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Behaviour change requires behaviour change

Caroline Hayter

Caroline Hayter

Acacia Avenue

Caroline Hayter is co-founder and strategist at Acacia Avenue. She draws her inspiration from a broad range of disciplines including sociology, behavioural economics and psychology. Her background in advertising also means that she’s made it her mission to change the way that creative development research is conducted. Caroline is an active member of the research community, contributing regularly to conferences and industry press. She is also two-time winner of the AQR Prosper Riley Smith Award and the MRS Best Session at Conference.

In the latest post in our series by industry experts, Caroline Hayter from Acacia Avenue highlights the benefits of using online research in conjunction with more traditional methods.

Pretty much every marketing objective these days is to prompt some sort of behaviour change. In fact, it always has been. But it’s much more at the forefront of our thinking in this age of behavioural economics. New behaviour change agencies have been founded, behavioural research techniques have been developed and attitude is no longer the powerful measure that it once was.

But the reality in the research world is that these new approaches are still in their early stages – the majority of methodological tools are traditionally based methods. Quantitative trackers remain largely unchanged. And the 90 min focus group is still the primary tool of qualitative research. According to ESOMAR’s 2015 Global Market Research report, only 3% of qualitative is conducted online…which brings us to the topic at hand.

When online qual was first introduced, there was a polarising response – the fans saw it as transformative, efficient, contemporary, good at reaching the hard-to-reach; and the naysayers doubted its ability to replicate face-to-face. It’s quite natural for there to be this sort of response to something new – people assume that the new tool is set to replace the old and place them in binary opposition. The reality is that these extremes recede with time and people ultimately realise that they simply have a richer arsenal of tools to draw from.

When Liveminds introduced us to their online platform in 2012 as the world of behavioural economics was gaining traction, we quickly realised that it could be incredibly powerful. In much of our work, we ask people to think about new products or services, or change their existing behaviour in favour of a new one, which might be at the scale of a type of behaviour, or a smaller switch from one brand in a category to another. So the ability to use an online auto-ethnographic tool to catalogue natural behaviour in real time, and then inject a dose of behaviour change, became very effective. For example, asking people to complete a customer journey for an insurance purchase, and then asking them to do the same for a particular client; asking people to eat gravy with every meal, and then depriving gravy lovers of their gravy for a week; asking people to replace their current exercise regime with another; and so on. All of these revealed chinks of opportunity that arose from micro-observations made in the moment that would never have been revealed through other methods. What we also quickly realised is that it is incredibly challenging to keep track of several people’s unfolding stories over the course of several days, and that the magic arose when combined with some sort of live conversation (by phone or in person). A classic case of 1+1 = 3.

So, if we’re to stay true to our goals of behaviour change, then we must incorporate this into our methodologies. After all, behaviour change requires behaviour change.

Caroline Hayter can be contacted at caroline@acacia-avenue.com or on +44 (0)20 7014 9500


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