Surveys are essentially rational. What we need is the emotional.

Surveys are built a question at a time. Each question is testing a hypothesis or assumption, usually asking for a rating of a factor. Very logical, very rational. And often wrong. Even when the question is asking about the involvement of an emotion, the answers aren't always helpful, but that's because of the inclinations of the respondents.

When a respondent takes a survey questionnaire, they want to respond rationally. Our society values rational thought. And the respondents often answer as they wish to be perceived rather than how they are.

Market researchers have rarely valued the respondent who answered, "Because I felt like it." But how we feel is the essence of emotion and emotions drive the purchase. You're not going to uncover it asking rational questions.

The next problem with surveys is that while they are great at counting — "How many eggs are in your basket?" — they are terrible at telling you why. Just because two factors tend to correspondingly occur doesn't mean there's cause and effect. Consider this example:

The census tells us that households where the earners are college graduates have higher household incomes. That's a fact. The conclusion you usually draw from this fact is that college must help you earn more money. Logically this does not follow. Seems like common sense but there are other possibilities.

Perhaps, people who are likely to go to college are better at earning money. They'd earn more even if they didn't go to college. This conclusion is also supported by that survey fact. The survey has not told you why — you have guessed at what makes sense to you. And guess can often lead to failure in the market.

When surveys are specifically designed to focus on emotions they suffer from two related problems:

  • We have been taught not to show our feelings, men particularly.
  • We have a very poor vocabulary for emotions (Don?t need it if we don?t talk about them).

Since we were first able to comprehend what our parents tried to teach us, the message that came through was not to show our emotions. How many times have you heard:

"Don't be so emotional!"

"Control your emotions!"

Since the time of Aristotle our culture has considered the emotional and the rational as opposing and contradictory behaviors. The rational was superior and was to be valued over the emotional. This is a solid underlying part of Western culture. As a result, developing a survey to measure emotions is extremely difficult, almost worthless.

The net: surveys just don't help that much in uncovering the emotional drivers.