99% Pure Insight… Walt, Jesse and the Lying Consumer

December 2, 2013

Insight on Insight, the most recent in the Breakfast Speaker Series, was convened to provide a view of the state-of-the-art and the science of Market Research, right here, right now. The panellists were a bunch of scary-brainy, skilled deep divers into why we buy what we buy.


by Bruce Nickson

Let’s face it, Walt and Jesse are running a boutique shop when it compares to the big boys. They produce the best meth in the market, and in the world of Big Drugs, the big boys can’t compete on quality. But they can compete on quantity, price and …ummm…clout. At least so I’m told.

Claire Booth of Lux Insights used the Breaking Bad analogy that pure data sucks, and pure insight yields actionable results (the purest meth), as in Walt and Jesse in Breaking Bad.

IcebergBut where does insight come from? Enter the brave new world of Behavioural Economics.

In which it is thought that the subconscious is the submerged part, the decision machine we aren’t even aware of, and that we can’t explain. We’re “strangers to ourselves”.

We tend to think that the consciousness is the oval office where decisions get made. Well, not so much, Not really. How do researchers access the subconscious when we can’t even do it ourselves?

Economics: focused on rational decision-making (based on self-interest). Behavioural psychologists believe we make decisions irrationally. And we make decisions not always in our best interest:

  • We don’t always choose the lowest price
  • We don’t always choose the best quality

We make decisions based on a miasma of things like social norms, to be cool, or out of habit or, or, or… The decision-making context is as important (or more important) than the content of our decisions.

We don’t need to be trained psychologists to understand the principles behind behavioural economics, and researchers who take Behavioural Economics seriously are that much better equipped.

 Thinking Fast and Slow

Our brain has two systems: Mr./Ms. Fast and Mr./Ms. Slow. Think of yourself like that.

System Fast is the rabbit: intuitive, emotional, sensory. System Slow is the tortoise: the problem-solving mechanism with gears that sometimes turn with agonizing slowness.

Most decisions are system Fast. This tells you you’re going to buy crap (or not), it tells you which provider to select, and it tells you whether to date someone. And we tend to go for the easiest decision in order to avoid cognitive dissonance. People just don’t take time to do the math and figure it out.

So, researchers have to assume that almost everything they hear from respondents is some kind of, not falsehood exactly, but a kind of avoidance of the truth.

Researchers need to understand the tricks and tips we use to get to decisions (also known as the heuristics): the contest, the memory, the emotions, the influences and the biases. For example: You’re at the bar and you meet someone that looks like you, except not as good looking. Suddenly, you’re, you think, really good looking (well, not so much… really).

But how to put behavioural economics into practice? Claire suggests some tools:

1.  Behavioural observation. A technique as old as the hills, it’s slow and very expensive. But researchers can discover insights. The science is called ethnography.

2. Throw in some technology: in this case, the smartphone, in which the respondents record the process, though voice, GPS and camera, by which behaviour is remotely observed. Fun fact: people check their smartphones on average 110 times per day. Smartphones are extensions of our hands. The smartphone becomes a conduit to observe decision-making. A kind of remote enthnography.

By the way, Google Glass will be the next big thing for observational research.

trance3. Trance. No, not the music. Humans go into trance every day, and frequently. Our consciousness shuts down, and our subconscious takes over. Chip Wilson of Lululemon is on record saying he goes into trance every time he pees.

 We can put respondents into trance, explore their cognitive web and see where insights might lie. From trance techniques comes this odd little insight: the French think cheese is alive; almost everyone else thinks cheese is dead.

So where is market research with all of this? We have data. We have psychology. And we have consumers who don’t know their own minds, but say they do. What’s a marketer to do?

Between psychology and technology, market research is an exciting place to be, Claire says. Researchers are characterized by a certain relentlessness in attempting to look around the corner into consumer predictability.

There will be more about this event coming soon…

To learn more about the BCAMA events schedule, check here.