Portrait of smiling senior man using laptop on porch

Addicted to user research

I was recently invited to a business meal and as I found my place and settled down, I waited with happy anticipation for the others to arrive on my table. A quick look at the name cards told me that my direct table mates to my right and left were both males and judging from a quick look round the room they were going to be middle aged or older.

The gentleman to my right was the first to arrive, let’s imagine he was called John. John funnily enough did turn out to be middle aged but he was very clued up on technology, having run a social media agency in his past. He was a very interesting character, having previously worked in PR for celebrities and lived a rather extravagant life.

David

To my left was an older gentleman, let’s call him David. The curious researcher inside me lit up when I clocked David. Most of our clients want research with millennials, so although we do research with older people, it’s not that often. Yet I find talking to older people quite fascinating. They’re generally quite good at reflecting on their behaviour, on why they do what they do and it’s so enjoyable to listen to.

David was an intelligent gentleman. He’d had an incredibly successful career and worked in top positions in very high profile high street brands.  As I asked him about the technology he used and how he shops, I found myself entering research mode, engaging in a very interesting conversation about his shopping preferences and how they change depending on the type of product.

David and technology

I was curious as to the devices David owned. I was fairly surprised to hear that he owned a Macbook. Apple is a brand we generally associate with the younger audience, however, David was incredibly enthusiastic about his experience so far. When I questioned his choice, he immediately stated ‘ease of use’ as the key reason and that ‘it just works’. He told me all about the problems he used to have with Windows computers and how in comparison, his Mac was just so simple to use.

Do you think David had a tablet? Well, yes he did have a tablet. Knowing that many of the older generation are given hand me downs from sons/daughters, especially to communicate, when he told me that he used his tablet to communicate with his son and grandchildren in another country, I was quick to enquire how he had become the owner of an iPad – was it his love of Apple having an influence or was it indeed a hand me down? It turned out to be a hand me down from his son so they could keep in touch.

When it came to his mobile device, David was, I’d say, very typical of his generation. At this point he pulled out a mobile from his pocket that most young people would probably not even recognise and think belonged in a museum. It was an old, very worn, Nokia phone, with just a 0-9 keypad and a non-touch screen. Having a long mobile history myself (I used to work at Sony Ericsson on smartphones and turned down a job at Nokia) I just had to take a photo! I was quite overjoyed to see this relic still in use. He clearly still cared for it too, as he’d kept the plastic cover on the screen (see pic below).

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David explained that he had absolutely no need for one of these new types of phones. Everything he felt he needed a phone for he could do using his old Nokia. It was interesting but not surprising that although David had the latest computer and tablet tech, he had no interest in updating his phone. Ease of use was very important to him. For David, his Macbook made his life easier. His tablet made communication with his family easier. They had clear benefits. However, he saw his old Nokia, with it’s limited features as the simplest mobile for him. A smartphone with it’s array of features was perceived as a hindrance.

How does David shop?

When it came to shopping, David was more than happy to shop online using his Macbook. He was very satisfied with the convenience of shopping from the comfort of his home. However, I suspected there would be exceptions to this generalisation and when I explored more deeply, it was clear that David had different rules for different types of products and services that he purchased. There were some physical products that David insisted you needed to shop in person for. There was a clear theme throughout the examples he gave and that was products that have strong sensory qualities, particularly tactile qualities. One example David talked about was shoes because ‘you need to try them on to see what they’ll feel like’.

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed speaking with David about his use of technology and how he shops. The older generation are often under-represented within businesses yet they’re an important consumer base to consider. It’s important to remember that as time progresses they are changing as consumers. They’re becoming more comfortable with technology, they’re owning the latest devices thanks to influence and hand me downs from their children, they’re seeing the benefits that technology can give them and with their children all grown up, they have plenty of disposable cash. But they’re clever shoppers. They want to know what they’re buying is the best for them and that it’s easy for them to use.

Intro to persuasion and social influence

Many years ago, when I was a student working as a project administrator in my spare time, my manager asked me ‘If you could have any super power, what would it be?’

I thought about this and decided i’d want the power of invisibility. I guess this makes sense now, considering how much i enjoy observing and analysing human behaviour – you need to be truly invisible to not have an observer effect. My manager however decided upon the power of persuasion. He said if he had the power to persuade anyone to do anything he could do and have whatever he wanted in the world.

Luckily for us, persuasion is something that can be learned, practised and used in our daily lives. Brands leverage many principles of persuasion to convince us of their value and to purchase their product.

Principles of persuasion image

It is no coincidence that the Loreal adverts now show Cheryl Cole as their brand ambassador. She is officially the most liked female in the uk. People are more likely to trust her and be persuaded by her as she has a very high ‘Like’ factor. She also provides ‘social proof’ however there is more resistance now to celebrity social proof as people look more towards their peers for advice.

Sites such as makeup alley (shown below) rely on social proof to work. Users can read what their peers think of products, they can see the rating they gave it, what percentage of people would buy the product and importantly, they can see that the people are real.

Companies often use scarcity to act faster or pay more. Below is an example from a website that sells bedroom furniture. They use both limited time free delivery and a limited number of free drills to try to persuade the customer to purchase their products soon, otherwise they will miss out. People have a fear of loss so the thought of potentially losing something that is ‘free’ (another motivator) can be enough to get them to act.

We all look to experts for advice and recommendations. Even amongst our peers, we have experts who we turn to for advice. For example, if you need a new TV you might ask cousin John as he always knows a lot about entertainment systems. Or if your cat is ill, you might ask your friend Sarah for advice as she’s got 3 cats and is cat crazy! Each person is highly persuasive in their own way.

Persuasion is a fascinating subject area and i’ll be covering it in more depth in future posts, in particular how you can design to persuade.