Do people do what they say they’ll do?

Innovation is a risky business and the failure rate is high. Traditional approaches to consumer research may exacerbate the problem. There are many shortcomings with traditional research approaches, and one of the main ones is that data collection focuses on what people say they do, rather than on what is actually driving behaviour.

This paper describes four critical problems that can undermine the relevance of research aimed at understanding whether consumers will engage with a new product or service. These are:

  1. Poor quality data. Quality may be compromised by poor understanding of how psychology and behaviour can influence the data source.
  2. Treating data as insight. Researchers often fail to use a proven behavioural lens, or structured framework, for data processing. The result is just more data, not validated insight.
  3. Failure to recognise the factors that drive behaviour. Strategies for data collection often fail to capture the subtle array of social, emotional and cultural drivers of behaviour that determine what people do in the real world.
  4. Confirming existing biases. Sometimes research is not approached with an open mind and open methods. It is conducted with the intent of proving prior hypotheses, than of refuting them.

A behavioural-science approach can begin to address these problems. Using an appropriate model or theory of behaviour helps us to avoid the problem of collecting poorly focused data, and can include habitual, emotional, socially-conditioned or automatic responses in our analysis. A theoretical underpinning helps us to target areas that we can influence, and to avoid those that will be less relevant. If applied with an open mind set, using the scientific method to eliminate biases, then behavioural science will significantly improve the effectiveness of our consumer research. It will ensure that we know more about what people actually do… not just what they say they’ll do.