Consumer Behaviour

The Death of Marketing Research

I’ve recently read a number of books that all point to a similiar theme. The Black Swan, The Drunkards Walk, The Paradox of Choice, Buyology and Mindless Eating all suggest that our decision making is influenced more by unconcious decision making rules than we have ever thought possible. 

Brian Wansink noted in Mindless Eating, that people consistently said that plate size or atmosphere might fool others into eating more, but it wouldn’t fool them. Wansink’s experiments showed that these people were wrong about their own behaviour, they were fooled into eating more. 

Other books, like the Black Swan and the Drunkards Walk point to our inability to predict or forecast the future accurately. In fact, according to Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan, the more of an “expert” you are in a particular area, the less accurate your predictions of the future.

Martin Lindstrom’s book “Buyology” uses neuroscience techniques such as funtional MRI’s to determine how our brains react to certain stimulus. He completed a study on smokers and their reaction to the awful photographs of diseased lungs on cigarette packages.  First he asked the smokers to look at the package and indicate how they would react to the pictures on the package. Most said that they would stop smoking. Yet when they viewed the packages in the fMRI, their brains lit up in the part of the brain that indicated excitment — meaning that the participants would crave a cigarette.

Other research into decision biases and the impact of emotion on decision making have consistently shown that we are influenced by many unconcious factors when we make decisions. We are not rational decision makers, and we are not often aware of what our true desires really are.

So what does this mean for decision making in the business world? Perhaps this explains the rampant failure of new products. We rely on traditional survey research to help us develop products. While people don’t intentionally lie, they may not be able understand or predict their own behavior. So perhaps the brave new world of marketing research will evolve to the brave new world of psychology, using traditional experiments or neuroscience to better understand consumer behaviour. Which of course brings up a whole new set of ethical questions about the discipline of marketing. Yet more fuel to add to the already hotly burning fire.


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