Methods for Measuring Meaning

I’m doing a lot of head scratching at the moment. I’m convinced that brands that are able to create, or co-create, meaningful experiences with their customers will win their trust and with it build long-term non-fragile relationships. I’m also convinced that creating these experiences isn’t something that can be done by going into a room and designing from scratch. These social systems are inherently complex, and as with other complex systems it is about designing an environment from which these great experiences will evolve and emerge.
 
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In the most abstract sense we need to be able to consider the perception of the brand from at least one customers perspective. For that given customer there needs to be a mechanism by which we can judge the quality of the experiences that the customer has with the brand. Both in the moment and over the life-time of that customers relationship with the brand. What emotions the customer experiences as it happens and how the memories of the interaction influence future behaviour.
 
Let’s consider a broad range of possible methods for getting the answers we need. My belief is that organisations that get locked into one method risk developing an entrained perspective of the customer experience. In other words while optimisation of the experience may occur the optimisation risks being centred around a local maximum. The Lean Startup for example use their “pivot” to shift out away from these when they occur.
 
Applied Research is a practical approach to scientific investigations conducted to answer specific questions. Assume this is focused on unique questions specific to one brand and one segment of customers.
 
Basic Research is more general, while still scientific in nature this research focuses on development of new theories that apply across all brands. In fact brands trying to do basic research can quickly become unstuck (see Facebook example).
 
Correlational Research allows for the investigation of relationships rather than cause-and-effect. Given the interdependence of factors involved in the customer experience this type of research is often useful. However when used with Big Data then care needs to be taken with the false-positives where correlation is coincidental.
 
Descriptive Research provides an accurate portrayal of characteristics of a particular individual, situation or group. These studies are a means of discovering new meaning, describing what exists, determining the frequency with which something occurs, and categorizing information.
 
Ethnographic Research is the investigation of a culture through an in-depth study of the members of the culture; it involves the systematic collection, description, and analysis of data for development of theories of cultural behaviour. Depending on the context this kind of research may be relevant to understanding social aspects of the customer experience.
 
Experimental Research is objective, systematic and controlled investigation for the purpose of predicting and controlling phenomena and examining probability and causality among selected variables. When we talk of experimentation this is the classic scientific approach however removing the interdependence of variables to gain insight into direct cause-and-effect is very hard with anything but the most simple customer experience.
 
Exploratory Research are studies that are merely formative, for the purpose of gaining new insights, discovering new ideas, and increasing knowledge of phenomena. Often informal in nature this kind of research is often useful for framing a problem area.
 
Grounded Theory Method turns traditional methods on their head. Rather than formulating a hypothesis first, this method rather begins by collecting data first. Before allow a theory to emerge from the data. Perhaps a model would be a better term than theory, however this method certainly has application with customer experience.
 
Historical Research involving analysis of events that occurred in the remote or recent past. Certainly possible to gain insight by analysing historical customer experience data.
 
Phenomenological Research is an inductive, descriptive research approach developed from phenomenological philosophy; its aim is to describe an experience as it is actually lived by the person. With dubious links to spiritual science these methods are often viewed as unscientific and to be disciplined about this method requires some level of training. 
 
Qualitative Research is good for dealing with phenomena that are difficult or impossible to quantify mathematically, such as beliefs, meanings, attributes, and symbols. Well disposed to handling the meaning behind a good customer experience.
 
Quantitative Research involves formal, objective information about the world, with mathematical quantification; it can be used to describe test relationships and to examine cause and effect relationships. It is unlikely to help provide insight in any but the simplest customer experiences.
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