Intercept Research Reveals the Why Behind Customer Actions

Intercepts can be a valuable way to find out why a customer shopped in your store or bought a specific product.

Intercepts can be a valuable way to find out why a customer shopped in your store or bought a specific product.

One of the most overlooked research strategies is the intercept, where researchers observe or ask for customer comment at the point of sale.

It is one thing to ask someone whether they would this or that product and quite another to ask a customer why she just bought the product in her shopping bag.

In the marketing world, there is an entire universe of metrics to measure whether a marketing campaign is working. But one metric that often is missing is the interaction with a customer who purchased what is being marketed. Failure to use intercept research can lead to a lack of understanding of customer motivation – the why behind the purchase.

Marketers may think customers buy something because of clever messaging. However, intercept research might show customers are actually drawn to a product because its packaging sticks out on the shelf next to similar other products. Good to know. That could influence advertising to focus more on the package and less on the clever words.

My son-in-law runs a large number of Jack in the Box restaurants. The fast food chain has long used a quirky, wisecracking character as its brand mascot. Jack Box has been the dominant feature in the chain’s advertising for years, but after intercept testing, brand executives discovered customers came to the restaurant when they saw food they liked, not because of Jack’s white head or wisecracks. Jack in the Box ads now still show Jack, but give a far more prominent place to the food.

It’s a small difference, but a significant one. My son-in-law said business has been booming since the emphasis in the ads changed.

Jack in the Box TV spots still include Jack Box, the quirky, ball-headed band mascot, but now the food the restaurant chain serves gets more prominent play.

Jack in the Box TV spots still include Jack Box, the quirky, ball-headed band mascot, but now the food the restaurant chain serves gets more prominent play.

Intercept research can take multiple forms – a follow-up phone call or email, a questionnaire at the point-of-sale or an exit interview. The more personal the intercept, the higher likelihood of a response. The closer to the point-of-sale, the most likely you will receive an unfiltered response.

The power of intercept research is that it is based on actions, not reactions or projections. Intercept research explores the realm of past tense, not future tense. You talk to actual customers or, in the case of elections, actual voters. What we call exit polls are in reality just another form of intercept research.

Some people don’t view intercepts as real research. They aren’t necessarily statistically valid as you would expect from a telephone survey. They may be skewed by who is willing to participate and those who don’t want to be bothered. But their saving grace is that the people who are interviewed are connected with the product, service or action being tested. That is its own form of validity.

Intercept research is the research tool to use when you want to measure what someone did or bought and ask the all-important question of why. Knowing why someone did something can be the golden key to encouraging them to do it again.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.