Several thoughts: accumulated choices matter more than marginal ones, as my theory would predict. Choice sinks to preferences, personality, motivation, knowledge pool and emotions, which is fundamentally why people have irrational moments: their internal costs are too high for being rational based on outcomes. This is also why “the only rule or preference is to win” does not fit most people. Logic alone is not enough for explaining decisions, nor is info. Learning happens during the entire process of choice: comparing options, making decisions and evaluating outcomes – the “choice triple” that I am working on.
Speaking of marketing research, yes questionnaires can do a lousy job, and we cannot solely rely on them. However, blaming tools is barking at the wrong tree: any tools have limits and it is researchers who determines research quality. It is always risky to bet on any single tool. A master can turn out a beautiful piece while others provide trash, even when both use exactly the same tools.
Finally, the study on how decisions, at least simple decisions like which hand to use, are made unconsciously is also a telling detail how accumulated choices matter.
Scientists working at the University of California, Berkeley, have successfully decoded brain activities into audible sounds. In other words, our inner thoughts can be translated into sounds clearly articulated by a computer.
Take, for example, knocking on wood. Do you catch yourself doing it whenever you wish to ward off the gremlins of fate? There’s a 70% chance you do. But here’s the rub: would you continue doing it? Chances are you would. That’s what my study turned up. Logic does not have much to do with it. And this fact is at the core of the endless challenge to marketers.
How else could one explain why eight out of 10 new product releases fail despite countless hours of focus groups and exhaustive market research?
Take the study conducted by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, which reveals that our decisions are made up to 10 seconds before we become aware of them.
In that study, participants could freely decide if they wanted to press a button with their right or left hand. The only condition required that they remembered that decision. While making that very decision, scientists used fMRI to scan the brains of the participants. They were looking to see whether they could in fact predict which hand the participants would use before they were consciously aware of their own decision.
By monitoring the micro patterns of activity in the frontopolar cortex, the scientists could predict which hand the participant would choose seven seconds before the participant was aware of the decision.
Reading our consumer mind is somewhat creepy. However, on the upside, many of the more dated research techniques (questionnaires, for example) are dying a natural death. Questionnaires believe emotions can be determined by “yes” or “no” questions, with a few extra lines to scribble in a more detailed explanation.
No single questionnaire or focus group, interview panel, or ethnographic visit will provide all the answers. Just as we know that to bake a cake requires numerous ingredients combined in specific quantities, so do we require a combination of factors and studies to achieve levels of accuracy that Wanamaker did not believe possible.