How Behavioural Science can help explain the data.


I have just returned from conducting a research project in Saudi Arabia. We were researching the psychology and emotions behind the decision making of young Saudi women. While we were doing this, I was reminded yet again of both the power of good Behavioural Science and the pitfalls of poor research.

I am a middle aged white English man, which leaves quite a significant cultural gap between me as interviewer and the young Saudi women that we were speaking with. We chose to alternate our interviews between myself and my business partner, a female researcher. We do this for most projects as we find the subtle difference in style and personality always gains us deeper insights than relying on one single interviewer. However, we were particularly interested to see how much difference it would make in Saudi. The answer for us was the same difference that we find in any other market. The young Saudi women responded slightly differently to our different personalities, but no more so than we might encounter anywhere else in the world.

Our technique takes us deep into the psychology and emotions of our respondents. We found the Saudi women very open to this, very relaxed and easy to speak with. As our conversations developed we quickly moved into areas where Saudi culture is quite different rom our own. It would be unrealistic to ignore the difference in our values – our respondents were as aware of it as we were – however, our objective was to understand their decision process, how their culture and values drove their decisions and how their rapidly changing environment is impacting upon this process.

Our expressed naivety and interest resulted in conversations that our respondents would be unlikely to have with local interviewers where too much common knowledge is assumed. Indeed, our respondents often expressed a surprise that following our conversations they now understood themselves better than they did before.

We have found on so many occasions in markets around the world that being a foreign interviewer has allowed us to ask the really silly questions that local researchers often assume, but do not actually ask: “So how do make a cup of tea?” “When you leave hospital with your new baby, where do you go?” “So, what exactly is in a cheese and onion sandwich?”

In fact, we have found this naivety so powerful that we have devised a way to construct it even when running research groups in our own home markets.

So our research in Saudi has resulted in us delivering to our client some valuable insights into the evolving psychology, emotions and decision making process of young Saudi women and some strong recommendations regarding how they can access and influence the decision process through communications and for specific product developments that will appeal to this market.

All too often researchers and clients tend to overlay their own thoughts and values upon what they hear from respondents. To jump upon one or two statements and lose the context in which they were made. Putting too much emphasis upon respondents claims while ignoring past and current behaviour.

That is why it is essential to use quality Behavioural Science–– the understanding of the psychology and emotions of our consumers- in order to maximise the understanding of the behaviour and drivers behind the data.