As we continue our look ahead to 2011, surveying predictions for the market research industry, we come upon a recurring topic: the role of behavioral science as a supplement to – or even replacement for – market research.
The key to behavioral science in a market research role is actually rather simple: a great deal about a person’s intent and motivation can be gleaned from their past behavior. Combined with various psychological, neurological, and situational attributes (like demographics, lifestyle, etc), behavior can be predicted (or at least modeled to within a high degree of certainty.)
So why ask people questions, when their behavior has already given us the answer?
Dr. Aaron Reid over at Sentient Insight included this as his top prediction for 2011. As he put it:
Behavioral science will supplant traditional market research: Traditional market research is very good at describing what people have done, but has lacked insight into the true drivers of behavior. Plucking principles from psychology, sociology, anthropology, neuroscience and behavioral economics has proven to provide an immediate boost to the bottom line by revealing specific methods for influencing customer behavior.
It makes sense, but of course, it’s controversial as well. Political polls tell us how people are likely to vote, but we still count on people to cast their ballot before we declare a winner. Does behavioral science account for the “X factors” that cause people to change their mind, often at the last minute? Human impulse? Unpredictability?
What do you think? Does a scientific approach to predicting outcomes and behavior give us the information we need to know about our customers? Or do we still need to ask the question?