Marketing and Research Consulting for a Brave New World
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Much of consumer and shopping behavior is based on habits and rituals.  Think about what you do when you wake up in the morning.  If you’re like me, you’re on auto-pilot for the first 30 minutes.  Bathroom, bathrobe, brew coffee…brain not engaged…must have coffee!  Yet, each of you reading this has different morning rituals and collectively, we see that our options for waking up in the morning are really unlimited.  The difference between unlimited options and routine behavior is habit.  The degree to which we are governed by habits varies.  As you shop in a grocery store for example, you probably have a habitual way you navigate the store.  For certain product categories, you don’t even think about choice you simply look for the brand you intend to buy.  In some categories, you behave differently because you ARE making choices.  Being on autopilot for certain product categories lets you conserve your mental glucose for when you really need it…when you have chosen to actively consider alternatives.

Consider search engines.  How many of you actively decide which search engine to use for a given search you have in mind vs. just using the one that is habitual for you (Google for 2/3rds of us)?  “I don’t even think about it” is often the predominant factor in behavior yet we don’t really study this.

Do you think it’s easier to get someone to try a new restaurant in their neighborhood or to switch search engines?  In one case we are actively seeking, and in the other case, we are sensing…responding to cues in an automated and unconscious way as Dave Lundahl, founder of InsightsNow, Inc. might say.  The ability to gain trial for something new is clearly easier when someone is already “seeking” so the degree to which habits drive pre-existing behaviors is key to understanding the potential for a new offering.

Even in your business life, you are governed by habits and rituals.  Think about how you check e-mail in the morning and how you get your daily briefing.

Now, consider how most concept testing and choice experiments work.  We throw all of that insight about habit out the window.  We put people into choice and decision-making mode whether they are ever there in real life or not.  We force people to tell us if they are interested in a particular new product idea without measuring if they are interested in any new product idea at all for a given situation.  Yet, the key for new product adoption is disruption of existing habits and rituals.

We need to  break the concept testing habit and start researching new product adoption in ways that are closer to how people really decide.

Behavioral economists like Dan Ariely understand this.  They understand that people have heuristics, “little tricks”, that allow them to decide in non-fully compensatory ways…basically, the reality is exactly the opposite from how choice experiments and traditional concept testing work!

Traditional concept testing does not study how people decide, it merely gets at purchase interest IF they were deciding.  Usually less than half of those who say “definitely would buy” ever buy for this reason; we are forcing people into active decision-making mode when many are not there in real life.  This unnatural situation is what creates such poor individual-level predictive validity for purchase intent.

First and foremost, a new product must disrupt existing behaviors or leverage behaviors that are already disrupted to be “seen” by the consumer.

In real life, disruption is all around us in an age where digital technology is producing bone-rattling change in everyday life.  Imagine location-aware offers, brand stories, and payment all converging at point of purchase via your smart phone; this is already happening in parts of Asia.  As touchpoints emerge (weekly it seems), marketing and research approaches need to constantly evolve.

We need to start studying how people decide and how to break habits. I have developed a strategic partnership with InsightsNow to create a next generation of innovation development and testing methods that will get at this concept of disruption. Hopefully, we can induce marketers to align lean forward research methods with contemporary marketing thinking and break the traditional concept testing habit.  Maybe then, finally, CPG will do better than the 80% new product failure rate.

Please attend the webinar on this subject on May 25th, at 2PM Eastern time.

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3 Responses to “Breaking the concept testing habit”

  1. joel, you’ve just eloquently articulated the problem i’ve had with concept testing for my entire career — no matter how realistic these traditional tests try to be, they don’t get at the heart of how people make decisions. can’t wait to hear more on this from you. — denise lee yohn

  2. Joel, I recommend reading “Habit: The 95% of Behavior Marketers Ignore” by Dr. Neale Martin. His path to writing the book began during his dissertation when he was unable to find a correlation between customer satisfaction and repurchase at a big-box electronics store. The conscious mind, while powerful, is limited, and routine decisions like shopping are more often than not relegated in part or wholly to the unconscious mind. Your article brings to mind a quote from a client after we presented an all-day workshop on habit-based marketing: “I consciously know that this is what I should be doing, but I know I’m going to just do what I always do tomorrow.” Changing our own business habits to focusing on actual consumer behavior is half the battle.

  3. Joel, great article. At In Vivo we have been running realistic fully stocked shopper labs to measure how shoppers make decisions on multi-category trips for twenty years in Europe, USA, now China and soon Russia.

    We have always believed that purchase is a better indicator of success than top two box. In our experience Purchase Intent only yields about a 15% R against purchase, for the very reasons you describe.

    Feel free to drop by and visit.