Simple gut feeling is key to consumer research

“I rely on my gut instinct” or “It just felt right” is often the response we get when we ask people why they made particular choices. As one researcher, Wendy Gordon, has been finding out, marketeers who make decision-making more complicated may not get the results they desire.
To illustrate the point she refers to an experiment in which ordinary consumers and food experts were asked to give their opinions about jams they liked. Here’s what happened:
Jam tasting experts were asked to rank 45 strawberry jams in terms of quality. Five jams across the quality spectrum were then selected.
A sample of non-trained people was asked to taste and then rank these five jams in terms of quality. The experts and the ordinary consumers placed the five jams in the same order.
A second sample of non-trained people was selected. They were instructed to taste and to rank the five jams but at the same time to write down the reason for liking or disliking each one. This group placed the jams in a different preference order.
So this second sample group became overly rational and conscious of tiny irrelevant jam details to explain their ranking instead of relying on their gut feeling for preference. Thinking and analysing too much altered their judgement and led to a different result.
Clearly asking people to explain why they behave or think as they do is potentially downright misleading. Yet the majority of marketing and insight management continues to make decisions based on research that reports consumers’ reasons why. Time and time again, people’s ‘reasons why’ do not lead to effective marketing strategies. We may think we are being more sophisticated by asking for a rational choice but we risk skewing the results because we are missing out on the initial emotional reaction.
As a minimum, we need to make sure we capture the instinctive reaction first, before we try to explore why. Perhaps the real clue to ‘why’ comes from understanding the consumer better and the situations in which they make choices – if we really can ‘stand in their shoes’ we may be able to understand their decision making much better than asking them to explain something they don’t really consciously think about too much.
Food for thought?