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Creative B2c Market Research Behavioural Sciences

Want to make market research better? Stop listening to your participants

By Simon Shaw |

Trinity McQueen


The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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June 22, 2022 | 5 min read

The following is an adapted extract from Closing the Say-Do Gap, a short book about making market research better written by Simon Shaw, director at Trinity McQueen.

Trinity McQueen shares an excerpt of its new book about improving market research.

Trinity McQueen shares an excerpt of its new book about improving market research

“The problem with market research is that people don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think, and they don’t do what they say.”

David Ogilvy’s famous observation that people are poor witnesses to their own behavior has hung in the air for more than 50 years now. And yet, for the longest time, most market researchers have been doing very little about it.

Instead, we’ve tended to blindly ask people about their attitudes: how likely are you to buy this? When would you use it? How do you think it looks? These may well be easy questions to put into a survey, but they are surprisingly poor predictors of what people do in real life.

Because the truth is people aren’t always conscious of the factors that lead them to their decisions, which is why they often struggle to explain those decisions to researchers and why so many of their stated attitudes differ from their observed behaviors. In other words, what people say is different from what they do.

This is the ‘say-do’ gap. It limits traditional market research. And it’s nothing new.

A case in point. Cast your minds back to 2009, when the Marvel Cinematic Universe was still in its infancy and Tropicana decided to change the packaging for its Pure Premium juice range. With annual North American sales of $700m, it was a high-profile upgrade. Still, all the tests had come back positive – everyone said they liked the new designs.

That was what they said. But what did they do? Not buy Tropicana.

Sales fell by 20% pretty much instantly, resulting in around $30m of lost sales within two months. Although customers said they liked the new packaging, they couldn’t actually find it on the supermarket shelf; too many of the packaging cues had changed at the same time.

When people buy orange juice during their weekly shop, they’re rarely in the realm of rational, conscious thought and attention. Instead, they are in the realm of automatic, intuitive and emotional processing. They are on autopilot.

Although Tropicana did research the design changes prior to launch, it made the mistake of focusing on attitudinal measures. Testing to see if shoppers could find the brand at a glance – rather than asking them to reflect on the aesthetic merits of the new design – would have provided it with much more valuable insights.

And that’s where behavioral science comes in.

Behavioral science has been emboldening researchers for a number of years now. Providing us with a whole new model of human decision-making, behavioral science (as well as increasingly sophisticated technology and data sets) has made it easier than ever to get closer to people in the moments that matter.

This means researchers can focus on what actually happens in the real world, allowing them to make testable predictions about future behavior. Not only can we diagnose potential barriers for consumers, but we can also prescribe solutions to help unlock the intended behavioral change.

And why does that make market research better? Because research with a behavioral lens looks through what people say to find out what they actually do; it closes the ‘say-do’ gap, ensuring organizations make better, more profitable decisions.

So the next time someone tells you they like your new juice packaging, don’t just take their word for granted. Look at what they do instead.

Interested in learning more about bringing behavioral science to market research? Download your free copy of Closing the Say-Do Gap today.

Creative B2c Market Research Behavioural Sciences

Content by The Drum Network member:

Trinity McQueen

Our belief is that people are poor witnesses of their own behaviour. This informs everything we do, making our findings more insightful and powerful. The way we retrieve and interpret our data, we are never misled. We uncover a truer story and help make the right decision an easy one. Winners and finalists of the prestigious MRS and AURA national awards for the last 10 years.

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