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When Observation isn't Enough: The Case of the Green Jolly Ranchers

Posted by Lynne Castronuovo on Wed, Apr 11, 2012

Green Apple Jolly ranchersAs I prepare for my 14th Boston Marathon, I find myself thinking about food a lot, and when you’re on training runs there is no shortage of candy to keep you fueled. I have come to find our candy stations reveal a little known fact about us runners— we DO NOT like green apple Jolly Ranchers.  How did I come to this revelation? I didn’t interview my teammates, convene a focus group, or field a questionnaire— it was obvious from seeing dish upon dish of lonely green candies.

This type of observation, also known as an unobtrusive measure, can be pretty handy.  Museums can look at wear patterns in the carpet, in front of exhibits, to see which are the most popular, and social media researchers can get a good understanding of what people think about a brand using social media listening.  I was comfortable concluding my group of runners does not like Jolly Ranchers. But when I took a look at CMB’s 5th floor candy bowl—almost empty—except for five or six green Jolly Ranchers, I wondered, does NO ONE like these things?

I needed to investigate a little further. On Friday, I asked my fellow team members why the apple Jolly Ranchers were always the last to go, and I got some feedback that helps explain why that is.  One person cited that apple was actually her favorite “because they are the most tart” but that she didn’t know about the candy dish. I realized that she joined CMB after the advertising blitz that took place when I launched the dish.  Another team member said she found apple “a little bit too tangy” but that she liked them better than the cherry variety.  She explained that she loves fresh cherries, but hates the cherry flavor because it reminds her of the cough medicine she had to take as a kid.

While my unobtrusive observations accurately recognized that apple was definitely the last standing in the candy dish, the feedback I garnered from my colleagues not only helped me to identify an awareness issue but also highlighted a weakness of cherry Jolly Ranchers.  Even if my census of my 5th floor colleagues didn’t provide too much insight into the whole Jolly Rancher market, it does remind me what unobtrusive measures can and can’t do and why asking questions can uncover things simple observation can’t.

Posted by Lynne Castronuovo, Lynne is a Senior Project Manager at CMB, guardian of the 5th floor candy dish, and will run her  14th Boston Marathon on Monday April, 16th.

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Topics: methodology