What People Do vs. What People Say

The Reality

When we research individual attitudes and behaviors, a common reality is that what people say is not necessarily what they do. This often happens when the subject is connected to social or so-called “soft” factors, such as “green” or eco-friendly products, charitable contributions, or political issues. Products touted as offering a benefit to society, such as being better for the environment, are perceived as desirable, but people’s motivations tend to shift when they are asked to pay more for those benefits. Similarly, people may say they support a social or political cause, but not take any action. This conundrum holds true for products or services that have great features. There’s a difference between liking a product and actually buying it.

A True Story

Take a look at the below video interview with Justin Doyle of Xerox. He shares the success story of selling into a market that their salesforce reported as a no-go. This isn’t a social cause, but rather a case where customers told them, explicitly, that the product in question was too expensive. However, investigation into the outcomes buyers and influencers hold most dear resulted in insights about how to position the  product. The eureka moment was when it became clear that the most important outcomes were inextricably linked to the product. Xerox put a final point on that relationship with scientific research that proved the enabling relationship. Once it was shared through testimonials and videos, it was no surprise that the revenue of the previously unsellable product grew 17% in the first year.

Getting the Most from Your Efforts

do-vs-sayLearn what’s behind your customers’ interest–what they really value, the outcomes they want to achieve, what they will pay a premium for, and how they prioritize benefits within their selection process.

Evaluate the tradeoff.

What will the customer give up for the key feature? You need to clarify the associated benefit.

Determine the right positioning and messaging,

even down to the specific words used. Some words are perceived as "hype," while others hit the mark.

Don’t make the key feature your sole headline benefit.

You need at least one performance benefit that has measurable value. Learn how the customer understands complex positioning.

Make the key benefit easy to understand.

With some products, it is difficult to explain, especially when there are long supply chains and the key feature and associated benefit are derived early in the chain.

We address these issues using an integrated qualitative/quantitative investigative methodology:


Warm, lively research sessions, with more focus on establishing trust and rapport than industry standards. The familiarity developed in the process often produces intimate revelations and confidences about the consumer’s life and the products and services used – revelations he or she may not have articulated to anyone else before, or even realized. With this approach, we can explore latent emotions and social values that become their expression of what is important to them.


A research exercise mode that uses tradeoff methods to determine importance, current state, and desired offering features and outcomes. We identify value for the concept and feature benefit priorities as well as attitudes and perceptions to obtain an analytical assessment of what respondents will pay for. Our approach enables behavioral segmentation on outcomes, attitudes, feature benefits, and value, with and without the social benefits.

By discovering the “true north” motivations via qualitative exploration and asking the right questions in the right language in quantitative validation, we learn the why of behavior and thus establish what people are likely to do vs what they say.

Please share your stories with us. What do your customers say they’ll do? Do they follow through? We’re always glad to hear from you. We’d like to help you achieve success.

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