Interview with Orlando Wood, BrainJuicer Lab "Humans are fast and frugal in their decision-making."

Orlando Wood (BrainJuicer)

In 2013, John Kearon, founder of the London based market research group BrainJuicer, claimed on that adapting the ideas of behavioral science should be seen as the real revolution in market research for the next ten years. Adapting the theories of Kahneman and others should lead to a shift in quantitative research from measuring system 2 – the rational part of our thinking – to system 1, our intuitive, faster and much more capable part of thinking that is much more driving our decision making than traditionally considered.

BrainJuicer remains to be a pioneer in adapting these ideas to market research. This year, Orlando Wood, Managing Director of the BrainJuicer Labs took part on the GOR panel discussion on “Behavioral Economics: A new idea of man – a need for new methods?”. has put some questions to him.

marktforschung.dossier: Mr. Wood, BrainJuicer claims today’s quantitative market research to be a “system 2 measuring industry”. What’s wrong about that?

Orlando Wood: Humans are fast and frugal in their decision-making. We hate thinking hard and are often content to trust plausible decisions that come quickly to mind. We love to believe that we are logical, analytical, deliberative (System 2) in what we do, but we’re learning from psychology that many of our decisions are in fact made quickly, associatively and are guided by emotion. This is what’s known as System 1 thinking. The problem – or opportunity – for our industry, for marketing and indeed advertising, is that they are disciplines that have evolved from a System 2 starting point. Historically, they have assumed that to influence behavior you need to communicate a message to persuade people of a product’s superiority, and that if you do, people will make a logical decision in its favor. But new thinking from psychology and communications best practice is gradually showing us that when we’re confronted with a difficult decision, we don’t ask ourselves a difficult question – ‘what do I think about this?’, but instead ask ourselves an easier question to answer: ‘what do I feel about this?’, as Kahneman puts it. If our measures are all rooted in System 2, then the ideas, communications and packaging that we assess will continue to be optimized for logical thought. Instead, we should focus on that easier question people like to answer when making a decision, ‘how do I feel about this?’, because it will help us to deliver products, services, experiences and communications that are optimized for real-world decision-making. 

marktforschung.dossier: So where are the typical pitfalls in traditional quantitative research?

Orlando Wood: I believe we should spend more time understanding the mind’s Oval Office (where the decisions are really made) than the Press Office (where decisions are justified). It’s important that we understand the implicit more and the explicit less. Here are just three pitfalls I believe the industry falls into:

  1. Asking people to think too much or too long about something. 
  2. Asking people to consider and predict (or even just report) their own behavior. 
  3. Questions are asked in a ‘pure and neutral context’, promoting System 2 evaluation, when in fact in the real world the way that choices are framed, the influence of other people and simply the way we feel in any given moment can have a huge bearing on the decisions we make. 

And it’s not just about the questions we ask, but the way we interpret and place emphasis on the results. For instance, ‘message received’ tends to take primacy over ‘emotion felt’, and ‘relevance’ and a ‘meaningful benefit’ is prized over ‘salience’ and ‘meaningless distinctiveness’. 

marktforschung.dossier: Can you give us an example of how methods can be adapted to system 1?

Orlando Wood: One way to ensure that people are making System 1 decisions is to put them under time pressure. This forces a quick, instinctive, effortless System 1 decision, and can dramatically change marketing conclusions and design decisions. 

marktforschung.dossier: How about advertising testing? Do we need new methods in that particular field as well?

Orlando Wood: It’s as much the model as the methods that needs addressing. The industry’s view has been shaped by successive (and contradictory) theories and assertions about how advertising works over the last one hundred or so years, and we’ve ended up with a bit of a muddle. The first theories of how advertising works were based on early theories of face-to-face salesmanship in the early 20th Century – that it was important to give a reason why (Kennedy 1904), that it should be serious and convey information (Hopkins, 1924), that it should attract attention and remain in the memory (Starch, 1937), that message and message recall are central to its success (Colley, 1961) and that there should be a unique selling proposition (Rosser Reeves 1961). But we now have the benefit of many years of effectiveness data, from the likes of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA)in the UK, and new psychological evidence that converge on the same answer. They reveal two important facts about how advertising works. The first of these is that advertising works by ‘keeping your name before the public’: Extra Share of Voice drives market share. You might describe this as the quantity of advertising. The second is what our own work with the IPA’s database has revealed, that there are campaigns that drive more growth than you might expect for their level of Extra Share of Voice – that they have an inherent quality that is responsible for this greater level of efficiency. That quality is emotional response – how they make people feel. And you can measure it to predict the efficiency of your advertising and your likely growth. Salience and emotion guide and simplify decision-making, and so that’s how advertising works.  

marktforschung.dossier: Do you think that there is also a need for new thinking in qualitative research?

Orlando Wood: I think so, yes. Qualitative research sometimes runs the risk of pursuing the deeper ‘reason why’, when it is often more useful to find out about the ‘how’ – how people do things and how they are influenced along the way. It’s often best not to ask questions at all – observation or ethnography can help us understand behavior much better than questions.

marktforschung.dossier: Could you give us some examples on how you adapt those ideas into techniques for qualitative research?

Orlando Wood: We task rather than ask. Setting participants tasks and following their behavior can be very instructive. Stories and even verse are extremely System 1 way of communicating and absorbing information. Games might be one way to achieve some of this – but beware as they can introduce their own biases!

marktforschung.dossier: Kahneman´s research is mainly based on experiments. How about experiments in your projects?

Orlando Wood: Yes, we have designed and run many experiments, because that’s how you learn. You develop hypotheses, construct the idea and then test it in a carefully designed experiment to see whether it works in the way you expect (often it does, but in many interesting cases it doesn’t!). So for example, our packaging approach evolved from an experiment involving time pressure. We’ve also conducted our own experiments with advertising spots – removing voiceover or changing music, for instance, to improve emotional response. And then there are behavioral activation tests that we have run – in-store, in digital and using surveys. 

marktforschung.dossier: How about competition of methods: If we find more quantitative methods, including experiments, to measure system 1 decision making: Will this displace some part of qualitative research? Or will the awareness of system 1 favor the use of more qualitative research?

Orlando Wood: If the industry embraces the thinking, then the logical outcome is a greater emphasis on implicit testing and System 1 quantitative measurement (salience, emotion, choice under time pressure), but there will always be an important role for ethnographic research. 

marktforschung.dossier: How do buyers of MR accept those ideas? Are the clients open minded? 

Orlando Wood: Many clients have been quick to embrace the thinking – whether it be brand planning, communications development, NPD research or tracking. The future is here, it’s just unevenly distributed! There will be wholesale change, eventually – we’re witnessing it unfold. It’s an exciting time.

marktforschung.dossier: Whilst growing in other regions, BrainJuicer recently reduced its staff in Germany. Is the German market too conservative, or is there more intense competition in this field?

Orlando Wood: No, I don’t think it is too conservative. Our German office is now in double-digit growth, I’m pleased to say, after a re-organization across our European offices, and with multi-nationals embracing our thinking, I think the future is looking very positive. 

marktforschung.dossier: Mr. Wood, thank you very much for this interview!

Orlando Wood, Managing Director, BrainJuicer Labs
Orlando has played a leading role in the development of BrainJuicer’s philosophy and its approaches, and sits on BrainJuicer’s Executive Management Team. His work with academics, organisations and leading practitioners has rapidly moved forward thinking and best practice in the research and associated industries. Orlando has won many awards, including Research Distinction Awards from the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) (2014 & 2011), The Jay Chiat Gold Award for Research Innovation (2011), the American Marketing Association’s '4 Under 40 Emerging Leader' Award (2011), the Market Research Society’s David Winton Award (2010) and Best Paper Award (2010), ESOMAR’s Award for Best Methodological Paper (2007) and the ISBA Advertising Effectiveness Award (2007).


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