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Reflecting On The Reality Of Research: A Pre-BAQMaR Conference Interview With Orlando Wood of BrainJuicer

The BAQMaR Annual Conference is being held December 8th in Ghent, Belgium. It’s going to be one heck of an event, with a stellar line-up of true leaders in market research presenting on the topics that will be driving the industry forward in the years to come. BAQMaR invited me to conduct interviews with speakers at the conference and here is the first of that series: a chat with Orlando Wood, Managing Director of BrainJuicer® Labs. His work on measuring emotional responses to communication has won the Market Research Society’s David Winton Award (2010), ESOMAR’s Award for Best Methodological Paper (2007) and the ISBA Advertising Effectiveness Award (2007). Most recently, Orlando was named as one of the American Marketing Association’s ‘4 Under 40’ Emerging Leader, an Award which celebrates research innovators.

Orlando has pioneered breakthrough market research tools and solutions. Complimenting his groundbreaking work on emotional-measurement methodologies, he has worked extensively in the fields of behavioral economics, mass ethnography and games, delivering research techniques that better explain and predict human behavior.

Orlando is a frequent speaker and has spoken at ESOMAR (Athens, 2010 & Berlin, 2007), MRS (London 2007, 2009), AMSRS (Sydney, 2009) and EphMRA (Paris, 2009) research conferences. He has also been published in AdMap (Jan 2010) as well as in Marketing Week (March 2010). He is a true visionary and one of the most respected minds in market research; it is wonderful to be able to share our chat with GreenBook Blog readers. Enjoy!

LM: Thanks for agreeing to chat with me! You’re presenting at the BAQMaR conference on behavioral economics and how this model changes the traditional market research paradigm. Can you give me a “preview” of your presentation by laying out your premise a bit more?

OW: Anyone with an interest in Behavioural Economics and how humans make decisions will no doubt have come across the terms System 1 (fast) and System 2 (slow) thinking. Systems 1 and 2 are terms used by Daniel Kahneman, psychologist and Nobel Laureate, to describe the two mental processes we use to make decisions. System 1 is a perceptual and intuitive system, generating involuntary impressions that do not need to be expressed in words. This system is fast to react, automatic, associative, emotional, effortless and learns through repeated experiences and gradually over time. System 2 on the other hand is slow to react, effortful, analytical, rule-governed but flexible enough to assimilate and process new information. If I were to ask you to tell me what 2 + 2 equaled, you’d be able to tell me without any effortful thinking (and via System 1 experience) that it was 4. If I asked you to tell me what 17 x 24 was, you would need to calculate (using rule-governed System 2 processing) that it made 408, unless you were well-rehearsed in the 24 times table! It is hard work to process information using System 2, however, and our capacity for System 2 thinking is very limited, so we are instead often happy enough to trust a plausible (System 1) gut judgement that comes easily to mind. It is System 1 thinking that is responsible for many of the everyday decisions, judgements and the purchases we make and explains many of the heuristics (shortcuts or rules of thumb) that are highlighted by Behavioural Economics.

So what’s all this got to do with Market Research? Well, our industry’s approaches rest upon a number of assumptions: that people are reliable witnesses to their behaviour, consistent in their preferences and able to predict their future behaviour and decisions.  But these assumptions are of course being questioned by Behavioural Economics and results from countless experiments by psychologists showing that people have, in fact, very malleable and fluid preferences: our decisions are influenced more than we realise by our frame of mind, the people we are with and our environment. System 1 thinking means that we often rely on intuitive judgements that are ‘good enough’ and explains why our choices are so easily influenced by the environment around us, the way choices are put to us and, of course, the people we are with. We are not, as many research approaches would paint us, perfectly logical and socially isolated individuals with stable, lasting preferences.

LM: Sounds like a great presentation; I am sorry I’m going to miss it. It also brings up a question that has been floating around in my head for a while now: “What if the current survey-based model is flawed?”, and of course behavioral economics plays a role in why I’ve started to question that sacred tenet of MR. Considering that the majority of the revenue generated within our industry comes from survey-based programs, and also considering that a big chunk of that is from tracking studies, how can the industry embrace these new ideas without committing financial suicide?

OW: Research and indeed much marketing practice is still firmly embedded in System 2 thinking. The way we ask questions, by and large, requires System 2 processing. We believe that asking people to think long and hard is a good thing, and that neutral environments and de-contextualised settings are the correct and only environments for research. We assume that people are entirely rational agents with a perfect grasp of how they will behave in a different context, when actually the people and environments around them in real-life settings have an enormous bearing on their behaviour and decisions. So I believe that there is actually an enormous opportunity for researchers to create experiences that mirror more closely real-life environments and to create conditions that promote System 1 thinking. These approaches will get us closer to real-life behaviour, and help us to understand and predict it better.

LM: How do gamification, mobile point of experience studies, text analytics, predictive modelling, etc.. play a role in this new behavioral-based paradigm?

OW: Behavioural economics highlights the importance of context – how we behave and make choices differently in different circumstances. The industry at the moment is largely seeing games as little more than a sophisticated incentive – a way to make boring surveys more palatable and increase respondent engagement! Of course, that brings with it questions about the bias that they introduce. But the bias they can introduce is what makes them so interesting. The real value of games, in my view, lies in their ability, in short order, to change someone’s frame of mind so that it better reflects the moment or occasion we are interested in. Games create context: hot states, empathy, frustration, social pressure, competitiveness, distraction; all of these things can be created by games and can help us to understand people in the frame of mind that’s of interest to us. The industry seems to be viewing mobile with interest because, again, it’s engaging, cool and can help us access certain groups better. As with games, I’ve heard many voices at conferences expressing concern about mobile’s ability to cope with traditional surveys and the bias it introduces. But the real beauty of mobile is not that we can get people to do the same on-line surveys on their hand-held devices, it’s that it can help us measure actual behaviour in the place and moment, either through passive monitoring or because it stores things that we cannot reliably recall or remember ourselves. It can help us access behaviour and decision-making in the appropriate time and place. With all these things, I think we need to think about how they can be applied to understand behaviour and decision-making better first and foremost, rather than simply as a means to make the researcher’s lot easier, cheaper or quicker!

LM: I couldn’t agree with you more! Since we have this institutional bias within the industry, can you describe some projects or a methodology that is based on the System 1 process? Or more precisely, can you give me some examples of how you can build a research study around this idea?

OW: System 1 thinking is instinctive and emotional. Emotional measures are essential in communications testing, as we’ve shown, because efficient ads generate positive emotional associations around a brand that make us more likely to pick up the advertised product at the point of sale. Kahneman talks about the ‘Affect Heuristic’ – rather than answering a difficult question (‘What do I think about this?’), our minds often default to System 1 thinking by answering an easier question – ‘What do I feel about this’? If we like one bar of chocolate more than another, we’ll pick up the one we like more, even if it costs just a little bit more. This is especially true if the category or fixture is complex and overwhelming. But there are other ways of assessing System 1 thinking. Simply introducing time pressure, for one thing, can force us to make more instinctive decisions, and time pressure what is at the heart of Implicit Association Testing, of course.

LM: I’ve seen some of your presentations on the results of applying this model to communication testing; it is intensely fascinating and impressive stuff! You are in charge of BrainJuicer labs, the “mad scientist” division of BrainJuicer focused on innovation. What are you working on that (that you can share) that has you most excited right now?

OW: I’m pretty excited about a number of things we’re working on at the moment. I can’t reveal all, but needless to say that games, System 1 thinking and passive measurement of behaviour are all involved. I think it’s also worth our while to stop and ask ourselves occasionally – what would research look like if direct questioning were outlawed? Could it force us to re-invent market research for the better…?

LM: Now that is a provocative idea! Great stuff Orlando; I know I and many others will be watching to see what you come up with. That’s a good segue to close out our conversation: what do you think the research industry is going to look like in 2015? What techniques, business drivers, and overall positioning will be in play?

OW: I think the future is what we make it! I’d like the industry create approaches that focus on measuring behaviour. In fact, I’d like us to stop using terms like ‘Market Research’ or ‘Insights’ to describe what we do and instead refer to what we do as ‘Behavioural Understanding’, and position ourselves as experts on how people behave, make choices and decisions. This will take us away from a language that pigeon-holes us and that only those close to our industry recognise and understand; it will instead make clear our focus, elevate us as an industry (which will be important in the difficult times that lie ahead) and help us to attract the brightest and the best talents from different disciplines. In line with this, I’d like us to have adopted approaches that are more instinctive and emotional, that give respondents cause to think less (or at least think more quickly, rather than have to ponder). I’d like to see research experiences that better create or account for external context (immediate environment, social influence, choice architecture) and internal context (feelings and impressions – primes, even), and that therefore measure choices and behaviour in an appropriate context. We will by then be routinely designing ‘research experiences’, which may mean games or something that looks at lot like games. We will be using mobile devices to understand passively how people are leading their lives. I suspect also that the market for the ‘internet of things’ and other connected devices will develop and enable us to discover a thing or two about people’s real (rather than reported) behaviour. These are just some of the ways I think the industry will develop.

LM: Again, I couldn’t agree more; I think we have a tough slog ahead, but we will get there. OK, final question. I’m jealous that I can’t get to BAQMaR; it looks like it is going to be a great conference. What are you most excited about regarding this event?

OW: I think the conference could be a lot of fun and there are a number of sessions that look interesting. I’m looking forward to hearing what Kristin Luck is going to say about the use of mobile technology. Jon Puleston’s work on games is terrific and is helping to turn an interesting idea into a distinct reality. Stan Knoops talking about research providing inspiration will also be good – it’s something I think the industry could and should be a lot better at!

LM: I’ll be sure to follow along online to get the distillation of all of these wonderful sessions through the blogosphere and Twitter community! Thanks for the time Orlando and have a great time in Ghent!

OW: Thanks for the great chat Lenny. Cheers!

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One response to “Reflecting On The Reality Of Research: A Pre-BAQMaR Conference Interview With Orlando Wood of BrainJuicer

  1. Daniel Kahneman’s best selling book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” is most definitely recommended reading for all marketing researchers/consumer insights’ specialists. I think the book communicates implications as to the customized metrics our industry should be using brand by brand and clues as to the measuring techniques. Happy Holiday Reading.

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Leonard Murphy

Leonard Murphy

Executive Editor & Producer, GreenBook