One of the advantages of understanding how the process of asking people questions influences them is that you can have fun demonstrating its impact.

I was recently invited to speak to a local business group and took the opportunity to demonstrate the frailty of asking questions and the nature of the unconscious mind.

Whilst the samples were too small to be scientifically valid, the differences in responses to my fake research were both predictable and entertaining.

I set up a taste test using three very similar products: one was from a value range, one from the ‘standard’ range and one the premium offer.  Everyone was led to believe that they were taking part in legitimate market research and that they all had the same questions.

In fact there were five different questionnaires, all asking the participants to taste three products and answer some questions.

What was I able to demonstrate?

  1. People will express a preference when given identical products to rate.
  2. People’s taste preferences are influenced by branding.
  3. People have no clue how much most products normally cost.
  4. When asked to analyse aspects of a product (like sweetness and texture) people reach a different conclusion about which product is best (compared to when asked simply to select a favourite).
Of course, none of the answers was really meaningful.  Even when people had the accurately branded and accurately identified products for the research, they were undertaking a comparison that they would never normally make in real life.  Instead they would be influenced by the packaging, price, shelf-height, price promotions, habits, who they were shopping with and product visibility (amongst many other things relating to the environment and their own frame of mind at the time).
Add in a few demonstrations that illustrate how irrational we’re all capable of being and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that people’s rational thoughts are really not that useful if you’re trying to understand consumer behaviour.
Now, there are ways around this problem.  If you understand how people think when they’re consuming and what people can answer reliably, you end up with shorter, cheaper and more psychologically valid market research.
Philip Graves

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