The philosophy behind our research apps

 In Consumer Neuroscience

Chief Research Architect at CloudArmy

 

At CloudArmy we have a different philosophy from the traditional legacy market research suppliers. We understand that consumer behavior is driven largely by automatic, nonconscious processes. If you only ask people for conscious responses to explicit questions you are unlikely to truly uncover these processes as consumers are often unable or unwilling to report them. Unable because they are not aware of their unconscious biases, unwilling because these biases might cast them in a bad light: while an explicit survey may encourage us to show off our angelic side that always expresses interest in recycling, buying fair-trade and eating healthy food, it fails to account for the implicit reality that we don’t always follow-through with these good intentions.

 

Good vs bad consumer behavior, according to some set of moral or ethical beliefs, is just one example of this. There are myriad others. One is a phenomenon called ‘choice blindness’. Psychologists have demonstrated that we often have no idea of the real forces that guide our choices; we are blind to them. Equally, shoppers are often time-pressured and simply don’t have the mental energy or motivation to perform rational cost-value analyses for all their purchases. We generally avoid thinking too hard about our choices, mostly relying on habit, gut feelings or what feels most comfortable or reassuring to us. These types of processes — often referred to as ‘System 1’ (as opposed to the more effortful, conscious thinking of ‘System 2)’ — are not built via rational persuasion. They are more likely to be built through a brand being repeatedly linked to particular emotions, by claims that just ‘feel right’ to consumers, or by packaging that uses the right combinations of colours, messaging, and design composition to trigger a feeling of desire in the shopper. 

 

The old model The new model
Consumers decide what to buy using an evaluation of the cost vs benefits of a product. Consumers are triggered by habits, nudges and by non-conscious forces. Their perception of the value of a product is influenced by factors such as design and emotion.
Consumers know what they want and why they want it. Just ask them. Consumers aren’t always aware of what they want, and you typically need indirect ways to measure their responses.
Advertising needs to grab and hold viewers’ conscious attention in order to deliver a message. Ideas and emotions can be embedded in our memories and nonconscious associations through repeated exposure, even if we aren’t paying active attention.

Table: Comparing the old and new models

 

A ‘System 1’ behavioral science approach to research can yield new insights into how to imbue your products and services with more emotion, how to handle the conundrum of achieving the right balance between being familiar or disruptive, and which elements of design are likely to trigger desire. Where the traditional model, focusing on conscious forces, emphasises the importance of high levels of attention, conscious awareness, and rational persuasion, the system 1 philosophy studies the following:

 

Non-conscious emotional and memory ‘hooks’ 

 

Rather than just rationally persuade consumers with the factual and functional benefits of your product, such as its value for money or the volume of food in the box, CloudArmy is interested in revealing the emotional and memory connections that your brand, product, service or communication is building. Our memories can be thought of as webs of connections. Through repeatedly experiencing or thinking about two things together – such as a brand and a particular idea, feeling or emotion – their connection in our brain becomes stronger and the mere presence of one is subsequently likely to trigger thoughts and feelings of the other. Measuring these memory connections is something that Implicit measures are great for.

 

Sensory cues

 

One important category of memory association webs includes those that develop from our sensations. Psychologists have published a large number of papers in recent years showing that we have many different types of sensory and bodily associations that we are not always aware of. For example, different colours can trigger associations with particular tastes. The same for shapes. Physical sensations such as weight can trigger associations such as the importance of an object (heavier things feel more important). Even the direction that a face is looking in an advertisement can trigger associations with the past (looking leftward) or the future (looking rightward). By careful development of designs and experiences that orchestrate just the right types of sensory associations you can create more effective reactions in consumers. Alternatively, your packaging design might have design elements that are triggering the wrong associations, perhaps even ones that are even harming sales, yet because these effects can occur below the level of conscious awareness your customers might not be able to report them to you.

 

Understanding how ‘nudges’ trigger our behavior

 

Nudges are cues in our environment that encourage us to behave in a certain way.

There is a lot of published research showing examples of people’s behavior being triggered by the mere presence of a particular word or image in their environment without them being aware of what’s happening. A poster of a policeman encourages more honest behavior, seeing a premium brand triggers more indulgent purchases an hour later, seeing a list of words related to old age subsequently triggers the reader to walk slower than immediately before they read them. 

 

Any one of these particular effects may or may not work all the time in all situations. The particular details of the context are important, and that’s what makes it essential to first test them in the right way with the right group of people. 

 

When you are trying to trigger a new consumer behavior, such as promoting recycling or upselling the consumer to a more premium option than their habitual favourite, understanding the inner psychological triggers that are likely to encourage the new behavior is essential.

 

Neuro design best practices

 

Cognitive and behavioral scientists have learned a lot in the last few years about how we visually decode images — such as packaging designs or print ads — and there are now a range of sometimes surprising ‘rules’ that affect whether we feel drawn to an image, to like it or want to look at it more. Our behavioral science consultants make use of this ever growing body of knowledge to advise our clients on ways they can make small adjustments to their designs to improve their effectiveness. 

 

How our philosophy guides specific types of research

 

So, how does this view of consumer behavior translate into how we conduct our research and the types of research apps we create? Let’s look at several key areas of research:

 

Brand Research

 

Brands can be thought of as memory networks. While the brand name and its logo typically act as the main symbols of the brand, every experience or ‘touchpoint’ that you have with the brand builds your memory network. Feelings, emotions, places, people, and all kinds of things become mentally connected to the brand just through an automatic form of learning called conditioning. Everytime we see an ad for the brand and it triggers a particular emotion, that gets connected to the brand in our mind. Over time the network of associations becomes like a personality. Just as we understand a human’s personality, making the person more predictable to us, we grow familiar with the brand, feel comfortable with it, and have expectations of it. As trust and familiarity grow, the brand becomes a real asset to the products and services it represents as we are more likely to trust and like them. And we tend to prefer a person instantly if they have an easy-to-read personality (a phenomenon known as the ‘expressivity halo’).

 

Packaging Research

 

We aim to answer a number of questions when we are researching new packaging designs: how likely is it to grab attention in store or on a page (e.g. if the shopper is browsing)? How quickly and accurately are shoppers able to find it if they are looking for it?  Are the right elements of the design likely to grab attention? When shoppers look at it, does it feel easy to look at, intuitive to understand? Does it evoke the right feelings, values and benefits (again, intuitively, via the use of colour, shapes, design structure, images, etc., in addition to text-based messaging), and does it automatically trigger desire in the consumer? All these effects tend to happen quickly, and often outside of the shoppers conscious awareness. Equally, we believe that it’s very difficult to get to a genuine understanding of the effectiveness of new designs only by asking shoppers. 

 

Claims Research

 

Claims may seem like the most rational, conscious form of communication, but even here we believe that it’s really System 1 effects that determine success. A claim that feels intuitively true and appealing can slip into the memory of a consumer and form part of the brand or product’s web of associations. A claim that is too purely rational and functional can draw the consumer’s conscious rational attention and trigger them to mentally resist or argue with it, without providing the emotional impact needed to trigger the desired response. 

 

Claims can be simple yet memorable or intriguing enough to have good stickiness. For example, claims that rhyme have been shown to feel more true. Claims that are simple yet hold multiple meanings — so-called ‘polysemous slogans’ — may be particularly effective. An example is the phrase ‘Find your fit’, used by the UK ‘the gym’ chain can be interpreted in at least a couple of different ways (e.g. find a choice that fits you, work to become fit). Such a claim, simple yet full of meaning, is a good example of one that is likely to be engaging and effective. 

 

Advertising Research

 

As previously mentioned, we believe advertising doesn’t have to grab and hold the viewers’ conscious attention and deliver a factual message in order to be effective. A well studied phenomenon called the ‘mere exposure effect’ shows that even just being exposed to something, such as a brand logo, multiple times, makes us like it more. This is the main reason why advertising is effective: through repeated exposure it builds familiarity through those brand memory webs mentioned earlier. The key thing to measure is not people’s rational understanding and opinion of the advertisement, but its ability to create emotional connections and memories and its impact on the brand. Through the use of eye-tracking we can also monitor where viewers are looking and whether they are likely to see key elements of the ad. 

 

Our System 1 philosophy guides us to a different understanding of what we need to research. The tools we use,which together form our research apps, have been carefully selected and refined to be the best in class for measuring the types of effects that drive consumer choices and behavior.

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