By now everyone knows that the curiosity of two Israeli psychologists – Daniel Kahnemann and Amos Tersky – about how people make decisions spawned an entirely new discipline: behavioral economics. Behavioral economics recognzes that we are not rational beings; we are influenced by irrelevant things and make inefficient decisions. Marketing research, being a study of consumer choices, has a lot to learn from this new discipline. Here, I will deal with just one aspect – getting a more accurate reading of consumers’ attitudes in survey contexts.
- Sequencing questions. One of the fascinating ways people make decisions when uncertain is to latch on to anything that is fresh in their mind. For example, if you start asking consumers whether something is more than or less than $100, their final estimate would be closer to $100 than to $20. If you start asking if the same thing is more or less than $20, their final estimate would be close to $20 than to $100. What is even more intriguing is that the initial number they are exposed to does not have to be related to the product in question. Even if you start saying that today’s temperature is 30 degrees and then ask them to estimate the price of a product, their estimate is likely to be closer to $30 (as long as they don’t know the price at all.) This phenomenon is called anchoring. So, in sequencing questions, make sure you have no question that reminds consumers of a number, prior to asking them to estimate something.
- Wording questions. Apparently “half empty” and “half full” don’t mean the same thing to people. Consumers show a clear preference of 99% error-free documents to documents with 1% error rates, although they are exactly the same. A five percent discount for early payment has been found to be less effective than a 5% penalty for late registration. This is known as framing effect has implications for questionnaire wording. Be careful not to frame a question that would favor one response over another.
- Asking for preference and evaluations. You need consumers to compare two brands of jams to tell you which one they prefer and how they evaluate each one on different attributes. What researchers found was that the sequence made a difference. Asking for preference first elicited the “true preference,” while asking consumers to evaluate first turned them into critics and often changed their preference. This is called the priming So, if you need both preference and evaluation, consider asking preference question first.
This is a very short version of how behavioral economics can be of use in writing questionnaires. Obviously it is more nuanced than can be explained in a short blog. Books like Nudge, Predictably Irrational and Slow and Fast Thinking can provide more detailed information about how people actually make decisions, which can be extrapolated to writing questionnaires.
Chuck Chakrapani is President of Leger Analytics and Distinguished Visiting Professor, Ted Rogers School of Management.