Research @ the Speed of Thought

All consumer research, in one way or the other, boils down to an understanding of consumer decision-making or ‘preference’. However, most marketers would agree that consumer-preference is a complex phenomenon, embedded in layers of rational and emotional connections and often as much driven by the unthinking routine of daily life and therefore the sub-conscious, as much as by the conscious.

Research efforts have come a long way in getting closer to the heart of measuring preference:

  • The journey started with basic and direct questions about preference between given options:
    • Which one need is more important than the other?
    • Which brand is preferred versus another?
    • How is one brand perceived on a need versus another?
  • As the next step, we acknowledged that some consumers may be indifferent, and added an options of ‘No preference’
  • As our understanding evolved, we realized that preference, like any other emotion, has degrees, and thus came questions that attempted to measure ‘strength’ of preference:
    • E.g., a 5 point rating scale that elicits ‘how strong’ a preference customers/consumers have: Very strong, Strong, not so strong, weak, very weak
  • While strength of preference makes an attempt to understand real differences in preference, it still provides a scale which respondents may want to use for rationalization i.e. having told us say that they prefer A, they now use the strength of preference scale to rationalize that response to an extent. Also, the response could be influenced by cultural scale bias.
  • Next, researchers focused their attention on ‘response latency’ or the ‘speed’ at which respondents answer preference questions, with the hypothesis that the easier the choice, the shorter the time taken by respondents to answer the question, and vice versa. Response latency and its implications on marketing as well as opinion research have been extensively studied and documented.

ORC International further explores the many dimensions of preference and the challenges of measuring it. Our latest foray in preference measurement hinges on incorporating speed of response into the overall preference score using a behaviorally anchored scale:

  • Made the choice almost instantaneously
  • Had to give it a thought
  • Had difficulty in making a choice
    • We have found this to be an elegant, simple yet powerful tool to gauge the sub-conscious strength of preference in consumers’ minds.
    • As an example, consider 2 brands, A and B – A with a preference score of 60%, while B at 40%. So far so good. Now consider the speed at which respondents were able to make these choices: 60% chose B almost instantaneously, while 40% had difficulty in choosing A.
    • Seen through the lens of speed of making the choice, we may draw an entirely different picture of preference between these 2 brands, with very different implications on buying behavior, than when speed of choice is not taken in to account.

ORC International is conscious of the complex nature of the consumer mind and believe that there is much more to be discovered in this sophisticated decision-making process. Our researchers are continuously looking at creative and innovative research techniques to sharpen our understanding. Watch this space for more!