Wednesday, 14 June 2017

In-the-moment vs. close-to-the-moment research

As researchers, I like to think that we’re naturally curious. Or just nosey. Either way, we’re always striving for the keys that will unlock our understanding of human behaviour.

We want to know what people do. More interesting to us though is why people do what they do. This is especially important in market research, because if we know why people do things, then we can potentially change or replace the behaviour in question. Hopefully changing behaviours that lead to our client’s products being more successful.  

Our nemesis on this quest, however, is often Post Rationalisation.

Post rationalisation - a defense mechanism in which behaviors or feelings are justified and explained in a seemingly rational or logical manner to avoid the true explanation - is something we researchers consistently face when talking to respondents. 

For example, in an interview a dermatologist might give a detailed explanation of their prescription of a particular topical steroid, and how they came to this decision during the consultation, but can we be sure that their account captures the true drivers of their behaviour? Were they omitting that it was actually cost that drove them to make the decision? Or, were they just not consciously aware of what factors led them to make this treatment decision? Regardless, it can limit the validity of our insights.

Let’s look at why post-rationalisation during interviews can happen. Imagine you are in an interview room, either in a viewing facility or in a hotel, the chairs are comfy but unfamiliar, there are several papers on the large desk between a doctor and the moderator, the air heavy with the expectation that answers will be given to the questions asked.

As you probably guessed, this couldn’t be more removed from the environment in which doctors are making their decision – their clinic. Plus, it’s likely a long while after the decision was made.
To overcome these issues, we can try to get as close to the point of a decision as possible, removing some of the interview bias by assessing a behaviour whilst it is happening. This is what we refer to as in-the-moment research.

For several projects looking into drivers of prescription, we’ve used WhatsApp – the free messaging app – asking doctors to describe a particular patient they last saw moments after the consultation finished, using both the audio recording and text messaging functions. Having the app installed on a smartphone makes it very easy for doctors to do.

The methodology has produced some great, relevant insights for our clients about how doctors make the decision to prescribe one product over another, leading to many changes in brand communication strategies.

However, we noticed that some of our doctors tended to treat the task like the recordings they made for their case notes. As a result, their responses were more rational than we would have liked. And though we were able to follow up with them via the text messaging function, they often got busy (as doctor’s do) and didn’t reply until the evening or even the next day. This meant that not all of our research was conducted in-the-moment, but rather, close-to-the-moment.

Is this a bad thing? We don’t think so.

This methodology still has its merits, especially if done in tandem with more traditional interviews, like face to face or over the telephone.

Our experience has taught us that we need to think more about the types of tasks we are asking our respondents to complete, and also how we are going to use the outputs. What’s more, rather than assuming we are going to get all our great insights from this methodology alone, we like to think about it more as a source of cues that can be taken to a face to face interview, a task that will allow the respondent to travel back in time to the moment they made their decision, offering a much more valid discussion around what drives their behaviour. Ultimately giving clients more robust recommendations as to how to optimise their marketing strategies.

For more information about our close-to-the-moment research and how it can help your brand, email us at: 

Written by Sofia Fionda, Research Manager at Branding Science

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