The posts here represent the opinions of CMB employees and guests—not necessarily the company as a whole. 

Subscribe to Email Updates


see all

Problem Analysis: The Value of Probing Negativity

Posted by Anne Bailey Berman on Thu, Aug 18, 2011

I like to think of myself as a very positive person.  I appreciate the good meal at my favorite restaurant, my laptop’s ease of use, and the friendly service or good prices of our panel suppliers.  But, I’m only human, so when asked, I respond with much greater clarity about the things that irritate me.  Be it the noise in the restaurant, or the broken button on my computer; and when my suppliers provide similar offerings, I factor in how much irritation they’ve caused right along with price and service.

This quFly in soupality of being much more articulate about what irritates us than what benefits us is salient to those in product and service planning. How do you have a competitive edge on what is important to consumers?   How do you get insight into out-of-the-box ideas that have market appeal?  What attributes should be accounted for in next generation products?  For providers of products and services, seeking market input for new products or feedback on service, a focus on the negative cuts to the heart of differentiation.   

I’m a fan of an old methodology that uncovers generally unarticulated “problems” that consumers have. Problem analysis utilizes long lists of potential problems that may not be top of mind. While it may seem depressing, it produces valuable and useful insights.  Although social media also picks up the negative, problem analysis differs in that it proactively and methodically probes for irritating issues.   These are issues that can direct providers to future “solutions” such as new products, or little considered but notable competitive distinctiveness.

For example, consider a medical equipment supplier that wanted to separate themselves from other competitors by implementing a meaningful service guarantee.   What should be included in the guarantee— friendly representatives, quality products, good prices?  Yes, those are important, and expected by the customers.   As it turned out, customers told us that all suppliers were friendly, were about the same in quality, and had prices in the same ballpark.  

However, while probing for problems, we found some very specific issues causing varying levels of irritation and ranging in importance to the customer.  These were issues which the supplier had not recognized as being real irritants or better yet, real opportunities for distinction.  In terms of service, customers indicated they needed more rapid product replacements.  They also indicated that they wanted representatives that were product trainers more than sellers, and during medical emergencies they had an extreme unmet need to consult with product managers. 

Armed with these insights, the medical supplier equipped a meaningful service guarantee including the “usual” aspects of service with some that would normally not have been included.   In addition, they were able to revamp their sales program and establish a new consulting service. 

I prefer being a positive person, but when it comes to useful market insights, proactive probing of problems is crucial. 

Posted by Anne Bailey Berman. Anne is the President of Chadwick Martin Bailey and enjoys volunteering in the community, traveling with her family and spending time in her vegetable garden.

Topics: consumer insights, brand health and positioning