ORLANDO, FL: Automaker Ford is mixing traditional and digitally-powered research techniques as it aims to understand how consumers use their heads and hearts when buying a vehicle.

Will Neafsey, manager of Global Consumer Segmentation and Tracking/Global Market Research at Ford, discussed this subject at The Market Research Event (TMRE).

He dug down into how prospective buyers make choices when confronted with an ever-increasing number of competing cars – and a specification list which spans everything from colours and trims to engines.

Reading reviews, asking the opinion of friends and looking for online offers are among the more functional actions that people take in filtering through this deluge of information.

"It's all part of what they're learning," said Neafsey. "It's all part of the stuff we have to catch and understand. Prices are so important, but information is very important." (For more, including further insights into the automaker's consumer understanding, read Warc's exclusive report: Ford research: Grounded in quant, with digital insights.)

But a range of emotional factors also play a central role, as these shoppers consider questions like: "How do I want this thing to make me feel? How does it feel when I'm driving this thing around?"

And the "heart-side" of a decision necessarily moves beyond hard-headed pragmatism. "It's not just about making a rational choice," said Neafsey.

"It's making sure that your friends aren't sitting around talking like, 'That car sucks.' You don't want to be the guy who bought that car."

Mixing traditional research techniques, like focus groups and surveys, with methodologies like analysing spikes in web traffic and text mining on social media, can help brands gain both an aggregate and targeted insight into its audience.

"We need to find a marriage between reliable, standardised research practices and new insights drawn from digital sources, especially when the focus is on younger audience interests," Neafsey said.

"They'll buy from us someday. But the average age of people that buy from us is usually the high 40s or low 50s ... So we need to balance the message we hear from the places like social media and the people that we really should be listening to."

"When we look at big data, when we look at things that are not traditional market research where we can control the sample, we have to think about these kinds of purposes because there's no one size fits all."

Data sourced from Warc