Behavioural data can bridge the gap between what consumers say and do

What people say they’re going to do and what they actually do can end up being very different things. Ahead of her session at Marketing Week Live, Marketing Week talks to Tash Walker, founder of The Mix, about the rise of research that analyses actions rather than attitudes.


If the result of the EU referendum and US presidential election have taught us anything it’s that what people say they’re going to do and what they actually do are two very different things.

It’s for this reason that the accuracy of traditional qualitative and quantitative research methods are under scrutiny like never before. This has led to the rise of alternative, behaviour-based techniques that aim to give a truer representation of how consumers are actually feeling and reacting.


These include methods such as social media analysis to derive real audience insights, something that Clive Humby, the founder of research firm Dunnhumby and now chief data scientist at Starcount, outlined in a recent column for Marketing Week.

He said: “The majority of brands already have a perception of who their customers are and often enrich their customer data by paying for market research data that gives insight into that specific, predetermined group.

“Social data, on the other hand, is behavioural rather than attitudinal, making it very useful for highlighting customer groups that brands may not have previously considered, along with their differing motivations for shopping.”


To illustrate where classic research may be letting brands down, Tash Walker, founder of The Mix, which specialises in human behaviour-based research, uses an image featuring six dots. When asked to describe what it represents she says people generally highlight the fact there are two groups of three dots or two triangles, which suggests a pattern.

“The fact of the matter is that what you’re seeing in that image is six dots but as human beings we of course bring our own experience to the table. That in a sense is where qualitative research starts to go wrong because it often leads to conclusions that are quite far away from actual behaviour and are instead based on [the researcher’s] own experiences,” she says.

Walker believes focus groups are a “flawed premise”. In order to get a more accurate portrayal of people’s actions she believes researchers need to constantly observe and assess what people are doing in real-time.

As an example, she says, when someone is on a diet and you ask them what they ate the day before they tend to focus only on their main meals and forget the snacks and drinks.

Instead, she recommends asking consumers to document their activity over several days in real time to create an accurate record of behaviour. This could include a photo diary of everything they’ve eaten in a week, or a video of them preparing a meal or watching TV “so you can actually see what’s happening rather than relying on someone recounting what they’ve done”.

She uses the example of the growing availability of sharing packs. Marketers might imagine they are being bought so people can enjoy them together. But in reality “people are buying more sharing products so they can eat more,” she says.

By monitoring people over a period of time and speaking to them in short, frequent bursts of five or six times in a week, patterns in actual behaviour can be discovered.

  • Tash Walker, founder of The Mix, will be at Marketing Week Live on The Marketing Academy stage on 9 March. Click here to register.



There are 3 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Mike Underhill 8 Feb 2017

    Can’t beat behavioral data… if what you want is a rear view mirror.

  2. John Whitehead 8 Feb 2017

    But behaviour IS the difference between what what people do and say. I still believe that understanding values and drivers are the key to predicting behaviour.

  3. Dalin Ard 14 Feb 2017

    How interesting. A couple of weeks ago I was a participant in a set of marketing surveys for my university. There was a particular set of questions that caught my attention that asked, in essence, if you would buy a particular product or brand if someone you wanted to impress saw you at the store and was watching you. In the moment, I thought to myself “Of course I wouldn’t, I think I would buy the same thing regardless of who was watching” so I answered the question accordingly. Looking back on it though, I thought that this was not the best way to collect consumer data because people are most likely going to answer according to their ideal. In reality though, other people’s opinions are one of the biggest drivers of what consumers purchase. So when I saw this article title, I had to dive in and figure out how marketing teams are com combating this issue. The U.S. Presidential Election is an excellent real-life example of the difference between what people say they will do versus what they actually do. According to nearly every poll, Hillary Clinton was set to take office in 2017. It wasn’t even close. Then when the results came in, Donald Trump won the electoral college by a significant margin, and it wasn’t even close. When it comes to marketing analysis tests such as the one I took, the reason for the difference is because during the test, the participant is aware there answers are being analyzed and answer accordingly. The idea to introduce behavioral-based techniques such as social media analysis is an intriguing one, and I am curious if they will help gather and better interpret consumers’ opinions, thoughts, and actions. After reading the article they seem to be a much more accurate way of collecting this data, but then again, we have just learned that the anticipated results has a tendency to differ from the actual results, so I’ll wait to see the results first. Great article.

Leave a comment