Predicting Why Consumers Buy: Evaluating 5 Key Approaches

June 26 2024

Predicting Why Consumers Buy: Evaluating 5 Key Approaches

Understanding Attitudes in Market Research - 1

Are you unknowingly making mistakes in your brand management strategy? The most common methods of market research could be holding you back from gaining accurate and meaningful insights. Whether developing a new product or launching a new marketing campaign, understanding your customers’ true attitudes is crucial to brand management. 

The main aim is to make predictions about consumers’ behaviour in the future. So, for example, if we wish to make a change to one of our products, we need to conduct research that will help us predict whether the change will bring about an increase in sales, decrease in sales, or make no difference to sales. 

However, it is important to choose the correct way to measure people’s thoughts, emotions, or gut-instincts towards your brand, depending on what you’d like to achieve.

There are five recognised ways to measure attitudes in market research

1. Self-Report / Explicit Responses

The first and most frequently used method to measure attitudes is self-reporting. This involves participants explicitly stating their feelings or opinions through tools like multiple-choice questions, semantic differential scales or Likert scales. These tools ask respondents to rate their agreement with various statements on a scale.

However, self-reporting has its limitations. Respondents might not always be honest due to social desirability bias, where they provide answers that they believe are more acceptable than their true feelings. The accuracy of self-reported data can be compromised if respondents lack self-awareness or the ability to introspect effectively. Additionally, they may choose randomly to get through the test quickly.

Conclusion: Self-report measures are good for screening (making sure we have the right target group of consumers in our survey) and for some behavioural aspects (such as which social media platforms they use, how frequently they shop online, and so on). However, if a business wants to be able to predict consumer behaviour then relying solely on self-report is high risk.

2. Biometric Responses 

Biometric responses involve physiological measures, such as electromyography (EMG) or event-related potentials (ERPs). These methods capture involuntary physical reactions to stimuli, providing insights that are less prone to conscious manipulation. For instance, changes in facial muscle activity (measured by EMG) can reveal genuine emotional responses that might not be expressed verbally.

While biometric responses offer more objective data, they require sophisticated equipment and expertise, making them more costly and less accessible for routine market research, but useful for a large, in-depth study.

Conclusion: A business wanting to predict consumer behaviour based on biometric studies would be in a good position to do so, but they would have to make a sizeable investment to achieve that. However, with a very focused research question and an intelligent experimental design it can be achievable with a modest budget.

3. Behavioural Observation

Behavioural observation involves monitoring what people do rather than what they say. By analysing actions, businesses can infer underlying attitudes. For example, tracking purchase patterns or social media interactions can provide valuable insights into customer preferences and behaviours.

However, behavioural measures are often considered outcomes of attitudes rather than attitudes themselves. While useful, they might not fully capture the nuanced motivations behind customer actions.

Conclusion: Sometimes one can predict future behaviour based on current behaviour. However, identifying the key behaviours requires extensive testing and interpretation. They may tell you WHAT consumers do but not WHY, and knowing the WHY is the key to predicting future consumer behaviour.

4. Interpreting Ambiguous Information

This method involves presenting participants with ambiguous stimuli and asking them to interpret it. Techniques like the Rorschach inkblot test or vignette measures (incomplete stories that participants must complete) can reveal underlying attitudes that might not be accessible through direct questioning.

Such partially structured methods tap into deeper cognitive and emotional processes, offering a richer understanding of attitudes. However, interpreting the results requires a high level of expertise in psychology, which can be a barrier for some businesses.

Conclusion: There may be more than one interpretation from a single response. These may even predict opposite things about behaviour.

5. Implicit Response Methods

Implicit response methods, such as the Implicit Association Test (IAT) or affective priming tests, measure attitudes based on performance in objective tasks. These methods are cost-effective, and are particularly useful when respondents either won’t say or can’t honestly or accurately describe their true feelings.

When Respondents Won’t Say:

Sensitive Issues: Respondents might feel embarrassed or uncomfortable answering sensitive questions directly.

Hidden True Feelings: Respondents might intentionally hide their true feelings, either due to social pressures or personal reasons.

When Respondents Can’t Say:

Difficulty in Verbal Expression: Some attitudes and feelings are hard to articulate, either because of their complexity or because the respondent lacks self-awareness.

Habitual Behaviours: Behaviours that are routine and automatic can be difficult to justify and explain.

Implicit measures bypass these challenges, offering a more accurate reflection of true attitudes. This objective approach is supported by research, which suggests that there are often weak correlations between self-reported attitudes and actual behaviours (Vardy & Fardell, 2022; af Wåhlberg, 2009).

Conclusion: Implicit reaction tests are objective and dig into the drivers of purchase decisions, hence they give a better read-out of WHY consumers do what they do. Within an intelligently designed experiment, implicit response testing can make accurate predictions about consumer behaviour.

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The Value of Understanding Attitudes

Conducting market research helps to accurately uncover your customer’s wants and needs. It can assess how well a brand meets those needs compared to competitors and make better predictions about future consumer decisions. By using advanced techniques, such as segmentation and persona development, and with the help of AI, brands can tailor their marketing efforts to resonate with specific consumer segments. Instead of wasting time and money relying on hunches, research can help you validate your communications – such as your taglines, imagery, packaging, and ads – by testing them on your audience. This ensures they resonate effectively before spending time and money launching them.

Narrowing the Truth Gap

Surveys requiring subjective responses are popular due to their ease and cost-effectiveness. However, their reliability can be questionable, particularly when dealing with sensitive or complex attitudes. Advanced market research techniques, such as IRT, provide a more robust alternative, yielding more accurate and useful insights.

At Split Second Research, we provide market research with neuromarketing elements to dig deeper into consumers’ brains, often described as the “secret weapon” of big brands. Household names including Coca-Cola, Danone, Nando’s, BBC, ITV, Chanel, and many more have trusted us to deliver accurate, actionable insights.

Find out more about our research methods and services here.



Janette L Vardy, Joanna Fardell, Understanding Longitudinal Changes in Cognitive Function in Lymphoma Patients: Where to Next?, JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Volume 114, Issue 1, January 2022, Pages 3–4,

af Wåhlberg, A. (2009). Driver Behaviour and Accident Research Methodology. Ashgate Publishing Limited.

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