Explicit methods of research, such as focus groups and questionnaires are often very poor at predicting behaviour. Is it time to switch to implicit research techniques? When asked direct questions people are notorious for saying one thing, but doing something completely different. Conventional research techniques assume that people are independent thinking and rational decision makers who understand their preferences.
In reality studies from psychology and neuroscience indicate that a majority of our decisions are made by our automatic and mainly subconscious mind (see System 1). People can’t articulate what drives their behaviour because they don’t have full access to those deep and hidden mental processes. Implicit research techniques seek to measure underlying responses that we are often not fully conscious of.
Perception is not reality!
Whether we like it or not, people don’t have a strong grasp of reality. Our brain maps our perceptions, not reality. This means that our perception of reality is different from others as we experience the world according to our own unique filter of biases, cultural and moral influences.
Many of our decisions are also influenced by other people. Although some of our internal drivers are genetically embedded, others are culturally directed. Our brains naturally reflect our culture because norms, customs, traditions, fads and superstitions are in our neural circuitry. It determines much of our behaviour.
We also copy the behaviour of others. This is either intentionally because we think we can benefit from the behaviour or unconsciously because our brain is influenced by what other people are doing. I have summarised most of the key influences on our behaviour in the diagram below. This demonstrates how complex human decision making processes are in reality. They do not reflect the rationality of the economic model most of us were taught at school.
Why do people use flawed methods of research?
Many marketers continue to ask for focus groups and other traditional methods of research because they are quick, easy and cheap to use. There may also be an element of that’s all they know about. Humans are certainly very good at turning a blind eye to their ignorance.
There is also a certain amount of herd behaviour .People see others using conventional methods and automatically assume they must provide value and generate insights. Agencies also make a lot of money out of conventional methods of research. It’s not always in their interests to suggest more valid ways of doing research.
Whatever the reasons though, what marketers should by now recognise is that most conventional methods of research are deeply flawed and unlikely to predict future behaviour. So what should marketers use instead? Are implicit research techniques the answer and are they affordable?
What are implicit research techniques?
There are a number of research techniques that can access or offer insights about how the automatic and subconscious mind responds to marketing activities. These are implicit or indirect research techniques. They don’t rely on direct, deliberate, controlled or intentional self-reporting. As we can see from the table below there are relatively few methods that are truly implicit..
There are two kinds of neuroscience implicit research techniques, functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) and EEG. fMRI uses a powerful magnet to monitor changes in the brain’s blood flow in response to stimuli. It gives access to deep parts of the brain such as the reward centre. However, fMRI is mainly used in academic research because it’s expensive to use and participants have to lie completely still in a large machine.
Electroencephalography (EEG) involves placing a cap of electrodes to the participant’s scalp. It measures electrical activity from the synchronised activity of thousands of neurons. This allows researchers to analyse which areas of the brain are active at a specific time and then match this activity to audio and visual stimuli.
EEG though allows respondents to retain mobility during the research process and is much less expensive than fMRI. EEG cannot access deep into the brain to where the reward centre is located. It can identify instinctual emotions such as excitement, joy and sadness through changes in activity.
Other Areas it Can Help:
Perception – EEG can track which regions of the brain are activated when see an object and improve the visual look of an object for optimal perception.
Attention – EEG can help identify which object elements and features grab our attention.
Motivation – EEG can track whether people are drawn towards a stimuli or try to avoid it.
EEG technology is the fastest growing neuroscience technique and organisations evaluate advertising campaigns, packaging and product design.
Biometrics are implicit research techniques that measure the body’s physical response to a stimuli. They monitor bodily functions such as heart-rate variability, skin conductance, respiration and eye movement. This allows researchers to identify unconscious responses to marketing activity that self-reporting would never be able to accurately measure. These techniques can measure emotional arousal to help improve website design, advertising campaigns, packaging and new product development.
Galvanic Skin Response (GSR):
GSR is an implicit research technique that monitors the electrical conductance of the participant’s skin as this changes in response to emotional reactions. GSR is often combined with eye tracking to identify the intensity of emotional responses and also the specific asset or message that triggered the emotion.
People can’t control where they initially look on a screen and so measurements of gaze can provide useful insights about the effectiveness of different designs or marketing messages. Eye-tracking technology uses a web cam or a video camera to monitor eye gaze and movement to identify areas on a screen which draw visual attention.
A web cam or a video camera that monitors eye gaze or biometric response to visual content. This generates heat maps of eye gaze to show where visitor attention is drawn to on the screen. This can provide valuable insights about the effectiveness of different designs and whether users are noticing important messages or assets on page.
Increasingly eye-tracking software now includes facial coding technology to identify the emotions a user is displaying in response to marketing material. The software uses vision algorithms to map key landmarks on a person’s face. Machine learning algorithms analyse pixels in those regions to classify facial expressions according to common emotions.
Eye-tracking company Affectiva provides such technology for gaming apps. This integrates into user interfaces to allow developers to make their apps adapt to the emotional responses of users in real-time. However, research by Nielsen discovered that when facial coding is employed in isolation it is a poor predictor of sales. This is why it’s important not to rely on a single method of research because it is only giving you one piece of the jigsaw.
Heart Rate Monitoring (ECG):
A participant’s heart rate can be tracked with an electrocardiograph (ECG) machine to monitor a person’s physiological response to marketing efforts. The assumption here is that changes in a person’s heart rate are symptomatic of unconscious emotional responses that people do not have full awareness of.
Affective Priming and Implicit Association Test (IAT):
These research methods measure implicit reaction times in response to priming participants with words, images or sounds. By priming respondents with a specific word or issue it helps makes a corresponding concept more accessible.
Implicit reaction time tests (IRTs) measure intuitive, gut reactions and subconscious reactions to brands, packaging, new product concepts, adverts and other marketing communications. Without the biases of conscious rationalisation and social influence inherent in traditional research methods.
Research by Steinman and Karpinski (2009) found that implicit not explicit attitudes towards the brand GAP forecast engagement and purchase intentions. Furthermore, Brunel et al. (2004) found that implicit research techniques can identify attitudes towards brands that explicit methods are unable to show (e.g. variance by race for brand preference was shown by implicit research, but not explicitly).
The Implicit Association Test (IAT) is one of the most popular methods of implicit research. It measures how quickly participants sort words or images into categories every time they are primed by a stimulus. The IAT uncovers the strength of respondent’s feelings by measuring how each prime affects their mental processing speed and accuracy.
Implicit Research Agencies:
There are many research companies that offer implicit research methods to understand subconscious drivers of behaviour. At the forefront of applying implicit research techniques are new companies such as Sentient Decision Science. Established providers such Nielsen have also developed a suite of implicit research methods.
Eye-tracking companies like iMotions combine eye tracking with EEG, GSR and explicit research feedback to deliver insights to improve marketing content and user experience designs. Marketing consultancy firm Beyond Reason have their own model of implicit motivations. They use a form of the IAT to identify the subconscious drivers behind brand loyalty.
Will Implicit Research Techniques Replace Explicit Methods?
Implicit research techniques can help us better understand subconscious drivers of behaviour. But whilst focus groups are certainly past their sell buy date, other explicit research methods (e.g. one-to-one depth interviews or surveys) can still offer useful insights.
It’s important to recognise that System 1 and 2 don’t work in isolation and they often respond at the same time to our marketing efforts. Furthermore, observational techniques don’t suffer from the same flaws as self-reporting studies and should be employed when appropriate. Controlled experiments such as A/B testing also allow us to understand how users behave in reality to sometimes very subtle changes to the user experience.
So, whilst implicit research techniques are certainly a step forward in understanding underlying human motivations, they are often most powerful when combined with observation and explicit feedback. Having a sound and well thought out research design should always be your priority rather than being prescriptive about the techniques you are going to use.
Ask, Ask, Ask
Asking direct and often stupid questions is sometimes the biggest problem with explicit research. Avoid asking people to predict the future as if they were any good at forecasting they would be multi-millionaires. A collaborative approach to research where employees work alongside customers and prospects to explore problems and needs is likely to be more insightful than the traditional structured questionnaire approach.
Rapid prototyping with input or feedback from customers allows for a two-way conversation with consumers or partners. This is why many companies are now using Google 5 day design sprints to develop and refine concepts quickly. Although this process relies on explicit research it encourages a more collaborative approach. Respondents are given the opportunity to interact with prototypes which means the research is partly observational. Watching how people behave is often more informative because it does not rely on self-reporting.
Do you want to use Behavioural Science to boost conversions?
In the book, The Growth Strategy That’s Being Ignored, Paul Rouke and other contributors argue that for conversion rate optimisation (CRO) to be a significant driver of growth. A customer centric approach needs to be embedded into the company’s culture. This need to come from the C-suite down and requires aligning the customer experience with visitor needs and motivations.
“We need to re-align optimisation to the user experience. Understanding our users, listening to their feedback and empathising with their needs is the only way to truly understand what needs to be optimised.”.
However, whilst this sounds all well and good. CRO can only be a driver of genuine business growth if it first persuades more visitors to achieve their goals. The business’s goals should of course be aligned to customer goals. Think about it, improving awareness, engagement, intent or the overall customer experience doesn’t matter. Unless you persuade more users to convert in a profitable and sustainable way.
“Conversion rates area a measure of your ability to persuade visitors to take the action you want them to take. They’re a reflection of your effectiveness at satisfying customers. For you to achieve your goals, visitors must first achieve theirs”.
To persuade users we need to understand the nature of human decision making. Behavioural science and behavioural economics in particular can help us identify how the mind operates and what mechanisms are involved in human decision making. Behavioural economics can also guide us on the forces that shape behaviour and the extent to which emotions, context, past experience and social influence drive decision making.
Why behavioural Economics?
Marketers can use behavioural economics to design strategies for behavioural change. Neuroscience is making great advances in understanding how our brains respond to different types of stimulus. Most of these factors are largely ignored by the field of economics. Yet much of marketing theory has been influenced by economic thinking. Behavioural economics though seeks to address these shortcomings and help us better model human behaviour.
Are people really rational, independent thinkers?
In the book Herd, Mark Earls points out that humans are “super social apes” and we constantly monitor and copy the behaviour of others. We align with groups we wish to associate with (herd theory) or copy others to learn new ideas and behaviour (social learning). This means we are automatically drawn towards brands that people in our social networks buy. In this respect we are almost the exact opposite of the agents that economists assume we are.
Behavioural economics allows us to gain a deeper understanding of the decision making process and the factors that influence user behaviour. So what are the practical implications and how can we use them to improve the persuasiveness of our digital marketing activity? Below are six key insights and implications from behavioural economics for CRO.
1. What About The Subconscious Brain?
Marketing is often ineffective because it fails to target both the conscious (rational) and non-conscious parts of the brain to get an emotional response. A purely rational argument may not communicate to the part of the mind that makes most of our decisions.
Behavioural economics cannot save a poorly designed product or weak value proposition, but it can hep us understand how our brains process marketing messages. Indeed, sometimes a good rational message can also result in strong emotional response. For example, Ronseal’s quick drying woodstain’s strapline; “Does exactly what is say on the tin.” This is a rational message that gives the buyer reassurance that they won’t regret their decision. Avoiding regret is a powerful motivator as people hate to feel such an emotion.
System 1 and System 2
The psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky have shown that the mind works at two levels. System 1 is our fast, intuitive, emotional and largely automatic brain which is continuously running in the background. It also largely steers our other level of thinking, System 2. This is a slow, analytical, and deliberative brain.
We use System 2 for self-control and cognitive effort, resolving complex problems and mental maths. However, because System 2 quickly depletes a shared pool of cognitive energy we use it sparingly. We rely on System 1 for most simple decisions.
This concept of the mind has been further supported by Professor Gerald Zaltman whose research suggests that up to 95% of our purchase decisions are made by our non-conscious brain. Roger Dooley also makes the point in the book The Growth Strategy That’s Being Ignored.
“Today, there are many poorly optimised websites that even elementary CRO approaches can help. Once the basics are fixed, more sophisticated approaches will be needed to keep improving conversion rates. A key part of these better tactics will be to focus on the customer’s non-conscious decision-making using brain and behavioural science”.
Implications for CRO:
The explosion of literature about the non-conscious part of the brain has led some marketers to focus purely on emotional messages. This is misguided as a strong explicit goal forms the foundation of relevance and motivation to purchase. Behavioural economics indicates that we need to establish a strong connection between explicit (rational) and implicit (psychological) goals to avoid conflict between the System 1 and 2.
Targeting the non-conscious brain requires thinking about our underlying motivations that we often don’t express but are important drivers of behaviour. This means considering how people want to feel about their actions and the brands they buy. Even if people are not consciously aware of a message that targets an implicit goal. Research (Ruud Custers & Henk Aarts, 2010) indicates that it can still become more accessible in a person’s memory and so the brand has more chance of being top of mind.
“Implicitly activated goals not only make products or brands more accessible, they also result in a more positive attitude”.
Lean Cuisine for example used underlying motivations to create an ad “#WeighThis” which went viral. The ad creators realised that eating healthy, low fat food is often not about your weight. People make an effort to take care of what they eat for a purpose.
Psychologically they want to feel good about themselves. As a consequence the ad focused on getting people to talk about what really matters in their lives. Rather than using scales to measure their weight they were asked to weigh what they are most proud about their life.
Behavioural economics suggests asking people direct questions about why they purchased a product or made a decision is fundamentally flawed. Customers don’t have full access to their underlying motivations and post-rationalise when asked to explain why they made a certain decision.
Focus Groups – A Failure
Focus groups are the biggest failure here as you also have group dynamics involved which makes feedback impossible to interpret. They are often the default method of research and appear to be popular because people enjoy watching a group of strangers rationalise about their product or creative.
But in reality we don’t sit in a bubble with a bunch of strangers trying to say clever things about something we don’t really care that much about. Neither is it normal to talk about digital content when we know the person who thought up the idea may be watching us behind a one-way mirror. This is as about as far from reality as anything we could think up in our wildest dreams.
Behavioural economics indicates that observing users (e.g. usability research), listening (e.g. qualitative research) and using implicit research methods (e.g. Implicit Association Test) are more reliable methods of research as they don’t rely on self-reporting. Direct questioning at the time of a user visit can be useful to obtain feedback on the user experience. Be aware of the limitations of such research.
For understanding how people react to new content or new products the most reliable method is a controlled experiment. The scientific method used for A/B testing allows us to measure real changes in behaviour. Rather than rely on biased and flawed research techniques.
2. Psychological Rewards Drive Attention:
Brands are objects in our minds and relatively few brands connect at an emotional level. We respond emotionally to brands because they help us meet psychological goals not because we are particularly loyal to them. Brands, however, can use these psychological territories to differentiate themselves from competitors and to improve their appeal to customers.
Neuroscience research (Berns & Moore, 2012) indicates that products and services activate the reward system of our brain. Indeed, this is more predictive of future sales than subjective likeability and the intensity of the brain’s response is related to the value we expect the product to deliver.
A neuroscientific study (Carolyn Yoon, 2006) indicated that brands are simply objects to the brain and brands are not perceived to be people with personality traits. People buy products to achieve explicit (rational) goals which relate to the product category.
Brands on the other hand help us meet implicit or psychological goals. People respond emotionally to a brand when it helps them achieve a goal and not necessarily because we feel deeply attached to it. However, the more important a goal is the stronger we relate to brands that are relevant to that goal.
Marketing consultancy Beyond Reason combined findings from behavioural economics, psychology and neuroscience to create a comprehensive model of implicit motivations. Research shows that implicit goals focus our attention. Even subconsciously we notice brands that may help us achieve an active psychological goal. Brands that we think are most likely to help us achieve a goal get the largest share of our attention. This may explain the attraction of guarantees and a compelling value proposition that promises a desired outcome.
This motivation model is the intellectual property of BEYOND REASON.
Behavioural science shows that our brains respond to the reward (i.e. achieving goals) and the pain (i.e. the price) we feel when considering a purchase. When the difference is sufficiently large we will be open to purchasing a product. The net value can change by increasing the reward (i.e. improve the benefits or performance of the product) or reducing the pain (i.e. lower the price). Another way to improve the value of a product is to use social proof to demonstrate how popular the brand is.
Implications for CRO:
Use the Beyond Reason implicit goal map to review your value proposition and messages on key pages. Beyond Reason’s implicit research methodology identifies and provides a weight to each implicit purchase motivation. You can align your value proposition and communications to your customers’ psychological goals. You can then use A/B testing to evaluate how communicating these goals influence conversions on your site or app.
People like what they buy, not buy what they like. Providing reasons, both rational and emotional can help to persuade visitors that what you offer is what they are looking for. However, the serial position effect suggests that you should position your most important points at the beginning and end of a list. Don’t list your benefits in descending order of importance because people have a tendency to remember the first and last items in a list.
Focus on habit formation or disrupting existing habits. Research by the late Andrew Ehrenberg suggested that most brand loyalty is driven by habits and availability, not by a strong emotional attachment to the product. Behavioural economics indicates that marketing strategy should be designed around people’s habits. It is easier to piggy back onto an existing habit rather than create a new one and so look to see how your product or service relates to everyday behaviour.
3. The sales funnel is a myth!
Decision making is not a linear process as suggested by many models of consumer behaviour. Behavioural economics shows how decision making is much more complicated and decisions are not conducted in isolation from what else is happening around us. This means that people are easily distracted because they have multiple goals battling for attention at any one time.
The traditional sales funnel suggests we act rationally and go through a mythical sequence of steps before purchasing. In reality our brains are constantly bombarded by stimuli and as a coping mechanism our brain creates a cognitive illusion that makes us feel in control and rational. However, this process filters out information that our brains deem to be unimportant and distorts other inputs to protect and enhance our self-esteem.
In these circumstances a more appropriate analogy would be a leaking bucket that is standing on a ship’s deck. The water in the bucket is anything but tranquil. It is constantly being churned up by emotions, incomplete and inaccurate memories, social interactions and many other factors that can instantly cause us to change course. In figure 1 below I have summarised all the key elements that behavioural economics identifies as influencing behaviour.
Cognitive biases such as confirmation bias, the backfire effect and bias blind spot shape our view of the world and make it very difficult for brands to change strongly held beliefs. What this suggests is that brands may be wasting their time and money by targeting existing customers of large competitors. They are unlikely to alter their opinions and habits unless something seriously goes wrong. Don’t use rational arguments to change people’s beliefs because often this will just result in those ideas becoming even more entrenched.
Brands can grow faster if they focus on increasing overall penetration by targeting visitors who are not strongly affiliated to any particular brand and use CRM activity to engage existing customers. This is supported by research published in the Journal of Advertising Research. It points out that your next customer is likely to be your most profitable visitor because average basket values increases as a brand franchise grows in size.
The insight here is to be less concerned about what your competitors are doing and put more effort into communicating a compelling proposition to new users and visitors to your site.
Journal of Advertising Research, 2002
“Brands need to target inclusively and stand for a vivid, clear but broadly appealing benefit. A narrow, exclusive focus on the ‘most profitable’ households is a recipe for stagnation and decline, not for brand health.”
Repeat key messages at key stages of the user journey to improve the likelihood that visitors will notice them. Repetition also plays to the availability heuristic. This means we are more likely to believe something that is familiar to us.
Whether it is the brands our parents purchased when we were young, what our colleagues talk about at work or the latest game that our Facebook friends are playing. These interactions are key to many of the choices we make and often we are not even consciously aware of how others influence us.
To influence mass behaviour Mark Earls argues that we need to stop thinking about customers in the “I” perspective and begin considering them part of social networks and tribes of “Us”. He uses the analogy of trying to predict how a fire spreads through a forest. We wouldn’t concern ourselves with the characteristics of an individual tree and focus on a tree in isolation. Instead we consider how trees are connected to each other and how the landscape might influence the spread of the fire.
Implications for CRO:
People often conform to trends or fads, and may even ignore their own beliefs because they don’t want to miss out (i.e. loss aversion) on what everyone else is doing (see bandwagon effect). Use social proof (e.g. Facebook followers, customer numbers and testimonials) to communicate how popular your brand is to benefit from this phenomena.
Ratings and reviews are especially important when people are faced with a large number of similar options as they often don’t have the time or expertise to evaluate each item.
When you are faced with a number of similar options, such as pricing plans. People find it difficult to decide between them. One way behavioural economics suggests you can make it easier for users is to indicate which plan is your customers’ most popular choice. Many visitors will select the most popular plan because it is seen as a ‘safe option’.
Spotify extensively utilises the bandwagon effect by displaying how many people are following a song, album, artist or playlist. This encourages users to explore new music and build their own playlists. Such behaviour improves user engagement and increases the potential value of customers.
People also consciously copy the behaviour of others when they want to be with like-minded people and participate in similar experiences. Use customer research to understand what beliefs and attitudes are most important to your visitors and align your behaviour and business ethics accordingly.
Innocent drinks sell a range of premium smoothies to a health conscious audience. However, to communicate its high ethical standards it has a brand promise to be socially responsible in how it sources its ingredients. They guarantee to give 10% of profits to charities which fund projects that alleviate hunger around the world. This socially responsible stance fits well with many of its customers and probably helps it to maintain a premium price.
Be careful about social norms and traditions when entering a new market or launching a new product. When Apple launched the original iPhone in Japan in 2008 it struggled to sell because it didn’t conform to market norms. By 2008 Japanese consumers were already taking videos and watching TV shows on their smartphones. The iPhone did not even have a video camera or the ability to include chips for debit card transactions or train passes. In Japan many people use trains to get about.
Pepsi broke a social norm with the Kendall Jenner ad as they tried to use political protest for commercial gain. By attempting to co-opt a movement of political resistance and mimic anti-Trump and Black Lives Matter protests. Pepsi over stepped what was perceived to be acceptable by many people.
Most of the time people are satisfiers rather than looking to maximise economic utility. We don’t have the time or resources to look for “ideal” solutions. Behavioural economics tells us that most people are not seeking perfection when making decisions. Because of loss aversion we are more concerned about not feeling regret. As a result most of the time we are probably content with something that is in the third quartile.
Implications for CRO:
Avoid using words to describe your offer as “ideal” or “perfect” as this is not aligned with real user behaviour. People want to know who can be trusted rather than if your product will change their lives.
Everything is relative. People automatically want to compare offers because they don’t necessarily know what above average looks like. Including comparative information on your site which includes some benefits where you are inferior to your competitors can help build confidence in your brand. People understand it is rare to find something that is better in every aspect and value honesty in the people they deal with. An independent source for comparative information can carry further weight.
Offer money back guarantees or free returns to demonstrates confidence in your product. This also reduces the risk of the customer making a mistake and feeling regret.
6. Ease the pain of payment:
Neuroscience research has indicated that an excessive price activates a part of the brain called the insula. This is normally a part of the brain associated with experiencing pain. It suggests that people can suffer from a form of mental pain when considering the cost of an item.
Implications for CRO:
Free trial offers and buy one, get one free offers are good strategies. This plays to our human tendency to be loss averse. People fear loss greater than a gain and are also attracted to free or discounted offers because they hate the feeling of regret when they miss out on something appealing.
Delaying payment can also significantly improve a user’s likelihood to convert because a payment in the future is worth less than a cost immediately incurred. (see hyperbolic discounting). Ecommerce stores routinely benefit from this phenomena by using buy now, pay later promotions and by allowing customers to pay in monthly instalments. Littlewoods.com is very effective at using the buy now pay later proposition to reduce the pain of a purchase and this allows the e-commerce retailer to charge a significant premium for products on its site.
Behavioural economics tells us that brands can reduce the pain from a payment by using the concept of mental accounting. Brands can achieve this by associating a purchase with an existing household budget. People have a tendency to allocate money into separate subjective pots, such as house, weekly shop, holiday, savings, windfall gains and housekeeping money. They tend to be more willing to dip into some accounts, such as housekeeping and windfalls, than others, such as savings or house (i.e. rent or mortgage).
To benefit from mental accounting brands can seek to position their product or service as naturally coming from an appropriate and easily accessible mental account (e.g. air freshener from weekly shopping). In addition brands could allow customers hold a surplus balance or to allocate items to different accounts (e.g. banking apps that allow budget setting). This can help people manage expenditure according to their mental accounts.
All About Amazon
Amazon uses mental accounting with Amazon Prime Reload, a rewards program which encourages people to sign up to Prime and hold a surplus balance on their account. Prime members get 2% back on purchases when they first pre-fund their Amazon Balance using a debit card.
This may encourage people to load large amounts into their Amazon Balance to avoid ever having to pay directly for an item through their debit or credit card. By creating an ‘Amazon account’ this may encourage more frequent and impulse purchasing if the customer maintains a surplus balance. It makes it much easier for people to justify a purchase when the money has already been allocated to an existing account.
MYJAR.com uses its brand name to associate itself with the mental accounting concept because in the UK it is still common practice to keep spare change or money for a specific purpose in jars. Traditionally it was common to use jam jars to store cash for different needs (e.g. beer money and milk money).
Behavioural economics provides us with a framework and language to create strategies for behavioural change. Behavioural economics provides many opportunities for us to be more persuasive online. Roger Dooley is correct in suggesting that we need to be better at targeting the non-conscious brain because this makes most decisions. However, neither should we forget to link the emotional with rational reasons why we buy as without System 2 thinking we may lack substance.
Beyond Reason’s implicit motivations model provides valuable insight into how we should discuss brand positioning. Many brands have similar features and benefits, but we can use implicit motivators to have informed discussions about how to best differentiate our brand using deep psychological and emotional goals.
Brands are nothing without human interaction, whether between customers or with staff via digital channels or offline conversations. People use the popularity of your site as a short-cut to deciding whether they can trust you. Social influence should, therefore, be one of your strongest strategies for influencing visitors to engage and convert.
As well as seeking to increase the value of your brand (e.g. through product enhancements) behavioural economics suggests we also look at the pain of price. It is important not to look at these factors in isolation because it is the net difference between the perceived value and the cost of an item that determines likelihood to purchase.
Implicit research seeks to access the automatic and sub-conscious mind (see System 1) using techniques that do not rely on direct, deliberate or intentional self-reporting. As a result relatively few research techniques qualify as implicit. Many methods of research rely on conscious (intentional) thought and are unable to access sub-conscious motivations.
One implicit research technique that is becoming increasingly popular with marketers is the Implicit Association Test (IAT). It is scalable and can measure sub-conscious motivations and feelings towards a brand or product
What is the Implicit Association Test?
The IAT allows you to measure the strength of a person’s automatic association between mental concepts (e.g. Muslims and Christians) and evaluations (e.g. positive or negative) or stereotypes (e.g. extremists, don’t integrate). It does this by measuring how quickly people can sort words or images into categories each time they are “primed” to a stimulus (e.g. a brand logo or product).
Why does it work?
When you are primed with an image, sound or a word, the associations your brain has with that concept are much more accessible to you. It improves your cognitive processing and can uncover the strength of your feelings. It also monitors how each prime affects your mental processing speed and accuracy.
IAT achieves this by asking respondents to quickly sort words into one of two categories shown on a computer screen. Participants use the “e” key to indicate if the word is most strongly associated with the category on the left and the “i” key if it belongs to the right.
How is the data used?
By understanding users’ implicit or sub-conscious motivations marketers can design content and messages that are much more emotionally engaging and psychologically persuasive. By combining the findings with data from traditional methods of research, we can create a decision-making model that includes both emotion and reason. Such models can generate very accurate predictions of user behaviour which can inform campaign planning and value proposition development.
This allows us to measure the impact of the non-conscious on new product concept adoption, advertising response, brand image, packaging evaluations and more. IAT’s also allow you to understand the needs, interests and expectations of different customer segments. Enabling you to better marketing communications for different target audiences to generate a truly emotional response.
Agencies offering IAT’s:
Due to the increasing awareness of the limitations of traditional research more companies are now offering IAT’s to probe the non-conscious mind of the consumer. This includes companies such as Sentient Decision Science and marketing consultancy Beyond Reason.
The IAT offers a scalable and affordable way for organisations to measure non-conscious motivations and expectations. Implicit methods of research provide a more reliable and accurate measure of a user’s behaviour than traditional explicit research techniques. Like surveys and focus groups.
Indeed, studies have indicated that IAT results show good correlation with preference and purchase intent. So, if you want to understand true user motivations it is time to ditch traditional questionnaires and focus groups. They are probably doing more harm than good.