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Seeing through the half-truths

Published 30 Oct 2019 2 minute read

Strategic Thinking

We lie. Not deliberately. It’s not that we try to deceive, it’s just that we bear poor witness to our own behaviour. If you ask anyone why they did what they did, the answer that comes back won't often be an accurate indication. But here's the thing, why would you invest your marketing research budget in projects that lean so heavily towards system 2 thinking, when we know it's floored? People are impulsive, emotional, sometimes unaware of 'why' they do what they do. Wouldn't you rather be brave and solve the real questions you have about your target audience, using methods that quickly get you reliable answers and insight you can depend on?

Research projects can involve lots of participants. Asking them multiple questions that aren't tested in at any stage, can quickly multiply errors and these 'unchecked' answers can skew your results, badly. Humans are notoriously poor at recall. So, when research takes place, the way to see through claimed behaviour should form an intrinsic part of the research itself.  Whether it’s recalling which brands someone prefers, why they bought those jeans, or which TV adverts they remember, the way the responses are interpreted and analysed is bread and butter for researchers from academia (like ours!). But it's something we see researchers frequently make a hash of in more commercial contexts.

Head over to Netflix and watch ‘The Mind Explained’ and you’ll see for yourself just how bad we really are, and how scientific we need to be in getting to the truth. It’s a fantastic programme that plays back what people recalled and matches this to the reality. As you can imagine, the participants were baffled by what they saw, having been convinced of what their mind was telling them. They were plain wrong!

So, how do we get over this hump and dig out the truth – the real behaviours and motivations that brands so badly need in order to make good decisions?

First, ask the right questions

What’s great about this is that with the right training as a research professional, you’ll know not to ask leading or direct questions, but rather to task the respondent and get them to carry out activities that surface moments, observations and experiences coincidentally. Think about how you're going about your research. Which methods are appropriate, how to get detailed information from the client briefing and, going back to the first point, how you go about asking those questions and how you engage with participants.

Second, combine the respondent data with transactional or behavioural data

At this juncture we are looking for similarities and differences, as these can be the most telling of all. Using passive observation approaches and techniques, including monitoring actual web behaviours and mobile metering, can help you explore what people actually do vs what they report.

Finally, invest in the long view, because it's worth it

This is where research communities play out best as a method. They enable your respondents to share their lives, observations, rituals, moments and more, over a longer period of time. This gives you a wider perspective and allows you to eliminate the anomalies that may have been clouding your judgement. We’ve talked before about how projective techniques, group and individual discussions, diaries and stimulus response activities allow researchers to paint a richer and more contextual picture of what’s taking place. They put brands in people’s real world, not just in a single moment, enabling a view of the tensions at play in people’s complex, busy lives.

Less haste more insight

Sure, clients want insight faster than ever, but at what price? To us, the price you risk paying is that of a single momentary observation and getting it wrong. See the fake, not the real. Capturing the wrong moment, or not seeing the full context is critical when realising success for clients.

These are big risks, and can lead to the wrong decisions if not dealt with the right way. There’s no excuse for not using an array of tools and methods – there are plenty to choose from, but get the advice of people who know: Social scientists, psychologists, anthropologists and not just people who are just good at having friendly conversations!

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