TTM: A useful model for marketing research?Kolumne von Adele Gritten
Behavioural Economics in marketing research is everywhere now. But many clients frequently need help to make sense of it all. What are they supposed to do with behavioural economics outputs? Too much theory and not enough practice, some say. That's nice and funky, others say; it sounds very grand and clever, but where's the "so what" or the added value?
Part of the challenge is getting clients to understand that, for effective outcomes, they need to embed behavioural economics throughout a research programme, not just in one isolated part of it. As part of research project set-up, clients need to work with their agency to think about research participant mind-set and the extent to which priming may have an influence on decisions per se and the way in which they might answer a survey. As part of research design, the agency must in turn guide their clients to think about whether too much focus on asking direct questions will mean a post-rationalised research participant response. As part of analysis, reporting and recommendation, clients and agencies alike must consider the nudges, hooks, and biases etc. that can steer and influence behaviour.
Marketing research has long since used tools to uncover unspoken responses: eye-tracking, facial decoding, blood-pressure monitoring, heart-rate monitoring, galvanic skin resistance, to name a few. What agencies have been less adept at doing is using analysis frameworks and/or models to assess and make sense of unspoken responses more productively.
One such model is the Transtheoretical behaviour change model. It is a model that assesses an individual's readiness to act on a new healthier or more positive behaviour. Also known by the acronym TTM and by the term "stages of change", it has become the most widely used model in assessing health behavioural change e.g. smoking cessation and weight loss.
Essentially, TTM uses approaches to uncover unspoken responses. It looks at the cycle of how people enter a decision making arena (Pre-Contemplation) through to consideration about whether they might one day make a change (Contemplation). It then looks at when and whether they might exit and re-enter the arena at any stage (Determination). It explores what they are likely to do as a result of their determination (Action) and whether they are likely to exit and re-enter the arena at any stage (Relapse), and finally the extent to which they will keep adhering to the new changed behaviour (Maintenance).
Using TTM as a model for evaluating consumer decision-making via an indirect questioning lens allows us as part of research design to do three important things: (1) consider relevant nudges; (2) develop hypotheses; (3) test interventions. For clients, this is powerful as it allows them to select the right (marketing) nudges based on observed behaviour, deploy test and learn approaches to maximize optimum messaging and communications efficacies, and ultimately, spark motivation to change behaviour, e.g. buy more product, follow a brand into a new market, recommend to others etc.
By running the TTM as part of a quantitative online survey, we can provide rich and actionable insight to inform client strategies. Since the model is based on psychometric modelling techniques, each question in its own right may appear bland. However, in combination with wider System 1 and System 2 question styles (think Daniel Kahneman) and, particularly when looked at dualistically alongside complementary qualitative research, clients get a powerful insight into research participants’ non-conscious pre-disposition to change their behaviour.
How the TTM is best applied will be slightly different in each client case. First, we typically identify key drivers and barriers to behavioural change (from a pre-coded list) and then measure their impact on change at each stage of the model, by brand and by demographic/segment groups, in order to inform ongoing strategy and priority setting etc. We then tailor our questionnaires by issue and category, using the TTM to work off a battery of attitudinal statements that help us to define which stage a consumer is in. We do this at a category level, e.g. health and well-being. We would not drop this reference down to sub-category level, e.g. specific ailments, because this is about a broader shift in long term behaviour at a macro level.
To summarise: the TTM is just one prevalent well-validated model of many that can be used to better understand macro shifts in consumer behaviour. Our job, as always, is to find the right framework or model for the business objective in hand. Whilst a one-size fits all approach rarely provides the granular insight required to move the dial in terms of consumer behaviour change, having an over-arching model for high-level insight can indeed put the bigger picture and wider trends into perspective.