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What "It's a Wonderful Life" Can Teach Us About Consumer Research

As I sit on my porch drinking my morning coffee, a mild breeze slowly pings the wind chimes. My mind drifts off to Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey character in It’s a Wonderful Life: “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.” 

In this classic movie, George Bailey is one of the “good guys:” a family man who sacrifices his dreams and desires for those around him, while helping immigrant families in his community realize the American Dream. Ultimately, through a mishap between his senile Uncle and his malicious enemy, Mr. Potter, George is accused of stealing money and faces going to jail on Christmas Eve. He ends up drunk and on a bridge debating suicide. God answers his family's prayers by sending an angel, Clarence, to try and save him.

Clarence (an angel who has not yet earned his wings) wants to rush to change George’s mind without knowing much about him. His guiding angel Franklin slows him down and says, “If you're going to help a man you want to know something about him, don't you?” 

He then proceeds to provide a historical ethnography of George’s life, family, friends, and community. Ultimately, Clarence uses his knowledge of George, and what makes him tick, to save George and earn his wings.  

While we no longer live in the post-World War II era, the basic human truths are still the same: Everyone has hidden desires and dreams, things that make them laugh, or cry; goals they are running towards, and obstacles they are running away from. 

What has changed is the speed of life in the modern technology-driven world of social media and 24-hour news. A world in which just a few tweets can set off the collapse of a major bank in minutes and a misplaced endorsement deal can shed billions in a company’s capitalization in days.

To paraphrase the advice Franklin gave Clarence, businesses need to slow down and realize that, “If you are going to sell to a person you want to know something about them first.” Understand their hidden dreams and desires, what makes them laugh and cry, what they embrace with all their lives, and what they toss away like yesterday’s trash. This requires a deeper conversation than a checkbox questionnaire or a traditional qual method that is too slow, too costly, and too limited in the number of completes.

We recently teamed up with Mojo Supermarket to gain a better understanding of what Ramadan truly means to young Muslims. By tapping into their personal experiences, beliefs, and opinions during this important holiday, we are empowering brands to connect with this demographic in a more authentic and meaningful way. Despite the challenges of accessing this hard-to-reach audience, we were able to successfully engage with them, a feat that most market research firms struggle to achieve. Take a look at The Ramadan Report here.

If you are ready to move past the surface understanding of quick-hit quantitative research and gain a deeper and projectable understanding of your consumer, come partner with Sympler.