Over the past 15 years or so, customer journeys have changed significantly. Online has become the channel of choice for many Western markets, while the proliferation of new channels such as social media, and an increase in trust of peer recommendations and review sites have meant the consumer decision-making journey has become more fragmented and less easy to affect via traditional marketing routes. Needless to say, those of us working in the market research industry have had to constantly evolve to keep up, acclimatising to both specific technological changes and to wider cultural shifts.
In the meantime, the popularisation of behavioural economics in the market research industry has given us renewed focus on the lenses through which we interpret the data we gather. From fascinations with psychoanalytic theory to neuroscience, qualitative researchers are advised early on in their careers to keep a ‘well-stocked mind’ in the belief this multidisciplinary dedication will bring a roundness to our research practices and a depth of understanding about what, at a fundamental level, motivates people.
To put it simply, it has always been our job to ‘know’ people, but behavioural economics was a game-changer in our industry because it reframed our existing thinking and gave us a more singular and holistic point of reference. In other ways, it encouraged us on a very simplistic level to embrace the ‘human’ at the centre of our studies – with all of their irrational imperfections.
What we say isn’t always what we do
The effect of the discipline on the market research industry, particularly within qualitative research, cannot be underestimated. Some have even gone so far as to suggest behavioural economics challenged the very nature of qualitative thinking and practice, as it compelled us to refocus on observing human behaviour (rather than, say, simply probing for attitude or opinion).
Behavioural economists stress that human choice is dominated by a kind of intuitive, quick and effortless thinking, referred to by psychologist and founding father of behavioural economics Daniel Kahneman as ‘System 1’. This means that most people, most of the time, are operating on autopilot. This automated mode, and the related habits that make up much of what we do, reinforces itself because it makes our lives easier; we don’t have to decide what order to get dressed and shower in every morning, as it’s an ingrained behaviour.
Our choices of food, drinks, clothes and more are influenced by System 1 thinking, as our brains follow the path of least resistance whenever they can, and default to decisions we have made before or decisions that are ‘easy’ and low-risk. In reality, when the time comes to talk to us, most people will struggle to recall accurately exactly what they did and articulate why they did it.
So the mantra many will hear from those of us within the research industry is that “consumers are often poor witnesses to their own behaviour”. And as for our practices? Well, we would argue that they should be forever changed.
It’s time to think differently
On the one hand, we have increasingly fragmented and complex customer journeys, and on the other, we have the desire to explore behaviours that we know are often deeply automated and thus challenging to unpick using traditional research methods.
It is the convergence of these two certainties that has driven Join the Dots to commit to understanding consumer behaviour and customer journeys at a more holistic level. This means exploring multiple perspectives, using combinations of methodologies and triangulating them to understand inconsistencies and generate real insights.
We do this in two ways. Firstly, to tackle the complexity of the customer experience, our dotQual approach offers a sophisticated, unique blend of online and offline methodologies that allow us to interact with the consumer of today in ways that reflect the realities of their increasingly multichannel and technology-centred lives.
Secondly, using our consumer decision making (CDM) framework, we ensure our unique understanding of consumer behaviour underpins all of our thinking from research design to analysis and reporting.
The knowledge that feeds into the CDM framework is manifest in our dedication to understanding a research brief from every possible dimension. It is informed by the worlds of social psychology, our in-house consumer trends team, a multitude of other academic sources and, of course, the world of behavioural economics.
We use this framework to ensure our research reflects a deeper understanding of people and what makes them tick — and to acknowledge the difference between what people are able to tell us and what we will have to work harder to observe, and to perhaps even ‘discover’ alongside them.
The framework has three important aspects at its core:
Individual or ‘who I am’
- because without understanding the individual consumer, it is difficult to understand the real motivators behind their decisions;
Context or ‘where I am’
- because our environment and the context in which we make decisions have a lot to do with how we act, whether we are aware of it or not;
Decision or ‘how I think’
- because we must try to understand the heuristics and biases that are influencing the ways people use products and services and make choices.
The CDM framework encourages us to consider opportunities for discovering insight in places others might not even think to look. Subsequently, our approach to qualitative research empowers our people to create multi-method approaches that are equipped to cope with the intricacies of human behaviour and customer journeys. Qualitative research as we previously knew it might be dead, but long live qualitative research.