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Talk is cheap – get better and more predictive insight

May 31, 2017

Sam Richardson

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To quote David Ogilvy:

“The trouble […] is that people don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say.”

This is a challenge we have always faced in the insight industry, if we are really, very honest with ourselves. And we are very conscious of this at Nepa. But in recent years, behavioral economics has done much to advance the understanding that what people say is often quite different from what they actually do, when interrogating their decisions.

Let’s be clear though. It’s not that people set out to consciously deceive or obscure the facts of their decisions and subsequent behaviors in typical primary research scenarios.  It’s more often:

  • that they don’t know or can’t articulate what they prefer, what motivates them or which choice they think is best;
  • that they can’t remember;
  • that they change the way they feel about things from one day to the next.
  • and so on.

And therein lies the crux of the matter.

We are more emotional than we think we are

We do not always make logical, considered decisions when we think we do. Almost the entirety of what happens in our mental life is not under our conscious control. And this is the irony of asking people to “think about how they feel” about something.

Direct questioning techniques, measuring explicit response – e.g. thinking about feeling – assume logical steps in the decision making process that lead ultimately to, and might even predict, people’s behaviors.

This reflects what Daniel Kahneman calls a system 2 processing modality. Kahneman highlighted that this processing modality is slow, rational, analytical and involves effort.

But – it is less used in day to day decision making than we might imagine.

What he goes on to explain is a second processing modality he calls system 1. This is a wholly different approach to decision making based on gut feelings. And he attributes much of our decision making to this modality. It is fast, instinctive, intuitive, automatic and rooted in emotions.

Kahneman says that system 1 thinking is influential, guiding and steering system 2 thinking – to a very large extent.

This system 1 processing modality, if one accepts that it is nearer to the truth of day to day decision making than say the processing modality of system 2, has profound implications for how we collect and interpret data in primary research scenarios.

Adapting to “thinking about how people feel”

At Nepa we know people may not be able to tell us even half of what actually leads them to make their decisions. We know we should not just use direct questioning techniques, we should add system 1 style implicit research techniques into our tool box to help measure these “gut” and instinctive decisions – that ultimately dictate whether and what we buy.

We have developed a new data collection methodology

As a way to provide better insight into what is actually driving behavior – not just what people tell you is driving behavior – we have developed a new data collection methodology, sympathetic with system 1 modality. With this advanced technique, we get much better diagnostic results.

Our system 1 approach is based on implicit reaction time (IRT), a practical, scalable technique that has higher ecological validity.

But – an important question is what can our implicit reaction time tests tell us about consumer attitudes and intentions, in addition to the feedback we get from traditional, explicit, research methods?

There are many examples in peer reviewed literature demonstrating the added value in adopting implicit research techniques:

  • Explicit and implicit measures are both good at detecting attitudinal differences between brands when the difference is large or obvious.
  • Only implicit methods detect differences when they are less obvious.
  • And importantly, research shows that implicit data collection methods used in a consumer context are difficult to fake.

Avoiding cheap talk to get better predictive insight

However, even more extensive research has shown that the greatest predictive power against consumer behaviors comes from combining conscious AND non-conscious measurement.

That’s why at Nepa we advocate using implicit response time tests and modules, alongside more traditional questioning methods, to gain greater predictive insight into a very broad range of questions, including but not limited to:

  • Who is the most effective and plausible endorser for my product?
  • How is my brand being perceived against competitors?
  • Which version of an ad is going to work best for my brand?
  • Which version of ad copy will work best for my brand?
  • Which packaging design is most effective at signalling product benefits?
  • Which logo design do my customers prefer and which do prospects prefer?

In our book, talk is not exactly cheap, maybe just a little long-winded…

To maximize the ability to act predictive and to become a true customer-centric business, you need to go a little bit deeper than just reading my blog post. So, why not get in touch with me and I promise to get your business started.

Gabi Clark
Head of Insight at Nepa UK