Marketers urged to bridge the ‘say-do’ gap

The contradictions between what consumers say they want and what they actually do represent an opportunity for marketers to help bridge the gap, says Dr Carol McNaughton Nicholls.

ListeningMarketers are often advised not to ascribe too much value to what consumers say they want, as their behaviour rarely matches with their words. As ad man David Ogilvy opined in 1963: “The problem with market research is that people don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think, and they don’t do what they say.”

However, Dr Carol McNaughton Nicholls, associate partner at research institute Britain Thinks, believes there is much to be learnt from what consumers are saying they want right now.

“The say-do gap is often spoken about as people say one thing, then do something else,” McNaughton Nicholls said at the Festival of Marketing: The Year Ahead today (19 October). “But you shouldn’t dismiss what people say they want to do. Even the saying is important.”

Conducting a poll with 2,000 members of the British public last week, McNaughton Nicholls saw consumers overwhelmingly say they want to live healthier lives and be more sustainable.

In fact, 78% said ‘reducing stress and looking after my mental health’ was one of their top goals for 2022, alongside 77% who said ‘being healthier via my diet and exercise’. These are the top two goals the public want to prioritise next year, according to the poll.

At the same time, more than half (57%) said they are willing to change their purchasing habits to help reduce negative environmental impacts. Broken down further, two-thirds of consumers aged 18-24 (66%) agreed they are already taking steps to be more environmentally friendly through the products and services they buy, alongside 61% of respondents who fall into the AB socio-economic demographic.

It’s these contradictions that point towards areas of opportunity, where people are saying they want to do something, but are unable to do so.

Dr Carol McNaughton Nicholl, Britain Thinks

But while younger and more affluent consumers claim to be more conscious, McNaughton Nicholls warned marketers not to ignore the older or less affluent. Some 46% of 55-64 year olds agreed they were taking the same steps, as did 52% of respondents in the DE demographic.

However, at the same time, 82% of 18-24 year olds agreed they choose the products and services they buy mainly on price, as did 55% of 55-64s. And according to market research firm Mintel, in 2019 almost 90% of UK shoppers were using Amazon, with most visiting the online retailer at least once a month, and just under a fifth once a week.

Nevertheless, this disparity does not mean that consumers don’t mean what they say, claimd McNaughton Nicholls.

“People are saying they want to live better lives. They want to be healthier and more sustainable. A couple of years ago when I was doing research, you wouldn’t have heard people talk like this,” she said.

“Change can take time and be gradual. We’ve heard a lot over the pandemic about how sudden change can be, but the reality is it’s often so gradual we don’t even really notice it happening”

Convince consumers your product tastes good before you tell them it’s healthy

Instead of dismissing these findings, marketers should look at them as an opportunity for their brands to help consumers achieve the goals they have verbalised.

Indeed, a recurring theme in the Britain Thinks research is that people either  don’t always know how to make the right choices, or are very aware of the trade offs, McNaughton Nicholls said.

“It becomes difficult and complex, so helping them to really understand what it is they’re choosing, and the sustainable impact that might have, is one aspect,” she added.

However, too much information can cause an “overload”. So other considerations for marketers include making sure these products and services are accessible, and that there doesn’t have to be a trade off for those on lower incomes between cheap and sustainable.

“I believe going forward, it’s these contradictions that point towards areas of opportunity, where people are saying they want to do something, but are unable to do so,” McNaughton Nicholls concluded.



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