Behavioral research is the study of the many variables that impact the formation of one's habits. Habitual patterns of decision-making have a huge impact because they affect so many areas of one's daily life. These habits directly impact how consumers spend money and why they purchase certain products.
The Importance of Robust Market Research Today
In recent years, scientists working in the departments of psychology and neurology at universities and major medical centers across the U.S. have made the study of habit formation a primary objective of their work. At major corporations across the country, market research departments with generous budgets have also taken notice of this line of inquiry. Machine learning, which relies on computers capable of finely-grained data analysis, has become a standard approach to market research due to advances in technology. The use of algorithms, in turn, has turned mathematicians into data mining superstars.
Conventional market research, which utilizes surveys, interviews, and focus groups, has sometimes had to resort to the old-fashioned door-to-door research methods instituted by James H. Gamble in the early years of Procter & Gamble. P&G is one of the first American consumer brand companies and was founded in 1837. James H. Gamble is known as the father of modern-day customer satisfaction research and market research. Many of his strategies are still in use today.
An Example From Procter & Gamble
One well-known example of the value of behavioral research is the case of Febreze, a scented product. A study was implemented to determine why the product was not performing well. The market researchers learned that people tended not to detect unpleasant aromas in their own homes. Because an unpleasant aroma was absent, there was no trigger propelling consumers to purchase the product. A new cue (or trigger) had to be introduced that would necessitate the use of Febreze. In fact, the market researchers at P&G learned that they needed to establish a new cleaning habit that would embed the use of Febreze in a psychologically significant way.
How Research Lead to Re-Positioning a Brand
The market researchers at P&G presented their consumer insights to the advertising department. Soon, a new set of ads was released with the aim of piggybacking a new habit (using Febreze) onto an already established cleaning habit. The new ritual, spraying Febreze as a final act of celebration when the act of cleaning a room was complete, proved to be sticky (long-lasting) when trying to establish a new cleaning habit. The decision was made to alter the Febreze formula to include perfume. Once that was done, Febreze was re-positioned in the marketplace as an air freshener, signaling the end of the cleaning ritual.
The Importance of Habit Loops to Marketers
This example from Procter & Gamble illustrates a number of important market research principles. The two most important ones are:
- Consumer insights must be tested because the market research lab is not intuitive and sometimes gets it wrong.
- Observation of consumers engaging with a product or brand is a high-value activity. This is one of the reasons why ethnographic videos are so useful to market researchers. It is typically easier to add an action or activity to a habit loop than it is to try to establish an entirely new habit loop or to sway people from using an older habit.
Through behavioral research, marketers can determine why a product is failing and identify the consumer disconnect. Once they've established common customer behaviors, the company can change their strategy to meet consumer need.