Keeping Behavioral Economics Theories at the Forefront for Concept Testing

Filed Under: Best Practices, Market Research, Concept Testing


Lynne Bartos

Vice President and Marketing Content Strategist, Marketing

In our previous blog post, The Implications of Behavioral Economics on Market Research, we outlined four behavioral economic theories to consider and the implications associated with them.  In this blog, we’re focusing specifically on a few theories related to concept testing.  Most of us are familiar with the concept of “priming” – even if you don’t know this exact term, you’re familiar with some examples. Here are a couple:

  • If you see the word yellow, you’ll be faster than others (who hadn’t seen the word) to pick out the word banana from a list.
  • Another example I’ve read about time and time again is about the liquor store that played German music on specific days and sold more German wine; and on the days where they played French music, they sold more French wine.

The priming effect is something talked about in Behavioral Economics.  It occurs when responses to information or products are influenced by other information or products the person was exposed to earlier. The result? Seemingly irrelevant information can significantly (and accidentally) influence people’s reactions and behaviors.

As market researchers, just being aware of priming can help us design better questionnaires. Let’s take concept testing as an example. In concept testing, we strive to obtain the “cleanest read” of concepts on various metrics (appeal, purchase intent, uniqueness, fit with brand, etc.). Given this, priming a respondent with questions focusing on their attitudes about the category, brands, etc. (even their behavior) may influence how they respond to the concepts. Therefore, we wouldn’t want to start the survey with attitudinal statements (and even limit behavior questions). Instead, we would want to get straight to the concept assessment. Here’s an example: 

  • If we start the survey with a question, “what is your favorite type of cupcake?” and then we go on to assess various dessert concepts – one of them being cupcakes – we’ve already “primed” our respondents to think about cupcakes. The cupcake concept might score higher compared to an ice cream concept – just because respondents were “primed” to think about cupcakes and not ice cream.

Another Behavioral Economic theory market researchers should be aware of is framing.  It’s the theory of “framing” the lens that people use to interpret the information they see influences their responses.  Framing can also come into play in our concept tests, specifically in the way we present the concepts to respondents. Can you imagine how people would respond to a yogurt concept that claimed “1% fat” vs. “99% fat free?” There’s little doubt that people would be more responsive to the 99% fat free concept. And of course, selecting the right adjectives makes a difference when we write our concepts.  For instance, if we’re testing a high-end car, we would describe it as luxurious and well-equipped and avoid words such as expensive and over-priced. The same applies to a lower-priced car — we would describe it as affordable and reliable, instead of cheap and basic.

Market research keeps benefiting from what we’re learning from Behavioral Economics.  As two theories – priming and framing – show, keeping them top of mind in our concept tests (in fact, all of our designs) only makes our results more reliable.

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