaps, like the anthropologists witnessing laundry day, we should be observing a great deal more than we are asking.