Discard Surveys, Best Understand People’s Real Actions and Behaviors

Discard Surveys, Best Understand People’s Real Actions and Behaviors
Photo by Freddy Kearney / Unsplash

Past behavior is a better predictor of future behavior in comparison with stated intent. To grow, understand people’s actions and behaviors, trust not what they claim in surveys. Discard surveys.

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Nothing worth having comes easy.” I love this mantra and try to apply it to decode people, or as we marketers call them: consumers or customers. Understanding what consumers do, how they behave, and what they deeply think is hard; asking them a couple of rushed questions is easy.

The first approach is also much more expensive than the first, but it’s worth the $. The difference in how the two methods inform your marketing decisions is not even worth debating.

Over a decade ago, while working as a junior British American Tobacco marketer, I eagerly anticipated the arrival of the latest consumer equity tracker results for my brand every month. It landed in my inbox as a flood of numbers and graphs in all shapes and forms, which kept me busy for at least two days. Too young to question the source or quality of that data, I drank the kool-aid.

I had to join another company, Mars, 9 years ago to understand the considerable limitations of asking random people what they think about a brand and more precisely if they will buy it in the future. Professional experiences shape profiles, and I have Mars to thank for helping me embrace behavioral-based research to such an extent.

At Mars, we measure what people do – mostly in-store or on digital commerce platforms, how they naturally react to our communication (attention, emotions, memory encoding) and not if they love our brand. Do you think they want to build a long-lasting loyalty relationship with our packaging or ads (more about loyalty in another post)?

There is still a big role to play for surveys in people’s research, especially when combined with implicit reaction speed testing. But please take survey results with a grain of salt. In many instances, those answering surveys do it with little or no attention, are mostly interested in the financial reward, and are faced with known academic biases (considerable brand bias, last-time purchased brand bias, etc.).

The more the industry 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.

Robert Frost once said: “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 the last nine years of my career, not looking at survey-based trackers. Quite the opposite.