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How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market 1st Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 54 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1578518265
ISBN-10: 1578518261
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Harvard Business School professor Zaltman notes that despite enormous amounts of time and money dedicated to customer surveys and marketing, approximately 80% of all new products fail within six months or fall significantly short of their profit forecast. This shouldn't be surprising, he convincingly argues, since "a great mismatch exists between the way consumers experience and think about their world and the methods marketers use to collect this information." He calls for creative questioning that probes the unconscious values underlying consumers' reactions to products and marketing campaigns. Drawing on an impressive array of recent multidisciplinary research, Zaltman is especially provocative on the importance of memory, metaphor and storytelling in customers' decision making and the ways marketers might use these findings. Marketers worried about the scale and complexity of the surveys Zaltman advocates will breathe a sigh of relief as he outlines efficient methods to develop a set of shared values in a target market by creatively interviewing a small sample of customers. In fact, large vision and practical application go hand-in-hand for Zaltman. He may caution, rather abstractly, that successfully gauging the mind of the market depends on developing creative surveys and quality thinking about information gathered, but he also reminds readers to frame campaigns for a product in terms that vividly communicate its function and its emotional appeal for consumers. Zaltman's smart, practical analysis and many success stories will hold special appeal for those facing competitive markets, as well as for those rethinking more limited marketing approaches.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Any marketing professional will treasure this book." -- Denver Business Journal, December 8, 2003

"Anyone involved in market research should read this book: it’s where the practice is headed." -- brandchannel.com, August 6, 2003

"How Customers Think is exciting ... It advances provacative ideas ... for real learning and change." -- Fast Company Magazine, February 2003

"How Customers Think offers fresh insights into the consumer mind." -- Rajeev Kamineni, Marketing Update, October, 2003

"It’s a handy and thought-provoking, if not essential, book for modern marketers." -- Harvey Schachter, Globe and Mail, May 7, 2003

"The book describes some important, recent knowledge about how customers think, feel, remember, and construct their realities." -- Marketing Management, July 8, 2003

"The book is informative and verbalizes part of my own philosophy, developed after 25 years in the product development field." -- Bill Clem, Business 2.0 Magazine, May 1, 2003

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 323 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business School Press; 1 edition (February 21, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1578518261
  • ISBN-13: 978-1578518265
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 6.5 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #379,116 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 6, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Few would have any argument with the central thesis of this book. Most new products fail rapidly in unexpected ways, suggesting that a misunderstanding of what is required by customers is part of the problem. Professor Zaltman goes on to suggest that his patented approach to considering more aspects of customer thinking (especially emotion, associations and context) can help improve matters.
The book argues successfully that most marketing research methods are misused (usually by being applied to solve the wrong class of problem). He also does a fine job of explaining how marketers' attitudes and opinions create myopia that prevents them from learning what they need to know.
There is extensive material in the book about how the brain works in the context of purchasing decisions. For those who are familiar with brain research, there is little new here.
As someone who has worked in marketing research for over 30 years, I found the explanation of how to do better to be abstract and often counter to my own experience with extensive one-on-one open-ended interviews. Let me share a few examples. First, he states that consensus maps (a graphic expression of the universal considerations and order that consumers go through to make a purchasing decision) of how consumers think almost always emerge after 10 interviews . . . far short of statistical norms. That finding made me wonder if the maps are done too abstractly to capture the richness of customer thinking. Second, all of the examples of specific brands seemed to relate to an adult making a decision with the item in front of her or him. Yet, many consumers arrive at the grocery store (for example, since much of the book is about food products) with a shopping list in hand.
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Format: Hardcover
Consumer research is a $6 billion business. But the ROI on research expenditures is being questioned as never before. This is ironic given that advances in information technology has vastly expanded analytic capabilities and increased customer data by an order of magnitude.
Jerry Zaltman�s �How Customers Think� offers fresh insights into why companies are increasingly frustrated by consumer research. Drawing on contemporary brain research, he exposes fatal flaws in the hallowed premise in traditional consumer research that asking customers about their motivations is the best way to get clues about their future behavior.
Zaltman points out that surveys, questionnaires and focus groups fail to get behind the curtains of consciousness. This can prove fatal for a marketing program because at least 90% of mental activity that leads to perceptions, thinking and decisions takes place outside the conscious mind.
However, traditional research and marketing largely ignores the contents of the unconscious mind. Why is this so, when contemporary brain research has learned that this is where motivations as well as perceptions and decisions originate? Because lacking an understanding of how minds work, researchers and marketers must depend by default on consumers� conscious rational responses. However, disconnects between what consumers consciously think and what they feel at deeper levels often lead to marketplace failure.
Zaltman reconnects the emotional, feeling dimension of consumers� minds (right brain as it were) with the perceiving, thinking (left brain) dimension of their minds to yield a holistic picture of customers� minds.
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Format: Hardcover
For most of its pages, "How Customers Think" is a silly book which conceals shallow content with glib explanations, pseudo-scientific rationales, and marketing / management jargon. Since it assumes the basic principles of marketing research without explanation, it is not useful to a beginning research practitioner or buyer. However, an experienced practitioner will find some interesting ideas, provided (s)he is willing to spend some time cutting through fluff to get to the meat.

The book's greatest flaw is its author's misconception, common to many authors in marketing and related fields, that books about marketing should themselves be examples of marketing. Much of the book reads like advertising copy for the marketing research methods and management principles expounded by the author. This slick style tries, but fails, to conceal a serious lack of content.

Most of the book's content falls into one of three categories, all useless. The first category: explanations of traditional qualitative questioning techniques, such as projection using pictures or collages. These methodologies are rehashed without any really new content or in-depth explanation. The second category: discussion of recent findings from cognitive science, along with case studies showing how these findings lead to better MR methods. Unfortunately, the author's own understanding of cognitive science is too shallow, and the connection between cognitive science and his successful case studies so tenuous, that one suspects cognitive science is nothing more than window dressing intended to sell services to clients. The third category: principles for successful business management.
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