The Importance of Being In-Context

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As unapologetic believers in Behavioral Science, we tend to go back to the acknowledged gurus for inspiration and affirmation. This is particularly true when we are refining how we apply behavioral principles to the understanding of consumer and shopper experiences.

We recently renovated our offices in Teaneck, New Jersey and created a gallery of portraits of some of the most famous names in BeSci:  Kahneman, Thaler, Sunstein, and Ariely to name a few.

Each has quotes that are relevant to our ‘world view’ but one that is particularly relevant to our current obsession of bringing clients the best insights into shopper behavior is from Dan Ariely – “Most people don’t know what they want unless they see it in context.

Yup, once you hear it – it seems pretty obvious, but now more than ever it is sharply applicable to our clients’ challenges.

How can we be certain what Consumers will want?

Now we don’t claim to be Ariely or Kahneman but it has never made sense to us to de-couple consumer and shopper research from the context of consumption and actual shopper experience. Asking a consumer in a vacuum to tell you what they choose, or have chosen, or (the worst) what they INTEND to choose and purchase, violates one of the most basic principles in behavioral science:  people are just not reliable witnesses to their own behavior!

Much of what we DO every day is basically unconscious, driven by our “System 1” with shopping being a prime example.  It is a chore we often do on autopilot.  So asking us to describe our motivations and drivers of choice in rational recollection is a recipe for failure.

Much more reliable than asking a consumer about their behavior is to OBSERVE and document the behavior in an environment that most closely approximates the experience you are trying to understand.  The insights you unpack are far more likely to lead to the ability to develop predictive product strategies.  And where is that observation most effective? IN-CONTEXT of the actual shopping experience!

Avoiding the “Smile for the Camera” Syndrome

We have all had the excruciating family photos where everyone looks painfully unnatural.  In part, it is a function of being consciously aware of the camera.

Even if you can do research in a ShopperLab, effective observational research requires you to collect data that respondents are unaware they are even providing. Enhanced eye-tracking reveals attributes like intrigue/visual interest with a device as familiar as a pair of Ray-Bans.   Video shopper journeys reveal how consumers even find your product on the shelf. Biometric technology can collect data that gives an indication of emotional engagement.  But if the technology is intrusive, respondents will definitely be more focused on the devices than the dinner ingredients.

Can you afford to Observe the Consumer in-context? 

In-context research has often been perceived as time-consuming and too expensive for brands needing to make fast decisions around packaging and shopper marketing.

But with a modular approach, a behavioral framework and the right technology in-context research can become an essential element of a process to gain a closer connection to consumers, leading to the most predictive outcomes.  Just in time, just what you need at prices so in tune with your budgets, you can’t afford not to!

We would say, “Thanks Dan Ariely!  You are so right.”

Sam Albert is the Chief Digital Officer of Behaviorally (formerly PRS) and provided this blog post as Vice President of Research at PRS IN VIVO USA in February 2019.
He brings over 20 years of experience in the CPG research industry to the responsibility of ensuring that the Company is efficiently organized and operating to achieve the overall business objectives optimally, in a manner consistent with the company vision.
Connect with Sam on LinkedIn here.

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