Editor’s Intro: In my experience, too many market researchers claim more expertise than they actually possess. This is especially a problem when new ideas take hold. A few words changed in well-worn sales sheets or a few bullets added into existing sales decks, do expertise make. Garrett Meccariello shares his views on how some researchers have tried to jump on the behavioral science train, and the problems that can then ensue.
If you work with consumer insights, chances are you have heard buzz statements such as “System 1”, “Behavioral Science,” or “Understanding Emotions” tossed around quite frequently over the past year. Beyond the buzz, these terms, if harnessed correctly are valuable for understanding what informs human behavior.
The rise in behavioral science (also known as behavioral economics to some) terms flooding into the market research community has been a blessing for some, and a curse for others. Research buyers who have selected trusted, qualified research partners that are well versed in applying behavioral science should stop reading this article now.
If you classify yourself into the other category of research stakeholders that have fallen victim to false claims and empty promises, the following five lies as told by legacy research companies attempting to jump on the behavioral science bandwagon will sound all too familiar:
- “We capture future purchase intent” – Every time I hear this, I cringe. Consumers have trouble vocalizing their thoughts and feelings in the present, let alone in predicting future behavior 30 days from now. Traditional measures of future purchase intent such as Likert scales have been shown not accurate for predicting future behavior. If future purchase intent metrics do not offer any statistically significant or predictive validity, they are not valuable enough to report on, let alone to collect from respondents.
- “Respondents love our surveys” – For those not in market research, online quantitative studies can be a bore. With the average length of segmentation studies creeping above 30 minutes in length, respondent fatigue and dissatisfaction comes at the expense of collecting a multitude of dimensionless metrics through scale questions. Respondent friendly surveys must be succinct to the point where they avoid long-winded open response boxes and monotonous scale type questions.
- “We’re powered by behavioral science” – If a firm tells you this and is unable to identify which scientifically validated methodologies they use, or what experience they have in understanding what informs behavior, the chances are high that their practice is not powered by any behavioral metrics… or science at all for that matter.
Additionally, be careful to not fall for the alphabet soup: a team full of Ph.D.’s is a fantastic resource in market research, but if not appropriately leveraged can yield actionless results for industry players. The benefits of incorporating behavioral science principles lie within the power of understanding what truly drives behavior and examining such behavior through the lens of a specific business application.
- “We do System 1” – Implicit association tests that evaluate nonconscious responses are occasionally believed to be the only methodology available to assess the System 1 mind. In reality, there is more to understanding behavior than gauging fast associations alone.
If we made every decision based upon what our System 1 or “fast” brain suggested, half of us would be in jail, and the other half would find themselves indulging in too much dessert at the dinner table. Emotions, experiences, and relationships are also prominent factors in understanding System 1 behavior. Evaluating the speed of attribute associations alone is not enough to understand what drives behavior. It is imperative that System 1 and System 2 research techniques be layered together holistically.
- “We’re innovative” – Research methodologies such as conjoint analyses and the Net Promoter Score (NPS) have been around for 30 years. Yes, these are useful tools at a thirty-thousand-foot level, but we must challenge what they tell us about behavior.
Identifying preferences is only half the battle for understanding what informs consumer choice. Without taking a step back and evaluating all of the inputs into decision making, researchers run the risk of telling an incomplete story.
Just because a large (or small) market research firm has adopted the hip terms of the day does not mean that the promised deliverables will meet expectations. If a vendor is unable to identify, quantify, and offer predictions or actionable insight into what informs human behavior, they cannot be considered “System 1” or “Behavioral Science” driven. The field of behavioral science is not limited to observing behavior, as it also can provide insight on how to influence such behavior.
Imposters will say that they have been practicing System 1 research for years, but in reality, offer little by way of methodologies or expertise. It is imperative that research buyers can separate experienced vendors from those seeking to ride a wave of popularity. Research vendors must be able to substantiate claims to be trusted and credible.
If you can’t change behavior with your insights, are they insights into behavior at all?