Task.
Don’t ask.

Questionnaire surveys can be very misleading. How to do market research the right way?

Each person makes 300-600 decisions per day. If they were to make every decision with deliberate contemplation, their brain would need an enormous amount of time and energy. Try and say the colours out loud that are spelled out in the words below:

Fast and slow thinking

By the fourth word, your mind was working up a storm, right? In that moment, you went from the so-called “fast thinking” to “slow thinking“, as was aptly coined by nobelist Daniel Kahneman. In slow thinking, we involve abstraction, logic, conscious reasoning, and it mainly takes place in the neocortex, i.e. the anterior and evolutionarily youngest part of the brain, whose function consumes a large amount of glucose. That’s why the brain only engages the neocortex when there really are no other options. According to a certain Harvard study, 95% of shopping and other decisions are made (or at least prepared in advance) in our fast thinking mode. This happens subconsciously, only taking a fraction of a second, and its based on the rapid processing of emotions and associations from our memory. Fast thinking primarily takes place in the limbic system, which is a developmentally ancient part of the brain, often called the reptilian brain.

Classic questionnaires activate the excuse centre in our brains

The issue with classic marketing research is that people employ their slow thinking, even though they would otherwise use their fast thinking. Let’s take a look at the classic question from Net Promoter Score:

J8. On a scale 0-10, how  likely are you to recommend this [spare tail] to your colleague or friend?

One has to activate slow thinking to understand and answering such a complicated question. Whereas the purchasing and recommending of tails is managed by our fast reptile brain. Consumers – the owners of the reptile brain – rarely know much about its motives. They are often critically wrong when it comes to guessing their own motives. When performing research for McDonald’s, we asked the classic question: How important is it for you when choosing what to buy that the meat in your burger is of 100% domestic origin? The respondents answered that it was very important. We then also let people choose a burger quickly from a number of different brands and parameters, one of which was whether the meat was 100% domestic. In the end, the origin of the meat had a minimal impact. 

How is it then that people have no problem answering questions regarding things they have no way of knowing? We have developed a type of “excuse centre” in our brains, whose purpose is to create credible justifications for everything. This is most likely because individuals with a good answer to any question had a better position in the tribe, and thus better evolutionary advantages.

The way the excuse centre functions can easily be seen in a certain neurological experiment on people with cortical blindness. These people’s eyes were fine, and they were able to subconsciously process visual signals, however, due to the defect of the top of their brain, they are unable to consciously see out of a given eye. Researchers studied their reactions after having exposed them to various types of stimulus, including erotic videos. The researchers then asked the people why they shyly giggled at that given moment. Although none of them knew that they were just watching porn at public, everyone immediately wrote some sensible sounding answer.

How do we measure fast thinking at Behavio?

We develop our own methods and tools, which we would be glad to introduce to you in great detail. In an effort to save time, however, it is enough to say that we examine associations, emotions, and quick decisions. Instead of asking questions that only activate the excuse centre, we give our respondents tasks. What first comes to mind when people hear X? Which of the three products would people choose when given a short amount of time? Do these people recognize blurry symbols for certain brands? Do they remember which brand the video we showed them last week was for?

The simpler and shorter the tasks are for respondents, the harder it is for us to set the research up. We mostly work with two or more groups with multilayered, randomized tasks in order to capture the uninfluenced reactions of previous tasks. Thanks to this format, we are able to successfully predict how people are going to make decisions. This works much better than if we let the respondents guess their decisions on their own.

We perform most of our research online, and we have proven that our methods correspond with measured EEG and eye scanner results. The advantage of our method when compared with others is that we are capable of ensuring research on a sufficiently large, representative sample of your target group, and we thoroughly uphold sociological standards for quality data collection.