The Insights Revolution: Where Behavioral Science Fits In

How is behavioral science changing the insights industry? Find out below, and join us for IIeX Behavior on November 7-8 in Chicago.


By Alex Hunt & Tom Ewing

It’s no secret to readers of GreenBook that the insights industry is changing. And the exact shape of that change is becoming clearer by the day. What’s not always so obvious is where behavioral science and the latest findings in human psychology fit in. Talk of “System 1 and System 2”, of heuristics, and of measuring the non-conscious has become as common at insights industry events as talk of big data, automation and AI. But these two forces of change have often felt like they’re trains hurtling down quite separate tracks. It wasn’t obvious how these two might be part of the same revolution in our industry.

That is changing, and the IIeX Behavior held in Chicago next week will showcase exactly how behavioral science and new technologies fit together. The key lies in what behavioral science, as well as the metrics based on it, let us achieve: more accurate prediction of human behavior.

But before we talk about that, let’s recap how the center of gravity is shifting in the insights industry today. As followers of GreenBook know, the most important factor in change isn’t technology per se, it’s the precision and speed technology can unlock. In a broader business environment, where new competitive challenges often come from more agile and disruptive start-ups, client-side buyers of market research have to move ever faster and make quicker, better decisions in support of their businesses’ growth agenda.

Marketers have more data than ever to help them do that, and finding a niche in such a world is the central problem faced by research providers. The traditional, complex, customized ad hoc project – i.e. the blue-chip product full-service agencies have been selling for years – is becoming increasingly rarified. Even tracking, which has been the bread-and-butter of many big research providers, is under substantial cost and timing pressure, with some research buyers dropping tracking programs entirely.

What marketers still need is accurate prediction. They need to know which new product ideas will succeed, which ads are worthy of media spend, which pack and promotional choices will boost sales, and where their brands are headed. Sometimes a launch-and-learn philosophy is tempting, but more often the guiding principle should be test-and-learn: aim for zero waste by accurately predicting which pieces of marketing are going to drive profitable growth rather than throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks.

Because marketers today are operating so fast, in so many markets, and through so many channels, testing needs to happen at scale, and it needs to be both affordable and rapid. Otherwise the advantage you gain from accurate prediction can be offset by slow decision cycles or expensive research. That’s where technology advances help researchers, utilizing greater automation to turn results around faster than ever. It’s been possible for a while to get next-day or same-day results on testing. At System1 Research we anticipate the norm for delivery of consumer predictions becoming almost instant, demonstrating this is why we tested and published all Super Bowl advertising LIVE earlier this year.

The trade-off for researchers looking to improve speed is a loss of detail. Most research work today includes a lot of legacy questions and “nice to have” data. That has to go. But that doesn’t mean all research will be quantitative and without diagnostic. From our conversations with insight buyers, we know there’s still a vast hunger for meaning and strategic insight, as well as an urgent need not just to filter and sort new product ideas, communications and brands, but to improve them. If the job of research is to accurately predict which marketing efforts will drive growth, why not go further and improve the work which doesn’t quite get there? This requires on collaboration, creativity and specialist insight, and so it wouldn’t be as cheap as testing should be. But it’s less expensive and faster than developing a new idea, ad or brand positioning from scratch.

So that’s two niches researchers can fill in a changing marketing world. First, they can provide accurate prediction at scale to guarantee profitable growth. In addition, they can deliver on optimization and creative consultancy to achieve maximum potential and zero waste.

But we still have to answer that initial question. Where does behavioral science fit in?

Simple: It’s the only foundation upon which accurate and predictive research can be done. To predict response to marketing accurately, you have to understand how people make decisions. Wrong assumptions will lead to wrong predictions. Behavioral science is what allows us to understand human decision making. Researchers and marketers need to be guided by behavioral science and psychology when building their predictive models, and they have to apply those lessons when doing consultancy work.

This sometimes means embracing ideas and results that seem counter-intuitive. For instance, when Les Binet and Peter Field published their findings about emotion being the driver of advertising effectiveness in The Long & Short of It, they faced plenty of pushback from marketers worried about message, persuasion and other rational measures they’d become used to monitoring. In the decade since then, almost every copy-testing supplier has embraced emotional measurement – even if for many the core model hasn’t evolved to match the rhetoric! What used to be a dangerous idea has become standard thinking thanks to a better understanding of behavioral science.

That’s why behavioral science matters in the fast-changing research world. Tools and methods which take behavioral science as their foundation will be more accurate in their predictions and more valuable to marketers. Of course, they must also be cost-effective, automatic and able to work at scale.

Naturally at System1 Research we don’t simply feel our own methods do this best; we know it to be true. But we aren’t the only insights provider at the IIeX Behavior and competition is especially healthy for this still-emerging discipline. What you’ll see at IIeX next week are the best and brightest companies and the most forward thinking clients helping to cement behavioral science in its rightful place, at the center of the ongoing insights revolution.

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One Response to “The Insights Revolution: Where Behavioral Science Fits In”

  1. tony says:

    November 8th, 2017 at 2:43 pm

    Thought this was a really astute and well written article, from a wise thinker! As a client side buyer, then our team’s major challenge really is “speed” now; marketers and product managers want results in, I’d say, 1 week ideally and 2 weeks at a push. Failure for our team to meet the challenge and we will become obsolete, or at least relegated in the pecking order, consigned to big market studies and the like. The challenge is what method to rely on for such activities, to dovetail in agile plans? Without a degree in brain science, its hard when seemingly subtle differences in method have quite different outcomes. Plausible sounding solutions – based in science (or pseudo science) from consultants etc about their method are put in front of us and its difficult to decide what to trust. (The irony of “agile” is that we need a bit of time ourselves to test and learn)

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