We talk a lot about "getting inside the heads" of those people
we want to change some behavior, and of not just "pushing"
information at them but generating "pull" from them. But this is
hard to do as any good marketing researcher knows. It's hard in
part because it requires us -- highly educated academics who long
have been told that we know a lot of impressive things -- to
listen. And that's less about listening to what people think than
it is listening to how people feel. That's what the art of consumer
research is about. It's learning how to elicit and then recognize
affect, how people feel. The very best job I've ever seen of
listening and interpreting feelings was done by a consumer
marketing research group led by Russell W. Belk at the University
of Utah. Belk and his doctoral students studied how people feel
about things, and not just any things, but those things -- those
possessions -- that they value most of all. How did they do this?
They outfitted an RV as a research vehicle and drove across the
U.S. visiting flea markets and antique malls. They conducted
interviews with everyday collectors about those things that they
were hunting for. You know, that specific cobalt blue Roseville
vase that they'd never found but gotten oh so close. People care
deeply about certain things. Most things, we don't care much about.
If you want to understand how to create pull from people you want
to help or affect, read Belk's work (Possessions and the extended
self, Journal of Consumer Research 15, 1988, pp. 139-168; The
sacred and the profane in consumer behavior: Theodicy on the
Odyssey, Journal of Consumer Research 16, 1989, pp 1-38).
Absolutely terrific research.