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Everybody Lies.

[Big Ideas Series] Insights professionals need to understand consumers biases to create deeper, more credible recommendations.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Big Ideas series, a column highlighting the innovative thinking and thought leadership at IIeX events around the world. Tony Costella will be speaking at IIeX Europe (February 19-20 in Amsterdam). If you liked this article, you’ll LOVE IIeX EU. Click here to learn more.

Everybody lies.  All the time.

We lie about sex – how much we’re having, who with and how.

We lie about voting – whether we will or not, and who for.

We lie about brands and products – what we do and will buy and use.

Sometimes these lies are deliberate – social biases meaning we want to project a certain image of ourselves to an interviewer, a moderator or the outside world at large.  Often these lies are unintentional – we can’t accurately recall former behaviour (what beer did I drink 4 weeks ago?), we don’t really understand how we make our decisions (being asked to rationalize future purchase decisions) and often we don’t even know what we truly think or feel about many topics.

As researchers and insights specialists we know this.  We always have done.  We have worked with databases, benchmarks, adjustment factors, rules of thumb – all attempts to ‘correct’ for the biases we know of.  Qualitatively we use extensive projection and elicitation techniques to try to get people to reveal their true feelings.

But it’s not working.  Our industry is at a cross-roads – we are all, client and agency-side alike, somewhere on the spectrum between ‘having credibility issues’ and being a complete laughing stock.  Yet still, the vast majority of the research and insights we work with are straight reporting of claimed ‘facts’.  Still, most of the reports I see (internal and external), and almost all of the initial proposals I receive, are based almost exclusively on single-source research.

Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz should be compulsory reading for everyone in a research or insights role.  The discerning reader will find plenty of opportunity to pick apart the examples as anecdotal, or confined to narrow areas of relevance.  But that is to completely miss the point.  What Stephens-Davidowitz highlights are new(-ish) and very accessible ways to unearth insight from (often) freely available data.  While the assertion that internet search data is the best, most reliable source of finding the real ‘truth’ is in my eyes a step too far – what the book does an excellent job of is demonstrating that we must look to this source as a credible and valid alternative.

So what actions should we take?

  1. Read the book.  With an open mind.
  2. Build your tool-box.  Become familiar with the new approaches that are available.  See how easy it is to create your own insights.
  3. Resolve to add behavioural dimensions to your proposals and reports.  If you are proposing a new innovation space based on research, demonstrate how search terms around that space are increasing.  If you are writing a proposal for communications tracking, insist on getting access to View to Completion rates across digital channels to compliment or challenge your findings.

Everybody lies.  All the time.  We’ve always known it.  It’s about time we took more initiative to address it directly.

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Tony Costella

Tony Costella

Director Central CMI, Global Commerce, Heineken