What is the goal of the market researcher?

The ultimate goal facing market researchers is to deliver information that addresses the following three needs:

Understandings of which variables are important to consumers, that is, what aspects of a product or service are driving buying decisions; Insights into the relative importance of each of those variables; and, taking these two needs together, Insights into how the product, and/or communications about the product, can be shaped to enhance its attraction for consumers, i.e., increase buying behavior.

The last of these goals defines predictive validity, the “holy grail” of market research. In summary:

Predictive validity is the degree to which a research method identifies variables that, when manipulated appropriately, predictably cause changes in consumer behavior.

In lay terms, predictive validity is the ability of a research method to tell you what you need to know to make people buy more of your product.

The Brain Surgery survey of emotions and cognitions has been in use as a business research tool since 1993 and during that time has proven to be capable of delivering on all three of these goals, i.e., it has demonstrated consistently high predictive validity.

What is it about the Brain Surgery survey that allows it to identify and prioritize those variables that truly do drive consumer behavior?

We believe that the Brain Surgery survey is so effective because it elicits responses from individuals in the same ways that the brain processes information. That is, the brain processes emotions and cognitions in sequence, with almost reflexive emotional reactions giving rise to conscious awareness of the reasons for those emotions following in time by at least one-half second. Actions, according new theories of brain and behavior, are often initiated directly through the emotional brain, or limbic system, with conscious recognition and reasoning trailing behind. This does not mean that the conscious reasons behind an action are not important; the delay simply reflects the complexity of the whole-brain response that appears now to be required for bringing a thought to consciousness. The world very often requires us to make rapid responses and this emotion-cognition sequence allows behavioral decisions and actions to be taken without the relatively slow processes involved in conscious awareness and cognition.

Critical, then, to the accuracy of the Brain Surgery survey, is its question sequence that places emotion identification first. The survey does this by beginning with what can be described as emotional “free-association”, an adaptation of the time-honored psychotherapy technique of asking clients to respond quickly – without thinking. Within the Brain Surgery survey, however, responses are limited to words describing emotions that the respondent feels when a particular stimulus is presented, i.e., “Quickly, give me three emotions that you experience when you think about X.” The survey then goes on to elicit the intensity of each of those emotions, following these ratings by asking for the reasons behind the emotions; the conscious issues driving the emotions are identified. Finally, the Brain Surgery survey requires the respondent to assign each emotion word to a five-point valence scale ranging from very negative to very positive. This rating allows respondents to communicate the positivity or negativity of their emotional responses eliminating the need for researchers to assume these simply from the emotion words. For example is the emotion word “anxious” experienced positively, as in “I can’t wait!” or negatively, as in “I am worried!”?. Only the respondent can know this.

Are there other market research methods that assess emotional responses and how do they differ from Brain Surgery?

Among other market research methods that attempt to assess the emotions of respondents are those that employs ratings of the changes in facial expressions of respondents when stimuli are presented. The theory behind this type of method is similar to that described above, that emotions are immediate whereas thoughts are slow, but in this case the method assumes that the true reaction of a respondent is revealed in his or her reflexive facial expression. Users of this method claim that they can detect positive or negative emotional reactions, which are assumed to correspond to attraction toward or repulsion from the stimuli.

The following are limitations and comparisons of these facial analysis methods with the Brain Surgery survey:

1. Facial analysis works best for strongly felt emotions

Although attempts are made to rate even slight changes in expressions to low interest stimuli, the methodology, as might be predicted, is most effective when respondents have strong emotional reactions to the stimuli. And, though it is helpful to know if a respondent feels strongly about a product, the largest market opportunities frequently exist among those who are less passionate about a product; those fence-sitters, cautious, or uninformed individuals whose emotional reactions may be very minimal. Brain Surgery uses knowledge of the issues driving strongly positive consumers to move less committed, weak or neutral consumers to higher levels of positive emotion. In a competitive marketplace, we have found that it is unlikely that individuals with strongly negative emotions about a product will be swayed to change their feelings or behaviors.

2. Facial analysis does not reveal the reason behind the emotion.

The facial expression analysis method also does not usually attempt to have the respondent identify the emotion that they experienced nor does it typically link that emotion to an underlying issue. If a respondent felt a negative emotion to a stimulus, it is not known why that emotion was experienced; what particular aspect or issue associated with the stimulus was experienced negatively. Making improvements in a product or a communication is reduced to guesswork if the issues driving negativity are not understood.

3. Facial only evaluates the first emotion that is felt

Also possibly damaging to overall accuracy is the fact that this method evaluates only the immediate facial response. Our work demonstrates that respondents experience many different and often conflicting emotions to a single stimulus, with these diverse emotions each tied to a different issue or association. (For example, if you are asked to consider your car you will have a whole variety of emotions – some positive and some negative – to the various aspects of your car that come to mind. Your initial emotional response may be negative because your car had a flat tire earlier that day, but your subsequent emotions could be neutral or very positive.)

4. Facial analysis requires close observation of the respondent, which may contribute to biasing of responses.

Finally, by its nature, the subject may be unknown to the researchers, but the facial analysis method requires the intense scrutiny of cameras directed at the subject’s face, a condition that very likely impacts emotional response quantity and quality. We have observed very significant increases in the candor, and, and honesty of respondents on rare occasions where they did not feel assured of both their anonymity and privacy: “If my identity is known, or even if I simply know that someone is observing my responses, I will not reveal my feelings and thoughts as completely or as honestly.”

Users of the facial expression methodology assume that such observer bias cannot impact this “subconscious” facial responding, but there is no way to prove that it does not. When administering the Brain Surgery survey, we make every effort to assure respondents of their anonymity (e.g., passwords, PIN’s, etc.) and privacy (no one is observing). The candor and graffiti-like quality of many responses suggests strongly that respondents are telling us the truth.

Far more convincing, however, than this type of face validity (“It sounds truthful.”), is the bottom-line insurance of predictive validity described above.

A good market research methodology should tell you what you need to do or say to cause more people to buy your product. Brain Surgery delivers those insights and to tell you specifically what you need to do to improve. Our clients tell us that when they implement those recommendations they sell more products.

And that is the power of predictive validity.