Mike Herd: On innovation

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Innovation Special

Why “I will listen” should be your new mantra

Mike Herd Sussex InnovationTwenty-one years since the Sussex Innovation Centre opened and ten years since Mindlab made the hub its home, what has happened to innovation? We spoke to the person who would know – Mike Herd, the Executive Director who set up the centre and has driven its success. In this time, some people’s expectations have become unrealistic according to Mike. He told us that there are two drivers for this.

1. Speed  

”It has become much faster to innovate. It is interesting now that when people talk about ‘tech’, it’s not a shortening of ‘technology’. People just mean apps and mobile, both of which are relatively quick to create. Yes, innovating in other sectors has sped up but it still takes quite a long time to develop electronics, drug discovery, biotech and so on. There have been lots of accelerators set up where if you can’t create a new product in twelve weeks then you’re dismissed. To write an app in that time is achievable but to deliver a drug is a lot trickier!”

2. Profitability

“Most of the highly successful innovations in the past ten years within the tech area have not had any product. They are skimming the profits off someone else, like Uber or Just Eat, for instance. Just Eat doesn’t cook any food but it’s taking a big bite out of the orders – a very good business model because it can be hugely profitable. The issue in other industries is that then becomes the expectation of investors. You can no longer say: ‘It’s going to take half a million pounds to get to a prototype and then we’ll make a 20% gross profit, maybe 5% profit.’ People look at that compared to an internet venture and it’s no longer an attractive investment.”

1An impressive 85% of businesses that come to the innovation centre succeed and 15-20% of those scale significantly. How do you know when someone comes to you with a good idea?

“The principle I apply is: I will listen. Generally, I can’t make a judgement based on one conversation so I start from the perspective that I’ll believe your idea will do what you can say it can do. Then let’s see if there is a market for it. Then I ask: do you have the ambition to do it?

“The two aspects of market and ambition rule most people out. If they meet all three criteria, then we will find out quite quickly whether the idea can actually work.

“What I try to do is build up the ambition of the idea – how big could this be? If it’s big, then it’s worth trying to conquer the hurdles.”

What innovation trends do you think will take off over the next few years? 

“Firstly, I’m seeing a real explosion in “Psytech” companies – those that apply psychology to technology or technology to psychology. This rise is because companies are looking for the subtleties of how you differentiate yourself in an increasingly complex marketplace and how you create something that works at a local level. It’s also due to an increasing interest in wellness. People are accepting stress and mental health as an issue which five years ago nobody would touch.

“Electronic sensors are also becoming huge. In each area, a sensor might have twenty different applications, so how can you use it and how can you use the data it captures? With the Internet of Things, we’re asking how you can make someone’s life easier but then how do you affect it as a group?

“When it comes to all this data, there is so much of it that you have to find a way of dealing with it. AI is going to continue to be a key area because if you can create things which teach themselves, then the more data the better. It’s no longer overwhelming.

“Finally, there is a lot of envy from bigger business looking at smaller businesses and thinking, ‘I wish I could be a bit more like that’. So trying to find that interesting interface of how to introduce smaller companies to bigger companies and how to make that work – that’s where I’m seeing a lot of interest.”

Watch our very own Duncan Smith talks about his experiences at the hub over the last ten years. 

This is the latest interview in the Mindlab Academy, a series of interviews with experts on challenges and opportunities in market research. Catch up on other articles on desire, lies and failure here.  

 

 

 

Mindlab’s Museum of Failed Products

Museum of Failed Products

Every year, millions of products flood the market trying to be the next big thing.

But not everything can be the new iPod or Phish Food.

In fact, at least three-quarters of new products end up failing – despite extensive market research, mammoth marketing and tightly crossed fingers.

We’ve looked at twelve products and rebrands that didn’t work to see what can be learnt from them today.

Which product failed because the technology wasn’t opened up for others to use? And which company found out that sex doesn’t always sell? Click on each of the products for more information.

In the case of many of these failed products, people working at the companies probably experienced groupthink, where the desire for harmony within a group leads to poor decision making, for example through being overly-optimistic and not expressing doubts.

It is likely that many of these companies suffered from the planning fallacy – they took on a high-risk project, giving confidence to the best-case scenario without fully considering the worst-case scenario.

Of course, failure isn’t always a bad thing and it can lead to great success. Read more on how to fail well in our article with Barney Whiter from The School of Life. 


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8 tips to make the most of your market research budget

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Companies are often afraid of spending too much effort and money on market research, and that it might not provide enough value for how much they put into it. However, results from market research (if done right) are a powerful tool to improve packaging, products, brands and even the company as a whole. In this post, I want to show, from a psychologist’s perspective, a few easy ways to make the most of your market research budget and get the best value for money, whether you are able and willing to spend a lot or just a little on it.

1. Know exactly which questions you need answered

When spending money on market research, it can be tempting to try and find out as much as possible. However, this ‘fishing expedition’ approach may result in you spending more money than you should, and leave you with a large amount of results that aren’t particularly useful at this stage. Instead, take the time to separate out your questions into ones that would just be ‘nice to know’, and ones that are crucial to your company’s success. Then put your main efforts into finding the answers to your essential questions. Don’t try to fit too much into a single study.

2. Base your sample size on what you need to find out

Sample sizes and the statistical power associated with them depend largely on how many groups you want to compare. If you are just interested in responses from the market overall, you will need fewer participants than when you want to compare men and women. Regional comparisons will significantly increase the number of people that need to take part in your study in order to get meaningful results, and increase the cost of your research. Identify whether these comparisons matter to your research questions. There are plenty of cases where regional comparisons are important, for example when you want to find out why a product is performing well in one region but worse in another. There might however be other, more general questions that can be answered without having to use regional splits.

3. Know your target market and tailor your research to it

In order to get results that really matter to your company, it is helpful to use participants who are part of your target market. A lot of the time research is carried out with a wide range of participants, all age groups, both genders, income ranges etc., which can be the right approach. More often than not you will however benefit from using more specific samples. Separating people into groups such as age or location can often be a waste of time. A more pragmatic approach may be to separate according to lifestyle or personal tastes. If you know that your target market are people over 35 who do most of the shopping in their households, use this as a selection criterion. Narrowing down your participant groups can also help reduce costs – sometimes slightly smaller sample sizes can be used because there is less variation in the data, and fewer groups to compare.

4. Pick the right time to carry out your research

Often market research is carried out too late and seen as a confirmation of decisions rather than a tool that can help you make decisions. If you want to design new packaging, for example, market research can not only be used to compare several finalised designs but can already help you in the pre-design stage by letting you know which ideas are likely to work and which ones won’t. Neuromarketing is ideal for this sort of testing because it can be used to look into how people subconsciously feel towards concepts, colour schemes, words and just ideas in general, instead of presenting people with a final design and asking what they think about it. Similarly, when you notice problems such as decreasing sales don’t wait until these are more established, but use market research to counteract these quickly and effectively.

5. Don’t waste money on research that won’t give you the answers you need

This point cannot be repeated enough: Traditional ‘asking methods’ (such as surveys, focus groups and interviews) will give you answers to the questions you ask, but these explicit answers are not always the key to what people really think. A large amount of people’s decision-making processes are subconscious and your respondents will be unable to understand the factors influencing their decisions, let alone tell you about them. It is important to use the most effective research available to you, one that takes all factors influencing behaviour into account and gives you the answers you really need to hear. I’m not saying don’t ask people, don’t just ask people.

6. Make use of on-line tools

I have already pointed out that surveys are usually not the best way to find all the answers to your research questions, but there are plenty of implicit on-line tools that will. Neuromarketing does not necessarily mean that you have to wire people up and test their brain activity and biophysiological responses; rather, there are many tests that look at subconscious associations and reactions on-line. These tests are incredibly cost and time effective: Hundreds and thousands of specifically targeted people can be reached quickly and at a comparatively low cost. It’s important to note that measuring implicit attitudes is not the same as indirect questioning.

7. Make the most of your results by avoiding confirmation bias

It is easy to get results back, look through them and mainly focus on the insights that make the most sense to you, the parts that feel intuitively right and ignore the rest. We are all guilty of forming opinions and then picking out facts that confirm these exact opinions (confirmation bias). However, by using this approach you might miss important details in the results that are essential for you to move forward successfully. There are other ways in which expert opinions can help you make the right decisions based on your research. Often, people confuse correlation (A and B often occur together) with causation (A causes B), which can make them draw the wrong conclusions. Do not be afraid to go back to the people who carried out your research! Good reports already tend to include advice regarding what exactly individual results mean in relation to the company strategy and what good future research steps might be, but your researchers are always happy to clarify any details and point you in the right direction. This will help you use your results in the most effective way.

8. See market research as an investment

As I said in the beginning, many companies are worried that they will not get enough value out of their market research. You might have carried out research in the past and the results did not lead to the improvement you were hoping for, or you might not be sure if your funds should be spent on research or other important areas within your company. But it is important to understand that you can benefit tremendously from better understanding your customers, what they want, how they truly feel about your brands, products and advertising by using the best market research methods available. Understanding what truly drives your customers’ behaviour will help you become a more successful company, which is why you should see market research as an investment.


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Decoding the Irrational Consumer, by Darren Bridger – An overview.

blog-decoding-consumerDecoding Irrational Consumer

 

So you’ve heard of this word floating around ‘Neuromarketing’, but what is it? If you are in the marketing profession and looking to expand your market research horizons with something new, it is well worth reading ‘Decoding the Irrational Consumer’ by Darren Bridger, 2015.

 

Bridger provides an easily digestible insight into the world of Neuromarketing and everything that surrounds it in manageable chunks. By the time you have finished you will be clued up and ready to kick off your next campaign with neuromarketing at the heart.

 

This book begins with a useful insight into the way in which we, as humans, think and make decisions, which undoubtedly has an important impact on the way practitioners undertake market research. Bridger states that the irrational thinking of consumers comes from an energy-saving, unconscious ‘System 1’ mode of thinking. He makes the point that markers need to ensure they understand this way of thinking in order to fully understand consumers’ choices and deliver campaigns that appeal. Because marketers are now beginning to understand the limited value in simply asking people what they think and instead, are investigating a whole range of new techniques, also known as neuromarketing.

 

The author explains that the most important elements of neuromarketing are to have a solid understanding of the way in which the brain operation, in particular, the role of memory, attention and emotion. Us humans have a limited attention span meaning we require an awful lot of non-conscious processing to ‘fill in the gaps’. Memories and assumptions bias our perceptions, so with this in mind it becomes clear that marketers need to have a good grasp of non-conscious thought. He describes brands as nothing more than a ‘web of nonconscious memories’ and emotions as a ‘key motivating factor that likely evolved to get us to move’.

 

In terms of behavioural economics, Bridger argues that although consumers are constrained to a certain extent in that they cant be fully rational, they are however,  able to make choices that make rational sense within the contexts they live. He adds to this by suggesting that value is often subjective and that consumers will tend to judge it more on relative comparisons that absolute amounts or costs. He suggests that the everyday consumer will continually come across products or services that they just arent willing to compromise on and others that will do. Meaning that in the end, they tend to come to a choice which is just good enough.

 

He goes on to discuss the mental biases that guide consumer choices on a day to day basis, also known as ‘heuristics’. The idea of these biases is based on the concept that people are more likely to fear loss over the opportunity of gain, unless of course they are ‘nudges’ towards a specific decision.

 

Implicit Association Testing (IAT) is commonly used in Neuromarketing in which instead of directly asking people their opinions, participants are asked to pair two concepts together and see how the different pairings either slow down or speed up simple categorisation tasks.

The book provides an overview of IAT explaining how participants reaction speeds on each pairing becomes a measurement of the degree of association between the two concepts.  The author explains that there are a number of different implicit testing paradigms.

 

Academic – mostly test binary or positive vs. negative type associations whereas many of the market research paradigms test the connection between a wide array of attributes and a brand or ad.

 

Implicit response tests – powerful and versatile way of measuring the degree to which important qualities are being automatically evoked by a brand, ad, service or product.

 

Bridger concludes with a discussion of his thoughts about the future of neuroscience. With costs coming down and awareness of techniques increasing he believes the science will continue with three main areas of interest:

 

  1. More validation

With increasing pressure from clients, the field will be driven into more research into testing these metrics against real world sales data, effectively providing a stronger rationale for use.

 

  1. more understanding and insight

Through more use,a greater understanding about how and why different features in ads and communications perform well or poorly will likely accumulate. This will coincide with an increased understanding of the brain and its workings in relation to real world situations.

 

  1. New measures

More metrics using current techniques will be developed along with more user-friendly outputs. The number of devices consumers now own is growing at a rapid pace and can be used to track commercial messages. With wearable devices being able to monitor reactions and the sensors in smartphones leading allowing brands to track what is viewed online.

 

There’s a whole world of exciting new ways to engage consumers and really understand what drives their buying behaviour, and neuromarketing has the answers. Try giving ‘Decoding the Irrational Consumer’ a read for a real insight into how neuroscience can help improve engagement with your consumer base.

Helen Ogden


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Be Strategic – Really?

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Last week I was invited by Digital Annexe and ISBA to talk at ISBA’s Insight and networking event entitled ‘The Next 5 Years in Digital’.

It was great to see such a strong presence from Asda, Morrison’s and Nestle.

Sean Singleton from DA talked about the 7 habits of digital marketers (borrowed from Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective people).

The habit that stood out for me was ‘Be Strategic’. This seems blindingly obvious but most people don’t think long 7 Habitsterm. Sean argues that marketers are too focussed on driving more traffic to their websites but then fail to engage customers with the correct approaches to increase site conversion.

I think that this short term thinking is a ubiquitous problem in business and goes some way to explain why traditional market research dominates the market place and why the science of decision-making has not had more of an impact on marketing. This is despite compelling evidence from countless psychologists and neuroscientists that clearly demonstrates that the majority of our decision making processes occur below our conscious radar.

To translate the findings of decision sciences into marketing practices takes time. The fact that the average tenure of Chief Marketing Officers is just 45 months and the continual demand for short term results means that people are more worried about keeping their jobs than fixing the long term problems with a bloated over-emphasis of explicit self-report in market research.

I regularly speak to insight professionals who have read Thinking Fast & Slow by Daniel Kahneman or Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. These people even have a passion for decision sciences and understand that there is a key role in non-conscious processing in decision making but constantly come up against barriers when they discuss ideas of change with colleagues. Marketers need to spend time understanding how people make decisions. This is relevant to all categories but isn’t being done on anything like the scale that it should.

As humans we make mistakes and behave in irrational ways, which is reflected in cognitive biases. The reticence of researchers to change their approaches is, in some way, due to confirmation bias. When we make decisions, such as investing hundreds of thousands of pounds on traditional market research, our brains seek out evidence to make us think that we made the right decision. We are essentially blind to evidence that says the decision was wrong. We like it when a decision feels good.

Sean also states that as a key habit, we should create a culture of experimentation. Too true. New approaches need to be experimented with and validated – a process that takes time. Progressive marketers would be well advised to try out behaviourally based approaches that interrogate our non-conscious minds without post rationalisation. This can easily and cost effectively be done on small projects to introduce new thinking.

‘Be strategic’ may be one of the most overused phrases in business. It may well also be one of the most misunderstood.

Duncan Smith


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The Scottish Referendum


 

Mindlab offers the most accurate and effective market research available because we don’t just ask people what they think, we find out how they feel.


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Effective Branding

Gaining strong brand equity is an important goal for every brand. If you want to make your brand as successful as it can be, it is important to understand your brand’s personality, its position in the marketplace and its potential for moving into new areas. These questions can be tricky to answer, even using market research. It requires an approach that is completely individual to your brand and a clear understanding of what you are trying to achieve. There are however three key areas that market research should focus on to fully understand your current positioning, potentials and limitations:

Brand Identity

This refers to the personality of your brand, the nature of its products and what values you want people to associate with your brand. There is probably some visual imagery associated with your brand, and you should get your brand to strongly own this imagery. This is tremendously important, as your imagery can lead customers to feel positively about your brand, induce feelings of familiarity and communicate concepts that are desirable to you, such as quality and affordability. All of this can lead to strong brand equity. It is also important that your brand manages to differentiate itself from its competitors. Asking people how they feel about your brand can provide a good starting point, but you should not stop there: It is (arguably even more) important to find out how people truly and subconsciously feel about your brand, which imagery and messages are essential to your brand and which ones are not making people feel more positively about it.

Brand Space

Your brand does not exist in isolation, and you know this. To improve your brand, it is absolutely essential to understand where exactly it lies within its category and marketplace, and what sets it apart from competitors. People need to easily identify your brand as part of the category, but also see it as different enough to understand why they should buy your products, and not the competitors’. Understanding your positioning is essential when you are thinking of growing and expanding your brand, perhaps taking over new categories, or even if you just want to make people feel more positively about your brand and associate it with the right values. How people feel about your brand is largely driven by their subconscious, and measuring these subconscious feelings can help you carve out a unique space in the market and really stand out from the crowd.

Brand Behaviour

Apart from understanding your brand’s personality and its space in the market, you might also want to find out how flexible your brand is. You don’t want your brand to stagnate, but at the same time know it should stay true to its personality. How flexible your brand is will largely depend on its products and categories, but understanding its possibilities and limitations is essential to make your brand as successful as it can be. For addressing potential brand behaviour, an individually tailored approach is needed. It is important to assess how consumers will react to changes to your brand; reaching into new categories, creating new products, changing brand personality, or changing the focus of brand communications. It is also important to find out what consumers really want; are the planned changes to the brand, products or communications desirable to the consumer? At this stage, it is also worth taking your competitors into account. Can your brand react to your competitor’s changes quickly and efficiently? The way this is tested is similar to testing your brand identity and brand space, but you might be interested in monitoring changes over time as well. The three key areas for effective branding can of course be investigated using the traditional asking methods of market research, but this won’t paint the whole picture. A large proportion of the decisions we make is influenced by our subconscious, and it important to test how people truly feel about your brand using the most effective market research available.

Mindlab offers the most accurate and effective market research available because we don’t just ask people what they think, we find out how they feel.


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Detecting emotions with EEG patterns

The holy grail of consumer research is to figure out how to accurately measure emotions. Emotions are complex, involving physiological, cognitive and social components that come together to create the subjective experience. Consumer decision making is driven by emotions (Schwartz, 2000) that signal us to approach or avoid things in our environment, based on how rewarding we think they will be (Damasio et al., 1996).

Common consumer research approaches to measuring emotion all have their weaknesses (self-reporting, autonomic measures, facial encoding, facial electromyography, fMRI).* Electroencephalography (EEG) is a promising tool, as it measures real-time changes in voltage caused by brain activity, has good temporal resolution, and is less invasive than fMRI. Frontal alpha asymmetries are a commonly used metric in EEG consumer research. Greater left than right frontal alpha asymmetry was originally thought to reflect positive valence in the brain (Davidson, 1992), but research on anger revealed it to be a measure of approach motivation rather than positivity (Harmon-Jones, 2007). However, this asymmetry is affected by trait factors as well as current emotional state (Coan & Allen, 2003), and it is unclear how accurate this measure is on a second-by-second basis.

We sought to use EEG pattern recognition to detect positive and negative emotional responses in the brain. The first challenge was eliciting real positive and negative emotions in a reliable and consistent way. We used several methods including presenting participants with emotive pictures, emotional face images and short video clips, mood induction statements,  emotive music and pure major, minor and dissonant tones. We created our own genuine facial emotional expression database for use in the study**. Participants viewed these stimuli while their EEG was measured. Then a classifier recognised which EEG features (power and coherence) corresponded to positive and negative emotions in each individual. We randomly selected 70% of each individual’s data from the positive and negative conditions, respectively, for each stimulus type. A pattern recognition algorithm learned how to classify the data into two separate categories (positive and negative). We then used the other 30% of the data to attempt to predict whether the participant was viewing or listening to positive or negative stimuli. The result is the percentage accuracy of this prediction. EEG power alone had very poor predictive power, hardly better than chance. In contrast, power and coherence together had excellent predictive power. The stimuli that produced the most accurate predictions were pure tones (95% accuracy); and the stimuli that produced the least accurate predictions were emotional images. This is unsurprising as tones are pure and unimpeded by ‘noise’, while images are varied in their content. The music was also highly predictive (93%); followed by the emotional faces (92%), the mood induction statements (91%) and finally the short video clips of emotional faces (87%).

Although this was a pilot study with a very small sample, this study showed that EEG pattern recognition is a promising method for measuring individuals’ emotional responses to visual and auditory stimuli. Its accuracy depends on the validity of the trained algorithms and its capability to perform on new datasets. Further research will focus on whether this powerful method can be used to accurately predict how people feel towards images and videos of products, people, brands and concepts.

* Self-reporting of emotion is a common approach with many pitfalls. Autonomic measures include heart rate and skin conductance, which are good for measuring the physiological intensity of emotion, but fail to specify whether the emotion is positive or negative. Facial encoding or facial electromyography (EMG) only capture the expression of emotion. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) is extremely expensive, has poor temporal resolution, and has ecological validity issues, (participants are placed in a small tube in a noisy magnet and must keep still).

** Most emotional face databases are not available for commercial use, and they use acted emotional expressions. We used a variety of tasks to elicit Ekman’s (1971) six emotions (happiness, sadness, disgust, surprise, anger and fear) while recording 20 participants’ emotional expressions. We chose still images and short clips of the participants showing genuine emotion and had 90 participants evaluate the images on valence and arousal to ensure they adequately represented the desired emotions. The innovative idea of creating short video clips capturing the most intense and convincing emotional responses was to ensure the highest possible level of ecological validity. The resulting database of still images and short clips was used to elicit emotions in the EEG study.

 

References:

Coan, J.A., & Allen, J.J. (2003). Frontal EEG asymmetry and the behavioural activation and inhibition systems. Psychophysiology, 40, 106-114.

Damasio, A. R., Everitt, B. J., & Bishop, D. (1996). The somatic marker hypothesis and the possible functions of the prefrontal cortex. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond., 351(1346), 1413-1420.

Davidson, R.J. (1992). Anterior cerebral asymmetry and the nature of emotion. Brain and Cognition, 20, 125–151.

Ekman, P., & Friesen, W. V. (1971). Constants across cultures in the face and emotion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 17(2), 124-129.

Harmon-Jones, E. (2007). Trait anger predicts relative left frontal cortical activation to anger-inducing stimuli. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 66, 154-160.

Schwarz, N. (2000). Emotion, cognition, and decision making. Cognition and Emotion, 14, 433–440.


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How to get people to recycle more

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Why is there so much apathy towards recycling in the workplace and how can we drive behaviour change towards recycling?

To answer these questions we teamed up with Ceris Burns International who are specialists in Environmental PR.

The British recycle 43% of their household waste, a massive improvement on the average of 11% 14 years ago. This is still below the 50% EU target for 2020 and this rise in recycling has been slowing down in the past few years. Workplace recycling is even lower. We found that 22% of workplaces are not even providing recycling facilities. A whopping 52% are confused about what the can and can’t recycle.

Communications have a greater impact if they are emotive since emotions power decision making, but how exactly should these messages be presented in order to effectively change attitudes and behaviour?

We decided to find out whether threatening, negative messages or positive, hopeful messages about recycling had a greater impact on changing peoples’ attitudes about how important recycling is.

There is some reason to predict that negatively framed messages may have more of an impact on peoples’ attitudes. We automatically attend to threats in our environment as a survival mechanism, and we tend to give more weight to potential losses than potential gains. The impact of framing also depends on the situation and target audience. Negative messaging tends to be more effective when the outcome is risky or uncertain, and when the audience feels strongly involved in the issue. Under certain circumstances, positive messages can influence people more strongly than negative messages by reinforcing positive associations with the attitudes and behaviour. We have found this to be the case in previous research we have conducted.

We used an implicit association test (IAT) to measure implicit, subconscious attitudes towards the importance of recycling. Because recycling is a socially desirable behaviour, simply asking people about their intentions to recycle may not be an accurate prediction of future behaviour. Measuring subconscious associations bypasses people’s tendency to answer with what they think they are expected to say, allowing us to more accurately measure whether the communications have had an impact on attitudes towards recycling.

We questioned 200 UK adults about their current recycling behaviour and attitudes towards recycling; then viewed either positive or negative messages about recycling; followed by an implicit (IAT) test measuring how strongly they associate recycling with importance; and finally they answered questions regarding their intentions to recycle in the future.

We found that:

After seeing positive messages people subconsciously felt that recycling was more important, suggesting positive messages are more influential in this context than negative messages.

Importantly, this effect was significantly enhanced for people who thought recycling was less important, less effective and who reported less frequent recycling behaviour, suggesting that positive messaging should specifically target this group in order to change their attitudes and hopefully their future recycling behaviour.

In contrast to the implicit findings, the positive and negative messages did not lead to differences in self-reported intentions to recycle in the future, demonstrating the importance of the implicit measure in this study.

In summary, if you want your employees or colleagues to recycle more, highlight the benefits of recycling rather than trying to make them feel bad about not recycling. To avoid confusion over what can and can’t be recycled, ensure clearly labelled facilities are present where people generate waste. Make sustainability part of the company ethos and lead by example.

A copy of the best practice guide to recycling can be downloaded from the Ceris Burns PR website HERE.

An interview with Duncan Smith from Mindlab and Ceris Burns from Ceris Burns PR on this research can be seen on the Institute of Directors website HERE

 

Mindlab offers the most accurate and effective market research available because we don’t just ask people what they think, we find out how they feel.


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Why the subconscious matters

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If you want to truly understand consumer behaviour, you need to not only look at people’s explicit responses (what they say they like), but to also take subconscious emotions and judgements into account. But why is it the case that subconscious processes influence our decisions? Surely we should make better judgements if we consciously thought about our decisions more and not let our gut feelings take over. In this blog post, I will look into how we use subconscious ‘thinking’ to make decisions and why this is actually a good strategy.

Coke cans and cars

It is often thought that we base our decisions primarily on conscious thinking when there is a lot at stake, for example when we buy expensive goods, choose a place to live or buy a car. In contrast, when shopping for cheaper or less important products, subconscious thought is often the main driver of our decisions (we will usually pick an item within seconds out of a range of competitors, without consciously weighing up all of their pros and cons, but rather trusting our intuition). This theory certainly makes sense when you think about subconscious thinking as fast and relatively easy, and conscious thought as a slow, more effortful process that can be used to override the subconscious and evaluate different aspects more carefully. But is there more to subconscious decision-making than is immediately obvious? If you are making an important decision (e.g. buying a house), your friends and family will encourage you to spend a good amount of time considering different options, sleep on the decision, write down advantages and disadvantages and discuss them with others. But research has shown that only trusting your conscious thoughts might not always be the best approach.

Spontaneity and happiness

We think that thinking hard and justifying decisions will lead to better outcomes, but this is not always the case. An experiment was conducted to test whether people would be happier with spontaneous decisions or ones they justified (Wilson et al., 1990). For this, participants were given the choice between several posters which they were allowed to keep after the experiment. Half of the participants had to just pick a poster and take it home, while the other half were asked to write down reasons for why they picked the poster. Both were told that the experimenter would not know which poster they picked, so that they would not feel judged for their decisions. Not only did the spontaneous group pick different posters than the deliberation group (posters that were ‘just pretty’ instead of ones with motivating slogans, etc.), when asked a few months later about their decisions, they were also much happier with the choice they made. But one might argue that picking a poster is not a particularly important decision, and that of course we can trust our subconscious to make this choice. However, the following example will show that we should use our gut feelings when making more important decisions as well.

Is our subconscious better at making important decisions?

In order to test whether we make better judgements using conscious or sub-conscious decision-making processes, a series of studies was carried out at the University of Amsterdam, looking at choosing apartments or potential roommates (Dijksterhuis, 2004). For this, participants were shown 12 pieces of information about each possible apartment (e.g. size, location) or roommate (e.g. tidy, fun). The way the information was presented ensured that there was always a hypothetical ‘best choice’ (one apartment was better than the others). After showing participants the information, they were either asked to pick their favourite straight away (control condition), were given 3 minutes to think about their decision and then choose (conscious thought) or were distracted with a difficult task for 3 minutes and then asked to decide (this discouraged conscious thought and was therefore seen as the subconscious decision). When looking at the choices they made, it turned out that the subconscious group made the best decisions (subjectively, as well as when individual importance of factors was taken into account – e.g. when someone said that location was more important than size, etc.).

How is this possible?

When thinking of conscious and subconscious thought as simply slow vs. fast or effortful vs. effortless, we miss one important aspect of these different ways of ‘thinking’: The amount of information that can be processed. Consciousness can only process a relatively small amount of information at once, while the processing capacity of the subconscious is much larger. Therefore, when we have to make a judgement and only take a few facts into account, conscious thought may lead to better results than the subconscious, while the subconscious appears to be better at forming overall impressions. When there are lots of factors to consider, conscious deliberation runs the risk of taking not all of the information into account, but basing the decision on just a few of the facts. Therefore, even when making complex, important decisions, it can often be better to listen to your gut feelings. And one of the pieces of advice your friends and family gave you earlier is actually based on this idea: Sleep on your decision. Often, being distracted for a while can help coming to a conclusion, and artists, authors and anyone else having to use their creativity will know that incubation (stepping away from a problem) can help tremendously in coming up with good solutions.

Overall, it can be said that not only simple, unimportant decisions are best made using the subconscious, but that even difficult and important decisions such as choosing a house are influenced greatly by our subconscious, because it provides a more global impression. This is why testing subconscious, implicit and automatic impressions is not only important when trying to predict the success of inexpensive items such as fast-moving consumer goods, but will also give a great deal of insight for more expensive goods (and related brands, advertising strategies and design).

Mindlab offers the most accurate and effective market research available because we don’t just ask people what they think, we find out how they feel.


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