An Intro to Behavioral Science/Nonconscious Measurement

There’s a movement going on. One being embraced by economists, psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists alike. The purpose of this movement is relatively straightforward: to better understand the human mind, or put in market research speak: to better understand why consumers do the things they do. But while the purpose of this movement may be simple, the means of achieving it is anything but, as we are not such simple creatures.

In his book ‘The Social Animal,’ David Brooks says that “we are not primarily the products of our conscious thinking. We are primarily the products of thinking that happens below the level of awareness.” So, how do we come to understand subconscious consumers when consumers themselves don’t understand their subconscious mind? The answer, in short, is through incorporation of behavioral science/nonconscious measurement techniques in our research design and processes.

My foray into behavioral science began about two years ago, and my goal with this 4-part blog series is to catch you up on what I’ve learned throughout my journey and, more importantly, help you bring behavioral science-based thinking and methods into your research approaches to yield more accurate, predictive insights for your business. So without further ado, welcome to Behavioral Science 101…class is in session.

What is behavioral science/nonconscious measurement?

Behavioral science is the study of human behavior, and nonconscious measurement is the practice(s) by which one goes about collecting subconscious data from the human mind.

Why should I care?

Simply put, marketers and market researchers should care because about 90% of all decisions happen subconsciously, yet, the majority of research methodologies are set up to yield very conscious thoughts/responses. This disparity results in something called the Say/Do Gappeople don’t speak their minds because they don’t know their mind. It’s the reason time and again we see that the most likeable ads don’t have any in-market impact on motivations or behaviors. When taking traditional surveys/research activities, respondents offer plausible rationalizations for their decisions rather than their true underlying attitudes and motivations. And they do so without even knowing it’s happening because they are unaware of the role emotions play with regards to the things we do.

How can I start incorporating behavioral science into my research?

I like to think of incorporating behavioral science in terms of “levels,” which I’ve detailed briefly below.

Level 1: Stop doing things we know are unreliable.

Stop sending long surveys (would you complete everything; anything you send out?). Stop asking impossible-to-answers questions (how many times have you ______in the past year?). Seriously, stop it. Stopping bad behaviors in the design phase is the easiest, and possibly the most effective thing you can do to start incorporating behavioral science into your research. This is completely free to do, and your respondents will thank you for it.

Level 2: Start consciously designing questions to yield more nonconscious responses.

There are a number of tactics you can consciously employ that will help yield nonconscious responses. Things like binary scales and projective questioning are proven to do so, and are free to do.

Level 3: Start researching and incorporating validated behavioral science-influenced techniques.

There’s a lot out there (some more complicated than others), but things like eye tracking, facial coding and implicit association—which are the 3 most used nonconscious techniques—are proven, easy to understand and inexpensive to implement. As such, there’s no excuse to not begin implementing in your upcoming projects.

Of course, the best way to truly incorporate behavioral science into your research on an ongoing basis is through an integrated platform solution that allows for deployment of quant, qual, mobile and social activities to your target consumers that incorporate both system 1 (nonconscious) and system 2 (conscious) techniques, all managed by an expert research team. As a pioneer of platform-based/technology-accelerated research, Maru/Matchbox is perfectly suited to partner with you on such an initiative. To learn more about how we can help you bring such a solution into your business, download our whitepaper, The Future of Food: Are You Ready For The Millennials, which integrated behavioral science principles into the research method to engage with the difficult-to-reach millennial consumer.

I’ll be further expanding on each “level” of behavioral science in each of my subsequent posts in this series, so stay tuned for more information.

Other posts in this series:

Behavioral Science – Part 2: Sometimes It Is What You Don’t Do That Makes Things Better

Behavioral Science – Part 3: Conscious Design Yields Unconscious Responses

Behavioral Science – Part 4: Validated Techniques & Their Use Cases