Emerging techniques – a research renaissance

Our business of researching people’s attitudes and behaviours is changing. We have witnessed a revolution in consumer behaviour driven by our changing relationship with technology. Today, three-quarters of us say we couldn’t imagine life without the internet and the three in five of us who now own a smartphone would rather give up any other device, including our TV!

It’s these same trends that are enabling us, as researchers, to uncover fresh insights. Mobile and wearable technologies are allowing us to be ‘in the moment’ with consumers before they post-rationalise or forget their experiences. We can gather useful contextual information via photos, videos and digital ‘breadcrumbs’. By combining these technologies with a greater understanding of human psychology, we can not only capture, but also understand, people’s actions and motivations more accurately and in greater context than ever before.

We now have more ways than ever to understand human behaviour, but which are ‘right’?

Right time, right place

Mobile research (i.e. using people’s smartphones) allows us to conduct research ‘in the moment’, at the point of the experience, which is particularly useful when we’re examining frequently performed, habitual or low-salience behaviours. Could you accurately tell me the cost of your last supermarket shop or how many hours you spent watching TV last week? If you are like most people, probably not. In retrospective reports of behaviour, people often resort to generic estimates. In a recent study on video on demand (VOD), for example, we found that respondents who were using an in-the-moment mobile diary reported watching an extra hour’s more VOD content per week than those who completed a standard recall study.

Recalling and articulating sensory experiences also poses a challenge for traditional research methods. By regularly adding an ‘in the moment’ mobile element into our product testing research, we’ve found people are better able to differentiate between products. It also allows respondents to not only tell us what they think of product features but also show us via photos and video.

It’s not what you say, it’s what you do

As Oliver Sweet explains in his article, behavioural economics has taught us that there is a difference between people’s reflexive and reflective modes of thought (Kahneman’s System 1 and System 2).

Traditional techniques perhaps focus too much on people’s reflective (rational, cognitive) responses to the detriment of the more reflexive (unconscious, intuitive) influences. Emerging techniques, such as neuroscience, ethnography and Big Data analytics, are allowing us to observe people’s actual behaviours, access their unconscious mind and uncover some of the instinctive motivators behind people’s decisions – the influences that they may not even be aware of.

By using a range of techniques, including ethnography, mobile diaries and Google Glass (which the participants soon forgot they were wearing), we enjoyed front row seats for the journey to motherhood – including joy, tears, awkward conversations, tired pictures, and an unmediated view of daily life. This project gave us a unique opportunity to understand this life-changing journey – a journey that’s so often misinterpreted and over-glamorised by marketing and the media – showing us motherhood from all angles.

In 2014, we’ve generated some of our deepest insights by combining ‘shiny new’ tools with established craftsmanship. For example, partnering surveys with neuroscience techniques has given us a read of the conscious and unconscious response; and layering mobile diaries and wearables onto traditional ethnography has provided depth and breadth. With these techniques often raising as many questions as they answer, our core skill – adding the why to the what, when and where of human behaviour – is more valuable than ever.