The meaning of the job and myself as a consumer researcher


Story 1:

Recently, an acquaintance from the zoo told me about one of his working experiences when he was taking care of snakes.

It was a public event and he held a snake and began to introduce it to a group of young children and their parents. He noticed that one boy couldn’t stay still for even one minute, he kept fidgeting and tried to interrupt his introduction from time to time. As the other parents as well as the zookeeper started to get impatient, he suddenly realized that the boy in front of him might have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), just like himself when he was a child. He was disliked by teachers and classmates, other parents weren’t understanding towards his mother, and the child’s behavior became a stress factor for the entire family.

So instead of asking the boy to be quiet, my acquaintance asked this little boy to come closer and let him hold the snake. Struck by excitement and amazement, the little boy blushed and kept still and quiet for the rest of the event. Later on, the boy’s father approached the zookeeper and thanked him with tears in his eyes.

Afterwards, the zookeeper and I took a stroll through the zoo and I realized how all children always looked at him with stars in their eyes, so I asked him, “Do you feel good at your job?” and he answered, “Absolutely. I know the children are observing me, I know what I say and do will impact how children understand animals. My wife always says I have the most beautiful job in the world”. I asked him again, “So you are a teacher for the children?” and he told me, ”You can say that.”


The question:

I happened to read books about the meaning of life and how consumption impacts the happiness of modern people - these are two totally different topics, but the same word is mentioned again and again in both: self-identity. 

  • When we consume, we don’t purchase the product, we use the product to attain a certain identity, for ourselves and sometimes for others to see – Who am I when I am using/consuming a product/service/time?
  • When it comes to the meaning of life, or how to achieve a happy/meaningful life, it is also important to ask oneself “Do my actions reflect my values? ” – Can I identify myself through my actions in an authentic way? 

With these two questions in mind, I began to contemplate about the meaning of a job, that consumes at least 9 hours per day during a weekday.

The following stories are my personal experiences at work as a consumer researcher and my personal exploration of my self-identity at work.


Story 2:

I conducted a study in which I interviewed school teachers. During the warm-up part, I asked the teachers to finish the sentence “To me, being a teacher means…”.

A 50 year old Chinese teacher answered the following:

“Being a teacher is fortunate for me because you are involved with the development of children, for several years. A truly blessed process. What is education? Education is the impact of one life on another life. Being a teacher is not only conveying study relevant information to the children, you also leave an imprint on another life.  

You notice it when your pupils keep you in their hearts. A young man that I used to teach graduated from my class over 17 years ago and he recently called me and chatted with me for a long time about the meaning of being a teacher. At the end of the phone call he told me, “Teacher, you know what, I work in a bank, where I have to set a lot of passwords and for all of them, I use your name.”

While listening to this story, I - as the moderator of the interview - was holding back tears. I was deeply touched.  Not only because of this story but also because all my interactions with teachers, mentors and coaches who helped me a lot suddenly flashed before my eyes. During that short moment, I was literally reliving my life and how I have grown up.

After this interview, I was also thankful for my job because it allows me to get to know so many different people around the world and to listen to their touching stories from their private lives.


Who am I as a consumer researcher?

In this case, I am an observer - I observe other people, I observe myself, I observe experiences, moments, and emotions and I am always amazed by how warm, fascinating, and inspiring they can be.


Story 3:

In countless private car studies, people have always told me that cars are a status symbol, thus they should be fancy to look at. I personally can’t relate to some answers, because I don’t own a car.  

I recently conducted a truck study. Before the interview, I asked myself, if I could relate to all the participants I’m about to interview as trucks are even further away from my personal life than private cars.   

All my doubts were erased after I asked them this question: What is the most important factor when it comes to trucks?

One driver looked at me, stayed silent for a while, and then said slowly, “Safety. If your’re not a truck driver, you probably have no idea how dangerous this job can be. I’ve seen many very severe accidents and helped pulling drivers out of their crashed trucks. I’ll never forget those images and feelings. Some drivers even lose body parts due to accidents.”

I still remember his facial expression while he told me this and how shameful I felt for not being able to do anything to help.

Later, in another interview, a 40 year old fleet manager, who has been driving a truck since he was 18, told me with a gentle and warm smile, “Safety and comfort. When you do a commission, you will be on the road for over two weeks. The truck is your home, so I want my colleagues to sit and rest well. Safety is also very important. I want them all to come back without injuries. They are not only colleagues, they are brothers. ”

It might be destiny but I happened to walk past a truck parking space that week, where I saw a driver sitting next to the truck’s water tank, putting a little table on the street, using the water to wash his coffee machine and cups in peace. And I suddenly realized  it is not about developing a product as a lifeless object, I am helping to develop a home for a lot of people to make them feel comfortable and safe on the road. This is something I see value in and something I want to do. At that moment, I found my self-identity as a consumer researcher.  

During that project, I was thankful for my job as a consumer researcher, because I knew I was passing on the real needs from the consumers to the manufacturers with the goal: When I send my brother to the road, he will return safe and sound.


Spiegel Institut conducts international studies. Not only do we write about facts in reports, we also offer cultural insights and explanations, and most important: human warmth.

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Author: Yue Liu, Spiegel Institut Mannheim

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