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.