Posted by Anne Piessens

I hesitated, then showed him my legs. Ever since I was a kid I’ve hated the little pocket of fat on the inside of each knee. “What about these?”

He checked out the knees. “Once I’m in there, I can just keep going. Is there anything else bothering you that you’d like to take care of at the same time?” He said it kindly, so I didn’t wince.

He was my fourth plastic surgeon in one week. A client asked us to help promote their cosmetic surgery practice. I was doing a little guerrilla research, trying to find out what makes people pick one surgeon over another for a face-lift or liposuction. (Or, as I was learning, for calf implants or ear pinning – two increasingly popular procedures among weight-lifting men and high school teens, respectively. Who knew?)

The consultations were eye-opening. I got to experience first-hand what a patient feels during the shopping process. The vulnerability. The leap of hope at the thought of a new-and-improved me. The sense of relief to finally meet a surgeon who with whom I had an easy rapport.

It didn’t take a lot of time or money to gain that perspective. The fact is, research doesn’t have to be complicated. It just takes simple observation skills and a sense of inquisitiveness. This means figuring out, “Why do people behave the way they do? What do they value, and why?”

The “why” is often the most important piece. It identifies underlying fears, motivations, assumptions and social structures. Understand the “why” and you’ll know how to connect with someone emotionally. But most people have difficulty articulating why they think and behave the way they do. So it’s important to not just ask the questions, but to also observe people in action. Get into their physical environment and, whenever possible, put yourself in their shoes.

Some other favorite guerrilla research efforts:

  • A client was launching a new medical device aimed at colorectal surgeons. We got permission to observe live surgery – a great opportunity to learn first-hand what it takes to get a surgeon to switch products. Tip: in this case, we had to point out all the subconscious ways the surgeon was compensating for a familiar but poorly designed product in the OR.
  • A client wanted to promote pediatric health services to local moms. We photographed family fridges to understand just how hectic life is in households with young children. The photos show family calendars, appointment reminders, school schedules, sports rosters, kids’ artwork, report cards and more. The insight: parents of sick kids simply have no time to spare. Instead of promoting our client’s top docs, we highlighted their convenient locations and friendly scheduling system.

So get out of the office. Take a ride with a sales rep. Strike up conversations with strangers. Watch how shoppers wander through a store. Ask your kids’ opinions (kids are wonderfully honest). Be a detective. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

As for those knees? I concluded there’s a good reason why the fashion industry invented Capris.


Topics: B2Me, Strategy