Past behavior is a better predictor of future behavior than stated intent.
To make better marketing decisions, understand people’s actions and behaviors, and trust not what they claim in surveys.
Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Nothing worth having comes easy.” This nugget of wisdom hits home for us marketers when we try to unpack the enigma of consumer behavior. Understanding what consumers do, how they behave, and what they deeply think is hard; asking them a few rushed questions is easy.
Picture this: you're a junior marketer for a large package goods organization, buzzing with excitement each month as you start reading the consumer equity tracker results. You're swimming in an ocean of numbers, graphs twisting and turning in every direction. It's a data feast that keeps you busy for days on end, and back then, questioning the source or quality of this data was not on my skillset. I happily drank the Kool-aid, believing I was better understanding my consumer.
Fast forward to a pivotal chapter in my career: joining Mars. I quickly realized the limitations of asking Joe Public about their brand perceptions and, more critically, their future purchasing decisions or advertising preferences. Professional experiences shape profiles, and I have Mars to thank for helping me embrace behavioral-based research to such an extent.
It's not about asking people if they 'love' our brand. It's about observing what they actually do – their actions in stores or online, their spontaneous reactions to our communication (think attention, emotions, memory). It’s about real-world interactions, not hypothetical scenarios.
That’s not to say surveys are redundant – far from it. They have their place, especially when mixed with implicit reaction speed testing. But here’s a word to take home: take survey results with a pinch of salt. Often, respondents are more motivated by the incentive than by providing genuine insights. In many instances, those answering surveys do it with little or no attention, are primarily interested in the financial reward, and are faced with known academic biases (considerable brand bias, last-time purchased brand bias, etc.).
As the industry completely shifts from in-person surveys to digital surveys, I expect the quality of surveys to decline. It’s much easier to fool a machine than the researcher in front of you. And let's not open the survey fraud topic here...
In the words of Robert Frost: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” I am grateful to have spent a large part of my career not looking at survey-based data. Quite the opposite. Instead, I’ve ventured into the rich, complex world of behavioral insights.
And what a rewarding journey it has been.