<img height="1" width="1" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=1483239291704574&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">

Most companies are lost in translation

According to research the biggest challenge innovation professionals face is translating marketing opportunities into winning products:


Why is there a translation challenge?

It’s simple. Traditional research methods like focus groups, do not provide the knowledge necessary for accurate translation. Focus group moderators typically ask customers directly what they want and why. This approach may work for familiar products, but customers struggle to envision novel offerings.


This type of approach (asking direct questions) only engages the conscious and rational part of the mind.

Yet, it’s a known fact that as much as 95% of all consumer behavior is driven by the subconscious mind. The mind works below the surface-level where sensory perceptions (not rational thoughts) subconsciously signal benefits through automatic associations that motivate behaviors or signal concerns that motivate avoidance.

The consequence - missed subtle associations that signal a customers’ anticipation or presence of meaningful, relevant benefits. Accurate translation requires going below the surface-level to uncover the implicit mind of the consumer.

Why then do focus groups remain popular? One, they are largely accepted and two, the insights provided often make rational sense. The back room regularly creates collaboration between marketers and designers. But, because customers behave irrationally opens the door for considerable error – missing what is unknown. This leads to opportunities lost in translation because research methods were solely reliant on directly asking questions about the “what” and “why.”

What are product cues?

Product cues are implicit connections to benefits. Customers may not explicitly associate a cue to a complex benefit, for example, “fun” “authentic or safe.” Research must be designed to unearth implicit connections so that marketing and design teams can truly deliver more meaningful product and service experiences. To do this requires finesse (to capture subtle, subconscious associations) and rigor (to quantify the degree of association between cue and benefit).


So what are research methods and techniques that we can use for a better translation?

Start getting creative with your customers!

Organize creative customer sessions (online within communities and/or offline in workshops) where you explore new concepts. Below are 3 techniques that have been proven successful over time:

  • Metaphor words

Metaphor exercises are designed to spark the subconscious mind. They deep dive into memories from past meaningful product experiences where the benefits were important. This generates hundreds of descriptive words about product attributes that may cue the subconscious mind to signal that a specific benefit exists. The finesse of this approach captures subtleties that would not arise (or be captured) in traditional focus groups.

  • Metaphor drawing and collages

When trying to identify the most important features or benefits of a particular type of product, participants can create collages or draw the ultimate product as a combination of animals, a superhero, or a space ship. Take care to provide metaphors that are not too close to the product category so that customers don’t get too literal.

  • Association techniques

“When I say X, what’s the first word (word, color, other sensorial experience) that comes to mind?” In group settings, it is best to ask everyone to write their answers down before sharing, thereby eliminating group think. Participants are then asked to share what they wrote and to elaborate on why, which becomes the basis for a discussion.

By using these techniques you can discover the meaning of (for example) different colors within your industry and how you can use them to your advantage.

Below are a couple of examples of how cues have impacted products, brand and even industries:

You may not think of it straight away but an important cue for the car industry is the sound of the door when it closes. A “moment of truth” for a customer in the process of purchase is always the sound and feeling when “shuttting the door” as this gives the him a sign of safety and comfort.


An example of a successful translation of product benefits into valuable & recognizable cues is Finish, it became the market leader and still is to this day. Creative customer sessions have been conducted in order to find the right colors, shapes and sizes to communicate it’s benefits as effective as possible - white cues salt, blue cues cleaning and the round red ball symbolizes its power.


Remember when the first iPhone came out and it was white. Who would have thought it would hit off, no market research survey would have concluded that. That’s why these creative assocation sessions need to take place. Sometimes you just need to understand what signs mean in order to make them powerful.

The white color for the iPhone distinguished itself from the marketplace and was a true success story. It was associated with being innovative, different and joyfull in the ‘dull’ world of black mobiles.

Be creative with your customers, involve them in your ideation and development, have fun!

Related posts...

CTA to download HYPE E-book about customer insights for innovation

Jump to Section
Elena Ozeritskaya

Elena Ozeritskaya

Elena Ozeritskaya is an expert on Customer Insight with a passion for creativity & innovation. During her time at Unilever and Syngenta, she was responsible for driving innovation projects with Custom