Incorporating ‘fast-thinking’ into market research
Published on 27 Nov 2019
By Anna Dnes
Accessing the ‘fast-thinking’ side of the brain through
digital approaches can elicit better responses during market research, says
In 2011 Daniel Kahnemann’s best-selling book ‘Thinking, Fast
and Slow’, described two different ways the brain forms thoughts: System One
(Fast-Thinking) and System Two (Slow-Thinking).
He defines System One as fast, frequent and therefore almost
automatic and subconscious thinking, while System Two comprises the slow –
infrequent and conscious thinking that requires effort, employs logic and
Through a series of experiments, Kahnemann highlights how
these two different thought processes may cause individuals to arrive at
different results, even when given the same inputs. Essentially, he explains
why we do not always behave as perfectly rational human beings.
Kahnemann’s theory corresponds to the challenge the
healthcare market research community has been observing for decades: that the
logical, clear behaviour explained by a doctor or a patient in a market
research interview is not always the same as their behaviour in the real world.
Kahnemann also casts a new light on market research more generally by pointing
to one of its major challenges: that it mainly engages the ‘slow-thinking’ side
of the brain and very rarely taps into its ‘fast-thinking’ side.
On behalf of the pharmaceutical brands we work for, we need
to ask ourselves what, as market researchers, we can do differently to overcome
this challenge and get closer to our respondents’ ‘fastthinking’ thoughts and
behaviour? One solution lies in the digital world. Short online tests have
become the perfect way to harness the ‘fast-thinking’ part of our brains, whether
employed at the start of a qualitative interview or within a quantitative
Key considerations for designing digital tests to harness
the ‘fast-thinking’ side of our brains:
1 Capping exposure time
To tap into the ‘fast-thinking’ side of the brain, market
researchers simulate an environment where fast decisions have to be made.
Market research settings have traditionally done the opposite, creating
environments where respondents are encouraged to spend more time with
information – be it brochures, medical journals, ads or messages – than they
would in reality. In doing so, we put the ‘slow-thinking’ brain in gear and
elicit different reactions to those of the ‘fast-thinking’ brain.
Capping exposure time limits the initial exposure time of the information to a short, fixed amount of time, so only the ‘fast-thinking’ side of the brain will be able to respond.
2 Capping and measuring response time
In an everyday situation, we typically try to make decisions as quickly as possible, rather than just quickly. This has provided an opportunity for us to turn some of the more traditional market research exercises into an online game, where decisions have to be made as fast as possible in order to avoid being ‘timed out’ (losing the game, so to speak). By measuring the speed of the responses on top of capping the response time, we go beyond surfacing the explicit thoughts, reactions and decisions, and identify the implicit drivers and the ease of decision taking; because the faster we can respond, the easier and more straightforward the decision is – and the harder it is for marketing to change that decision to another.
3 Measuring biometric reactions
When it comes to measuring biometric reactions, consumer
market research firms tend to be ahead of healthcare market research in the
pharmaceutical industry. Several consumer-focused market research agencies
measure biometric reactions during the market research interviews. Increased
heart rate, perspiration, facial muscle tension and EEG are example biometric
indicators of the true reactions and emotions that lie outside of our control,
meaning that they cannot be hidden or controlled by our conscious self. While
the equipment today is still clunky and perhaps reminiscent of old sci-fi
movies, the advent of wristbands that measure our exercise, sleep patterns etc.
is exciting as it shows us that a more workable alternative for healthcare
market research is not far away. Watch this space!
Can such digital tools make a difference to healthcare
market research and pharmaceutical brands?
Yes. ‘Fast-thinking’ tests are invaluable in identifying
deeper insights across a number of pre- and postlaunch objectives, including:
Identifying the types of claims or communication
materials that implicitly resonate versus those that do not
Exploring the true treatment algorithm a doctor
employs in his or her decision making, rather than those dictated by guidelines
Pinpointing the implicit barriers a brand may
face in being adopted more broadly
Uncovering the true associations and beliefs
about certain brands or companies, without any feelings of politeness or
restraint from the ‘slow-thinking’ side of the brain holding that information
These digital tools are already making a difference to
healthcare market research and pharmaceutical brands. To give a couple of
specific examples, tapping into the ‘fast-thinking’ side of customers’ heads
has been instrumental in uncovering which creative concepts are likely to
achieve a behaviour change from a set of strong communication concepts that
were all delivering on the intended message.
Similarly, these tools have been used to identify the core
benefit that will motivate a change in prescribing drugs and can form the basis
of a successful brand positioning, when all predeveloped positionings have
failed to resonate.
Get inside customers’
‘Fast-thinking’ tests will never provide all the answers,
but they can be the difference between good and great market research. Plus,
when taken in combination with the ‘slow-thinking’ elicited in traditional
in-depth discussions, we can shed light on any disconnects between these two
thinking modes – and the resulting conscious vs unconscious behaviour.
The outcome: more rigorous insights into how to motivate
behaviour change. Be it a switch towards a brand, improving patients’
compliance or changing the perception of brands in customers’ minds. This
movement has started to gain momentum among the healthcare companies which view
deeper understanding of their customers as critical to success. In these times
of needing to do ‘more for less’ the rate of increased usage of these
approaches across companies that have embraced them suggests they are seeing a
clear ROI from using ‘fast-thinking’ approaches.
About the author
Anna Dnes is a Senior Research Director at The Planning Shop, specialising in global qualitative market research. With a background in consulting, she has over seven years’ experience in pharmaceutical market research. Anna has an active interest in harnessing digital technology for market research and has led the digital new product development team for the past five years.
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