Understanding why Consumers never do what they say they will


I was running some research groups the other day exploring consumers’ emotional responses to some new products and how we could improve product formulation, communications, presentation etc. to improve the consumer reactions and thus liking, preference, repeat usage and advocacy. I got a response from these consumers that whilst not uncommon was quite extreme and just reminded me why I do what I do.

We had some different packaging options and, unbeknown to them, I evaluated their emotional responses to these. While the different options evoked different responses there was a clear better option for the image that we wanted to portray. I then asked outright which option they preferred and got a unanimous response for this same option. Fine so far. Then I asked individual respondents to explain their response to the packaging. Every time I did this, in different groups and phrasing the question in different ways, the respondents always changed their preference to the alternative option.

A perfect example of how our emotional reactions are not always logical, we cannot always justify them in rational terms. A great example of Kahneman’s System 1 and System 2 thinking, our immediate response – the one that drives most of our behaviour – is not always the same as the one that we might come up with if we stop and give the subject some proper thought.

The consumers’ rational reasons for changing their mind were sound, very logical, easily explained and made sense when talking about this to an audience. They were not, however, the reactions that they would act upon in the supermarket, or when using the product every day. Their logical explainable and very understandable response was no reflection to how they would truly respond to the product in the real world.

As in this case, I do quite often ask consumers directly what they think of a product, a concept, packaging, a piece of communication etc. but never without profiling their emotional response first and only ever to compare it to that emotional response and understand it better, and often I have to explain to viewing clients that this is what is happening, what they saw the consumer say is often much less interesting than what was happening a little earlier but was not quite so obvious.