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An Evolving Research Framework

You’ve likely heard a lot of buzz around one of the following: System 1 / System 2 research, Emotional Measurement, subconscious decision-making and/or Behavioral Economics (BE). Larger companies have been leading the adoption of some of these techniques, which are now starting to gain wider attention and acceptance.

At MMR, we’ve been researching the BE space and its fit with our target clients. Our assessment is that this is not just hype about new methods; rather it is something with high potential, centered on an evolution of research approaches to align more closely with how consumers make decisions on a daily basis.

What is System 1 / System 2 research, and what does it have to do with Behavioral Economics?

Behavioral Economics is the overall subject area which asserts that decision-making has two components, the Conscious, rational, more deliberate processes (System 2/Slow) and the Non-conscious, often emotional, rapid processes (System 1/Fast).

Behavioral Economics simply recognizes the reality that consumers don’t have – or take – the time to follow a fully deliberate, rational process for all of our decisions in life. In fact, the world moves so fast that MOST decisions in a given day are System 1/Fast and involve heuristics, emotions, limited information and quick judgements. And many of these quick decisions can be biased.

Books like Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely identify some of the standard, predictable ways humans are biased.

For purposes of Marketing research, this is not new. Researchers (and Economists) are often criticized for focusing exclusively on System 2 (Rational) thinking, believing that people not only behave rationally, but that they can tell you why they do what they do. The reality is that there have been many efforts to get below the surface, particularly in Qualitative Research but also in Quantitative (think Derived Analyses).

What’s new to this research game is that the shortcomings/limitations of focusing on the purely rational have gained greater attention. And some work done in the past decade appears to have been successful at developing better methods of uncovering some of these sub-conscious and emotional relationships. These approaches are now entering the mainstream.

So what? What does this mean for my research plan?

First, traditional Stated and Considered Derived (or System 2) measures and approaches are not going away.

It’s NOT the “end of survey research.”

However, working to incorporate emotional and behavioral measurement into your work (especially for established brands) can probably help you get to key points of differentiation and better messaging.

While System 1 approaches have focused heavily on the qualitative arena (a discipline always seeking better ways to uncover emotion and motivation), some of the most interesting developments have actually been in the quantitative arena. For example, Implication Association approaches have the potential to add a third dimension to your studies – Emotive, in addition to Stated and Derived.

At MMR we’re actively assessing the degree to which approaches such as Implicit Association truly adds to and is superior to proven derived approaches. As always, we’re reviewing this arena with the mindset, “How does this affect client decisions?  How do these approaches affect or improve our recommendations?”

You’re likely to continue to see a LOT of information in this arena… and one warning we can already provide:  there is definitely mis-information being communicated.  E.g. Approaches based simply on “Limiting Time” for respondent decisions are NOT getting you deeper into the non-conscious/System 1 space; they are an overly simplistic way of applying BE principles.

We’re building partnerships and investing in some exploration; look for additional information from us and case studies in the fall on this topic.