Implicit vs. explicit research methods

Implicit methods generally what happened but generally don’t tell you why it happened.  This is good for showing trends or interrelated behaviors.  Explicit methods ask the customer why they acted as they did.  They attempt to understand the customer motivation to understand how the customer would act in a similar situation in the future.

Examples of implicit research methods include analyzing sales and profit numbers, web analytics, customer observations and some types of surveys.  Examples of explicit methods include focus groups, customer service, employees, social media and online communities.

Understanding your customer requires a combination of both methods.  Implicit quantitative analysis tells you exactly what happened.  By comparing different markets, regions, test groups or time periods you will be able to truly understand what outcomes result when changing certain of your inputs.  Unfortunately, you won’t understand why the outcome happened that way.  That limits your ability to transfer that knowledge to slightly dissimilar scenarios.  By laying explicit information over the implicit data, you will have an understanding of why the customer responded the way they did.  That will empower you to better aim your marketing in the a greater variety of scenarios in the future.

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