Are You Experienced? – A new form of market research called – experience modeling

Are You Experienced? – A new form of market research called – experience modeling – Brief Article

Scott Leibs

IF THERE’S A GOLDEN RULE FOR WEB-SITE DESIGN, it’s this: Know Thy User. That may seem obvious, but as the CFO at one etailer admitted in a recent interview, “We know who our customers are. But I’m not sure we, or any dotcoms, know exactly what customers want when they go to our sites.”

That gap may explain the growing interest in experience modeling (Xmod), a form of market research that can be fairly described as a cross between a focus group and a Skinner box. Typically, experience modelers make visits to consumers’ homes, film them, and even beep them via pagers–to find out how they actually use a product. The discipline developed in the 1970s, when scientists at Xerox Corp.’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) scrutinized how test subjects interacted with office machinery. The approach paid off. The Alto, the first personal computer, embodied several Xerox PARC innovations.

Today, consultants like Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Sapient Corp. flog experience modeling as a critical component of Web-site design. But some critics question experience modeling, arguing that it’s simpler to ask consumers what they do, rather than film it.

But Rick E. Robinson disagrees. Cofounder of E-Lab and current chief experience officer at Sapient, Robinson says focus groups tell you what people think–not what they do. “People often can’t articulate what they want,” he says.

Case in point: Last year, General Motors hired E-Lab to enhance the functionality of GM vehicles. Toward that, E-Lab testers rode around with drivers. “You might ask them, ‘Does this car have enough storage space?’ and they’ll say, ‘Yes,'” notes Jim Dolot, director of portfolio concepts and market intelligence at GM. “But then you find out they put their sunglasses in the beverage holder.”

As yet, few online operators have embraced experience modeling. IOptions Group, which tutors employees electronically about stock options, was an early convert. Joe Kelly, cofounder of the startup, says: “Sapient found out things our focus groups missed.” Adds Preston Dodd, a senior analyst at Jupiter Communications: “More mature approaches to marketing, like that embodied in experience modeling, need to take root in ecommerce.”

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