Understanding consumer behavior is one-part art and one-part science.

Traditionally, understanding consumer behavior has been challenging. Old-fashioned research approaches focus on the System 2. The System 2 is known as the rational, slow and deliberate brain, however; as behavioral economics has taught us, humans also rely on the faster, non-conscious and emotional System 1 brain to make decisions.

Simple scale questions are commonly used to gauge consumers thoughts and feelings in a variety of contexts. However, answering these question types can only be done using the System 2 brain. To understand the importance of evaluating the System 1, consider how consumers do not stand in supermarket store aisles evaluating which products to buy on a 1-7 point scale. Instead, they think emotionally and recall past experiences or perceptions of brands to help guide their choices; this is the System 1 brain in action.

This mismatch in research approach begs the question: if humans think and make a majority of their decisions using their System 1 brain, why do market researchers limit themselves by only using quantitative scale questions that only evaluate the System 2?

Understanding Both the Automatic and Rational Brains

Consumers are sophisticated, and often have trouble vocalizing their thoughts and feelings when engaging with traditional, System 2 research approaches. Meta4 Insight®, our proprietary research technology, leverages the fact that over 80% of human communication is nonverbal and captures non-conscious responses from survey respondents at scale.

Meta4 Insight® allows us to tap into the emotional component of the System 1 to better evaluate the success of future endeavors and understand how consumers relate with a brand. By engaging respondents at a level just below the consciousness, we can uncover an additional layer of understanding behind what drives behavior in a variety of contexts.

How It Works

One of our primary techniques that accesses the System 1, visual metaphor elicitation, increases the volume of expressed words that respondents use by 36% when compared to traditional open response questions.

Respondents are asked to think about, and then select one image that best captures their thoughts and feelings about a recently exposed concept (one example of the many applications of the methodology) on their desktop or mobile device. The Meta4 Insight® image library contains over 650 scientifically validated images for the respondents to choose from. The respondents are then asked to describe the image that they selected, as if they were describing it to someone who was unable to see it for themselves. This step is pivotal in grounding the image in the respondent’s mind, setting the stage for the third and final step.

After describing the image that they have selected, the respondents are then asked to interpret the image- explaining why they picked it, and how it captures their thoughts, feelings, and emotions about the original question.

The image interpretations are then analyzed using AI-powered text analytics to provide meaningful, quantifiable results on the rich qualitative data captured. This approach goes beyond probing what is purely top of mind and instead allows actionable insights to be uncovered by applying an emotional and experiential lens.

Capturing System 1 Responses on the Fuel Cycle Exchange

Adding System 1 research capabilities to research projects on the Fuel Cycle Exchange has never been easier. Selecting the Meta4 Insight® module allows you to integrate a visual metaphor elicitation exercise directly into your study with ease. Visual exercises can capture not only emotional responses but also the functional drivers and other responses in an unstructured manner.

When strategically deployed, the visual exercises can free up time and space in a quantitative survey, as well as capture several layers of responses that replace traditional question batteries. Incorporating System 1 methodologies into surveys helps to tell the full picture of what may be driving or impacting consumer behavior.

The Future Of Market Research

The future of market research demands a more profound level of understanding of what informs consumer behavior. Online surveys must capture actionable, replicable, and quantifiable insights in a way that is not only statistically rigorous but also offers a pleasant experience for the respondents.

The industry itself is in a state of transformation; growing from acceptance to change, propelled by innovative researchers who are comfortable with experimentation as a way to identify alternative methods to capture consumer insights. We do not merely follow trends in the industry; instead, we define them.

Our approach and methodologies leverage the most innovative aspect of behavioral economics to better predict and evaluate what drives behavior at scale. Applying a System 1 approach to collecting consumer data points enables you to obtain a deeper understanding of the thoughts and emotions that guide consumer decision-making.