Psychological stress or growth will determine post-pandemic consumer behaviour

In the wake of COVID-19, research in the field of cognitive neuroscience may provide some helpful pointers on how consumer behaviour will evolve.

  • Neuroscience and psychological science is pointing the way towards longer term changes in consumer behaviour.
  • As the world continues to adapt to a post-pandemic environment, recent experiences and behavioural adaptations will continue to forge lasting changes on our brains.
  • Brands that make it easy to create new routines and embed themselves into consumers’ lives when habits and rituals are malleable, are likely to acquire competitive advantage.

Read the full article here (if you are a WARC subscriber)

Or request a pdf of the full article by completing the contact form here

Split Second Research making news in Brazil

Jornal da Globo, the largest commercial TV network in Brazil, reported on Split Second Research’s study on personal debt. The survey was conducted in partnership with Serasa on how people are coping financially during the pandemic. Using explicit and implicit measures, it focused on which bills people are prioritising. Below is the link to the report.

82% say they will have difficulty paying bills (Serasa / Split Second)

https://lnkd.in/d76Aggz

What post-COVID-19 new normality may look like and why many have already started their market research to find out

A recent YouGov survey indicated that only about 1 in 10 Britons want to return to life as normal. Indeed, as virtually everyone has been affected by COVID-19 I think we are all aware by now that when the lockdown is over the new ‘normal’ will be very different to the pre-virus normality.

It is clear that there will be, and indeed as we are currently seeing, many personal and social changes, and these are sure to influence consumers in the long run. The message here is that brands need to understand these changes and their likely effects on their business, so they can better plan for the demands in the new normality.

Change would occur for two main reasons. Firstly, having experienced such a dramatic change in our lives, we have been exposed to new or at least different set of circumstances and these have subjected us to new ideas, new brands, products and services, and new ways of seeing the same things. Secondly, we learned that those with underlying health conditions were more likely to become seriously ill, so in anticipation of this happening again in the future, people will want to feel healthier and better able to cope. It is not just governments who will have learned an important lesson about preparedness for such a crisis, we too as individuals, as families, as colleagues, and as neighbours will want to be better prepared.

So, the obvious prediction I have heard several times is an increase in healthier foods, especially foods aimed at being preventative. I have to say, though, that I did notice some of the healthier foods (fresh fruit and vegetables, and especially the organic ones) were not the first items to run out in the supermarket during the panic buying. Instead, ready meals, like pizza, tinned soups, tomato ketchup, and fizzy drinks were first to go. There is too the perceptions that items that fit into the luxury category were less needed and not essential.

“It’s strange how the economy is about to collapse because people are only buying what they need…”

– a meme that did the rounds on social media around 14th April.

Some consumer behaviour is unlikely to change. For example, our need for basic foods, such as dairy products, rice, pasta, bread, fresh fruit and vegetables will continue pretty much as they did before, but our relationship with them and especially the way we consume these products may change. We may see an increase in consumption of foods that have a longer shelf life, such as tinned and frozen foods. We may find more people baking their own bread or certainly preparing their own food rather than buying pre-prepared meals. Hence, we may see a surge in home baking materials (these were some of the first products to be sold out during the earlier days when panic buying was prevalent). Moreover, we may witness a strong ‘grow-your-own’ trend, with people turning the lawned area of their garden into a vegetable patch.

Or will we? The opposite is also possible. After being cooped-up for several months we may see a drive towards prepared foods, pre-cooked meals, takeaways, and of course eating in restaurants, as people grasp the opportunity to be waited on. A good example of this is when New Zealand eased the lockdown and everyone flocked to McDonalds, which soon ran out of products. What was once taken for granted becomes a forgotten but revisited pleasure.

Will we see indulgence on a sudden intense scale? It reminds me of that YouTube video of a herd of cows jumping for joy in the field having been cooped up in the barn over the winter. Yet this may be countered by the surge in unemployment and lack of spending power that may exist. Many businesses and even famous household brand names will be lost, especially those with products and services that were overly dependent on face-to-face contact and travel, such as high street shops, tourism and related industries. Those with an online presence were better able to adapt. It shows that businesses always need to be adaptive and resourceful and less reliant on a single product or one specific way of delivering their product.

The before-after aerial images of China and Italy have brought home the dramatic influence of human activity on the environmental pollution. We have also seen images in the media of animals roaming deserted city streets. Will this raise environmental consciousness? Will people seek more locally sourced food and products? Will people choose more local destinations for their holidays? Or will we behave like those unleashed herds of cows and visit places we have yet to tick off from our bucket list, so making up for lost time?

Having discovered that much of their workforce are able to work from home quite successfully, we may see companies encouraging this more and so reducing their overheads, or at least to free up crowded offices. Consequently, city centres may become less busy and the beleaguered high street may suffer further. Online entertainment services like Netflix and game apps have flourished during the lockdown. In the new normality, home entertainments may become more attractive and less expensive than the cinemas, theatres, rock venues, and so on. Yet, having been deprived of rock concerts, sports, and other community events, people may flock to them in unmanageable numbers.

It raises the question of which industries will see a huge and dramatic increase in demand and which will see a continued decline. There may be two responses to social isolation, one inhibited like newly released prisoners unable to cope with too much stimuli in their environment or the newly freed herd of cows jumping for joy in the field. People the world over have been traumatised. People cope with trauma in different ways. Many have enjoyed mutual support from, and a greater reliance on friends, family and neighbours. In many cases these would have strengthened our relationships, while others would have had their weaknesses exposed. We may also value resilience more, and as individuals strive to become more resilient. So, people may explore activities and events related to self-improvement rather than seeking to be ‘merely’ entertained. We may also come to rely less on gurus, prophets, or celebrity commentators, and more on expertise and science-based decision making.

“In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to”

– Lawrence H. Gerstein, Director, Center for Peace and Conflict Studies https://www.bsu.edu/academics/centersandinstitutes/peace/outreach-and-services/covid-19-peaceful-strategies

Aside from the obvious changes, such as fewer cash transactions, the end of hand-shaking, a new trend in fashionable masks, more online shopping, and a greater value for those in essential occupations, there will be other changes that we cannot predict with any degree of accuracy so soon unless we begin to ask those questions. Which products and services will see a burst of new demand and which will struggle? How should businesses adapt to the new normality in their sector?

It reminds me of that feeling we call ‘pins and needles’ – when our arm has ‘gone to sleep’ and feeling suddenly returns (translation). As the nerves in our arm receive new blood supply, so they make their presence known, and it hurts! So, too for some industries as demand dramatically increases, if they are not prepared for it, it could be very painful and a lost opportunity. So doing their market research now will pay dividends later. For other brands and services where demand will wane, they need to do their research now to understand how they can best adapt to what the consumer will want in the new normality.

In trying to understand the impact of the pandemic on consumer behaviour in the surveys we have been conducting, we have developed a scale to measure coronavirus-induced anxiety. It has thrown new light on the differences between those with low and high anxiety and how they behave as consumers. Several of our surveys have revealed that natural worriers and those who worry about coronavirus more than most, evaluate brands, products and services in many different ways to those who seldom worry, and this has important implications for businesses.

Finally, as a psychologist I’ve been interested and concerned about how those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have reacted to the pandemic. One feature of OCD is a fear of contamination and many of their symptoms are a response to this, such as regular hand washing, keeping a distance from other people, not touching door handles and the like, holding their breath when someone sneezes, and similar, all to reduce the chances of becoming contaminated with a disease. These are the very behaviours that everyone has been encouraged to adopt. It seems that those with contamination OCD were right all along and have just been waiting for the rest of the world to play catch up! So, ironically, while therapists have been trying to use exposure therapy to help recovery from contamination OCD (by showing that exposure to the source of the fear does not result in negative consequences), the pandemic has rewarded their behaviour and their fears. In this article, we have only been able to touch on a handful of potential personal and social changes, and how these may influence consumers in the long run. Brands really need to understand these changes right now so they can better plan for the demands in the new normality.

Get in touch with our specialists now via our contact form.

Featured image and these photos by Damien Heweston Photography
https://www.facebook.com/DamienHewetsonPhotography

Don’t shelve your market research, get testing online

Business continuity during these unusual times

With social distancing and community lock-down, face-to-face research is becoming near impossible to do.

Online market research can be the perfect solution when focus groups or other central location testing methods are not possible.

Yes, these are strange times, but they do not mean that you have to abandon that piece of research you were planning, whether it is to validate your new design or identify how your brand positions against your competitors. If you are looking for an effective alternative to face-to-face research, online surveys can provide insights that are equally as good, if not better. The benefits of online research are many:

  • Data collection can be very quick – it is very common to fill your quotas within a day or so
  • Analysis can be done in real-time – you can preview the charts during the survey and then as soon as the target sample is reached
  • The flow of the survey can be controlled programmatically so that you can link in different kinds of questions and tools, whether these are qualitative, quantitative, or neuro-implicit methods
  • You can screen in your desired target group and screen the rest out
  • Online research is much cheaper to do than in a central location – respondent costs are much lower. A large sample size of respondents from the general population, for example, is very inexpensive
  • There are many techniques to identify low quality responses –for example, those who chose the same response or make poor or no discrimination at all – and we can report these to panel providers, so they are alerted to such people
  • There are many techniques to detect inattention and poor engagement – trick questions, rewording a question and checking for consistency, lie scales, and so on
  • Nearly everyone has access to the internet these days, and typically on a desktop computer or smartphone – online research can be device-agnostic
  • Online surveys have the advantage of randomization – the order of questions, the order of answer options, and the order of survey parts, can all be randomized or rotated. This reduces any bias caused by order effects
  • Rapid download speeds mean that these days, respondents can assess video ads in their own home, they can evaluate lots of images, it is also possible to simulate out-of-home experiences, simulate engaging with a product, and testing respondents in situations where you mimic some aspect of consumer behavior, such as the effects of in-store promotions

Used in conjunction with implicit response testing, online research can provide deeper insights than methods such as focus groups and interviews. When done correctly, they can reveal not only what consumers want to tell you but also what they can’t tell you and what is going on subconsciously – what they know intuitively but are unable to verbalize it. 

How does online research work?

Respondent Journey / Survey Flow

In a typical online survey, researchers use recruitment agencies who have hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life on their books. These ‘members’ are given a unique identification number or ID and have signed up to do market research in return for a fee or other reward. When a new survey becomes available, members with suitable demographics receive an email inviting them to the survey. When a respondent joins a survey, they are only known by their ID. To be sure that they are right for the survey, they are asked questions about their demographics. Those with the same demographics as those being targeted, qualify for the research. Those without the desired demographics are politely screened out.

Surveys can include qualitative elements, in the form of open-ended questions, or even through voice recordings if they give permission, as well as traditional quantitative questions (rating scales, multiple-choice, drag and drop, ranking questions, and so on).

Split Second Research also specialises in implicit response testing, a way of finding out how consumers feel objectively, without asking questions directly. Speed of response to flashing words and images can reveal how they feel about products, brands, or services. These response testing techniques, also known as IATs or IRTs, have a long history in cognitive psychology. IRTs can provide brand managers with reasons why consumers are interested or disinterested in their brand. In fact, a typical IRT provides around 30 of such reasons, and these are in the form of ‘attributes’ – they may indicate for example that your brand is perceived as high quality, very reliable, strongly family-orientated (and so on) but not perceived as trend setting or sufficiently authentic.

Respondents who successfully manage to complete the survey are redirected to the recruiter’s website which logs their ID, and their account is credited with a reward. While respondents come into the test, the screener makes a count of the number of respondents who have completed the survey and closes once the target has been reached. Quantitative data can be analysed within a few hours, and implicit data can be previewed online in real time. Qualitative data usually requires analysis later, often involving human interpretation.

Split Second Research has expertise in all of these areas and our team is ready to help in these unusual times. Thanks for reading and stay safe.

Get in touch with our specialists now via our contact form.

Call for Submissions Shopper Brain Conference

The Shopper Brain Conference is an international event on neuromarketing and behavioral science in retail. It is well received by shopper marketers and consumer insights professionals around the globe. Due to happen in 2020, and now scheduled for 2021, this unique event will be in Dublin.

If you like to share some Shopper Insights from the brain, please submit your speaking proposal.

Introducing our new neural network platform – EmNet

As I have a background in neural networks (I completed my PhD at the Neural Systems Engineering Lab at Imperial College London), I have for some time known that neural networks could be used to make sense of consumer data and give rise to predictions and insights that have been so far unavailable.

Artificial neural networks and implicit reaction time tests are based on the very same assumptions about how the brain processes information – that many of these processes are associative. For consumer scientists this means that perception of a product or service is a composite of every- thing that we have come to associate with it, from adverts to word-of-mouth, to direct experience with consuming the product or using the service, and that such memories are activated in the brain, though most often do not reach conscious registration. It is not a coincidence that the same principles that underlie deep neural networks are the same that underlie implicit response testing.

At Split Second Research we have created EmNet a neural network platform that enables us to dive deeper into market research data. The platform enables us to understand purchase drivers more deeply by mapping brand values (in the form of reaction times or explicit choices) to behavioural ‘outcomes’ towards the brand, (such as purchase intent, willingness to recommend, and so on) as well as explore the relationships between brand values in order to understand different kinds of purchasing decisions.

We simply upload the responses from a survey into the platform, make a few selections based on the kind of network we want to produce, and within just a minute or so it produces outputs that show relations between the concepts we are testing in the survey and salient features in the data. We are currently offering this service free with every survey we are commissioned to undertake. We also offer this service to other agencies who have data they want to analyse using a machine learning approach.

We already have some interesting case studies which we have put together with a description of EmNet (with a brief introduction to neural networks). This six-page report can be obtained on request via the contact form.

Split Second Research Scoops Up Two David Ogilvy Awards

Split Second Research, with Edelman Intelligence and Hewlett Packard, took two awards at the ARF David Ogilvy Awards, September 2019.

We won GOLD in the category TECH & COMMUNICATIONS (beating Twitter and Samsung), and SILVER in the category DATA INNOVATION.

The aim of the marketing campaign was to reinforce HP’s leadership in diversity and inclusion. The goal of the research was to understand what Americans from all walks of life associate at conscious and unconscious levels with “The All American Family” . HP wanted to raise awareness that printed photographs have a powerful impact and are still relevant in today’s digital world.

With Edelman Intelligence, Split Second Research designed an implicit test with images of families that varied by their ethnicity, sexual orientation, presence of children, and number of parents. It assessed the extent to which an unconscious bias existed in their associations with what represents and “All American Family” and what does not.

The key finding was that “75% of respondents picture an all-American family as a white mom, dad and kids. However, census data tells us that in reality, only 25% of families match that portrait.”

The research inspired a marketing campaign that has helped HP achieve double digit growth in the quarter immediately following the campaign.

Read the case study here.

How does an implicit reaction time test work?

The commercial test is itself based on the evaluative priming paradigm in academic research (e.g., Fazio, et al., 1986)1. The first phase of the test is to detect target emotion words as belonging to either one category (e.g., Happy) or another (e.g., Sad).  On each trial in this first phase, the word appears and the respondent has to press one key for happy words and another key for sad words. This is a very easy task, and respondents can do this very quickly with few errors.

In the second phase, the task is the same but the target emotion words are preceded very briefly by ‘primes’. These primes are either congruent with the target word (the prime is Joy when the target is Happy, or the prime is Gloomy when the target is Sad) or incongruent (the prime is Gloomy when the target is Happy, or the prime is Joy when the target is Sad). So on some trials the respondent might see the word Joy flash on the screen followed by Happy. They respond to the second word by pressing a key for happy words. The task can be performed quicker and with fewer errors in this case because the prime and the target are congruent. On other trials, the word Gloomy is flashed on the screen followed by Happy. This time, because Gloomy and Happy are incongruent, respondents are a little slower to detect Happy in their key press. The response may be slower by only a split second, yet when repeated over several trials and over many respondents, it would become ‘statistically significant’.

So let’s take this test into the commercial arena. The primes might be the same (Joy and Gloomy) but this time the targets could be Adidas and Nike. Respondents who have a strong preference for Adidas over Nike are likely to be quicker to respond to Joy > Adidas than Joy > Nike, and quicker to respond to Joy > Adidas than Gloomy > Adidas.

In implicit response testing, we broaden the primes to refelct attributes related to brand equity, such as Trusted, Modern, Friendly, Cool, and so on. The targets can be more than just brands, and can be pack designs, celebrities, claims, and so on.

In fact, there is not only one type of implicit test but several, with each being designed to measure a specific aspect of consumer evaluation, such as ad testing, pack testing, claims testing, NPD testing, celebrity endorsement testing, as well as brand positioning.

1Fazio, R. H., Sanbonmatsu, D. M., Powell, M. C., & Kardes, F. R. (1986). On the automatic activation of attitudes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 229–238. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.50.2.229

Price promotions: More than you bargained for?

Dr Eamon Fulcher, CEO & Co-founder, Split Second Research.

Everyone, so it seems, loves a bargain. But all bargains may not be equal. A price discount on a single item may be perceived differently from a unit offer, such as buy one get one free, and differently from a free gift with every purchase kind of offer. Just which kind of offer is best for a particular brand or market category is the subject of ongoing research from Split Second Research. Although offers can clearly push sales, the fear is that they will adversely affect perception of the brand, as the consumer comes to question aspects such as its quality, reliability, trustworthiness, premiumness, and other attributes.

One way to avoid this is to give a well-accepted motivation for the offer, such as the end of the season, a few days after a festive period, when signing up for a store card, giving  discount for purchasing online, and so on. One interesting question is whether promotional offers on luxury goods has any negative impact on the brands. The idea of say, a price discount seems incompatible with the notion of premium or luxury. So for example, the common promotional mechanisms of ‘half price’ and ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ would seem unsuited to brands such as Rolex, Calvin Klein, and so on. It would make common sense that widening the availability of luxury goods through such offers could devalue its brand equity.

However, hard research on this issue is difficult to find, and the little research that has addressed this issue has used traditional survey methods, such as asking consumers whether they would buy certain products under specific promotions. Inviting respondents to offer their own verbalised opinions may not provide us with the full picture because of the several biases inherent in the subjective approach in traditional methods. This may therefore not help us fully understand how they behave in-store. Market research is moving in the direction of using objective methods as an addition to the traditional methods in measuring emotional and non-conscious responses to brand propositions to increase the odds of predicting purchasing intention and behaviour.

Split Second Research recently carried out a study to examine the relationship between a price promotion and premiumness. The focus of interest was in whether the impact of a promotion on brand perception is the same for a premium product as it is for a basic or standard product; also, whether such promotions affect loyal consumers differently to considerers of the brand (those who have not bought but would consider buying) and lapsed customers of the brand (those who have bought but would no longer intend to buy).

Luxury is…

Luxury signals at least one of these: (1) social status – a luxury product is one to be seen with, (2) high quality – a product made with expensive materials or designed by a renowned expert, (3) rarity – a product is made exclusively or is naturally in short supply, (4) emotional engagement – the product gives pleasure and satisfies some aspect of hedonism, (5) aspiration – by acquiring something premium we get a taste for luxury and social status, and aspire to getting more, and of course (6) price – luxury items can be several multiples of the price of a basic or standard item in the category.

Putting a luxury item on offer may affect some or all of these, such as reducing its desirability, raising concerns about its quality (a ‘bad batch’), and reducing its sense of exclusivity. For example, research by Zoellner and Schaefers (2015) shows that luxury goods can be negatively impacted by a price promotion (though they can be resilient to promotional mechanisms involving free gifts and loyalty program benefits).

Some brand categories are exclusively premium but many brands offer their products in both premium and basic forms. In this study we chose toilet tissue as it is one such product category. We also chose it because the luxury range is within the reach of most consumers and therefore allows us to draw comparisons between the two. A quick search for “Toilet tissue” on Tesco online makes one realise what a fiercely competitive category it is.

A search on 9th June 2019 returned six brands (Cushelle, Andrex, Sofcell, Renova, Tesco Spring Force, and Tesco Luxury Soft), seven colours (white, cream, pink, peach, light green, and even red or blue), six sizes (4, 6, 9, 12, 16, or 24 rolls in a pack), rolls of different sizes (160, 180, or 200 sheets per roll, different sheets sizes (120mm x 103mm versus 124mm x 103mm versus 118mm x 104.5mm, etc), and with different formulations (2 ply tissue, quilted, special cleaning extracts, such as, aloe vera, chamomile, and shea butter). Some were even 100% recycled (Husted, Russo & Meza, 2014 found that shoppers may buy more for environmentally friendly products, including toilet tissue). Out-of-pocket ranged from £1.00 to £9.45 and cost per 100 sheets ranged from 12p to 43p.

All in all, the consumer is offered a complex mix of options. Add a number of promotional mechanisms to this mix and the range of choices becomes even more diverse. Of course, the larger quantities are implicit promotions – Tesco Luxury Soft White in 4 rolls is 20p per 100 sheets or 47.5p per roll (for a spend of £1.90), and in 24 rolls is 15p per sheet or 33.3p per roll (for a spend of £8.00). So, if the consumer can cover the out-of-pocket of the larger quantity then the saving is 14.2p per roll or £3.41.

Clearly in-store or online, shoppers do not spend the time making such calculations and will use general rules-of-thumb (mental algorithms) and biases. Example rules-of-thumb are:

  • The more quantity one buys the lower the unit price (though not always)
  • The lower the price the lower the quality (though not always) The use of the registered trademark symbol implies greater quality and higher cost
  • Quilted is more expensive than standard 2 ply
  • Tesco home brand will be cheaper than the market leader, and so on.

Given the complex problem the consumer has in determining the best buy for their needs, they may come to rely heavily on rules-of-thumb, intuitive responses, as well as buying habit.

The study

The Split Second Research team recruited 500 respondents through CINT an online consumer survey panel in the UK. Respondents were put through stringent screening tests before qualifying for the main study. As the main study used implicit response priming, the qualifying test included testing their reaction times to a specific criterion that ensured responses would be reliable in the main test. Of the 500 who entered the survey, 390 qualified for the survey proper.

In the first phase of the main study, the brand logos of Tesco Luxury Soft, Tesco Basic, Andrex (premium), and Sofcell (basic) toilet tissue were presented in a rapid implicit reaction time test with five attributes. This enabled us to obtain brand profiles on the attributes, trusted, value for money, favourite, popular, and reliable. These attributes were used as these were the purchase drivers in this category discovered from previous research carried out by Split Second Research. A traditional survey questions was applied to determine respondent purchasing behaviour. This has also enabled us to classify respondents as either Tesco customers/loyals (n = 250), Tesco considerers (n = 50), Tesco lapsed (n = 30), or Tesco rejecters (n = 160).

Results

Profiles of each product and for each of the four consumer groups are shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Profiles obtained from implicit response testing among Tesco customers, Tesco lapsed, Tesco considerers, and Tesco rejecters. Note: the vertical axis shows the strength of associations between the attributes and the products.

Some key observations from this analysis are: Tesco Luxury Soft has a very strong profile among Tesco customers who feel more favourable to this product than the other three on all attributes, except they feel just as strong towards Andrex on value for money and favourite. Andrex has a stronger profile for Tesco lapsed and Tesco rejecters, especially on trusted, favourite, and reliable. Remarkably, Tesco considerers feel more positive towards Tesco Luxury Soft than they do towards the other three products, but this is the least favoured product among Tesco rejecters. Tesco rejecters prefer Andrex, especially on value for money. An important learning here is that a product does not necessarily need to be less expensive in order to be perceived as value for money. Similarly, a basic product is not necessarily perceived as less reliable than a premium one. Respondents were then exposed to the same products under a price promotion equivalent for all four. The promotion was a price-off and was calculated as a percentage but shown as an amount discounted. We then measured implicit reactions to the products on offer using an identical implicit reaction time test as in the first phase. The aim was to understand how feelings to the brands would change now that they are on offer. Respondents were primed to thinking about the offers in this second phase, in the sense that they were invited to study the offers and to state explicitly which offers were most appealing before completing the implicit tests. The results are shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Profiles obtained from implicit response testing among Tesco customers, Tesco lapsed, Tesco considerers, and Tesco rejecters on price-off promotions.

Tesco Luxury Soft under a price-off appear to be detrimental for Tesco loyals with association scores dropping from an average of 70 to an average of 50 (a fall of 28%). Yet, would appear very attractive for Tesco considerers and Tesco rejecters, with increased association averages of +40% and +77%, respectively. So the potential of using this promotion as a tool for penetration is clear. Although the Tesco basic product can drive penetration to Tesco rejecters (perception up by +14%), it would do so at the expense of reduced perception among Tesco loyals (-16%), Tesco lapsed (-21%), and Tesco considerers (-19%). Perhaps the greatest potential for penetration would be the discount offer on Andrex, which yielded increases in positive feelings for Tesco lapsed (+16%), Tesco considerers (+51%), and Tesco rejecters (+18%).

To summarise, for the current set of brands and in consideration of a single type of offer, there is little evidence that volume or frequency of purchase can be positively affected but very good evidence of potential for penetration for Tesco Luxury Soft, dependent upon effective communication of the promotion which needs to reach those considering a visit to store. Merging the luxury products and the basic products, we find that the basic products gain in perceived value for money but lose on trust, popularity, and reliability, while the luxury products gain in perceived value for money and as a favoured product but lose a little on reliability (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. How perception of basic and luxury products can change as a result of a price promotion.

Take-aways and further research

This research revealed that the use of indirect, implicit measures can be used to capture a range of feelings towards brands. It found that Tesco Luxury Soft generated the strongest positive feelings especially as a trusted product among the respondents tested by Split Second Research. It found that those who do not shop at Tesco (Tesco lapsed and Tesco rejecters) feel stronger towards Andrex than any of the other three products.

The research also showed that implicit response methods can measure feelings towards promotional offers. For example, for Tesco’s loyal customers, there was no evidence that a price discount on any of these four products would yield increases in purchase frequency or volume. However, for those considering shopping at Tesco, the Tesco Luxury Soft product has the potential to penetrate this group as their feelings towards this offer were especially strong. Similarly the offer on Andrex has substantial potential to drive penetration.

The overall pattern was that for basic/standard products, the discounted price decreased perception of the product (especially in terms of trust and reliability), whilst for luxury products the discounted price increased the perception of the product (especially in terms of perceived value for money).

This research demonstrates that understanding how shoppers will respond to a promotion is not immediately obvious. Split Second’s previous research has also shown that different types of offers can be perceived in completely different ways (Fulcher, 2018). There is therefore considerable scope for examining other types of offers (percentage discount versus £x price off, volume discounts, pick and mix promos, value added promos, loyalty offers, and so on), different types of products based on shelf life, or food versus health versus house and home, seasonal products versus everyday essentials, and store location, such as end of isle versus on-shelf versus near the check-out versus near the entrance. Split Second Research’s insight is that the type of promotion that will yield the best results in terms of frequency and volume of sales will be very different depending upon various combinations of the above.

References

Fulcher, E (2018).  Neuro-offers: The effect of in-store offers on brand values. Published on LinkedIn August 6. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/neuropricing-effect-in-store-offers-brand-values-dr-eamon-fulcher/

Husted, BW, Russo, MV, and Meza, CEB (2014). An exploratory study of environmental attitudes and the willingness to pay. Journal of Business, 67, 891-899.

Zoellner, F and Schaefers, T (2015). Do price promotions help or hurt premium-product brands? Journal of Advertising Research, 55, 270-283.

The role of working memory in intentions to purchase: A case study on menu design

Of all the marketing decisions that fast food restaurants face, the design of the menu is not often thought to be the most important. Yet, the constraints on the design of a menu are numerous and often pull in opposite directions. A menu has to (1) display the range of meals on offer, including starters, mains, side dishes, desserts, and drinks, (2) arrange items in categories (e.g., meat versus fish dishes, vegetarian options, kids deals, etc), (3) display the name of the item and a short description, (4) display quantity and price, (5) display dietary information, such as the number of calories, relevant to specific allergies, and so on. It also needs to be clear enough to direct attention to ‘favourites’ or a ‘meal-of-the-day’, to be easy to read, such that one can find something at-a-glance, to convey the brand values, and after all this is needs to be visually pleasing. 

One has to balance the desire for the menu to look appealing while at the same time display sufficient information to meet the needs of different customers. The danger is on the one hand creating something that looks like a beautiful work of art but which conveys too little, while on the other hand presenting something that looks like an Excel spreadsheet. 

Menu Design
Menu Design

When a menu contains too much information, it puts a significant strain on decision making

We were recently commissioned by a fast food company in the US to evaluate several menu designs that could meet this challenge. This is a fast food chain that is especially popular during lunchtimes and among local office workers, where most purchases are takeaways. According to the brief, one of the key problems was the build-up of a queue backlog during peak times. This was not necessarily due to shortage of staff or slowness of the delivery process, but more often caused by the amount of time it took customers to choose their meal. So the solution was to design a new menu board that would cover all of the needs described above, but at the same time help customers in the queue make quicker decisions. The creative team produced six main design themes, based firstly on aesthetics and then on the information conveyed through different kinds of layouts.

To evaluate the visual appeal of the designs we applied our IMPRESS platform, which was designed to deploy and analyse implicit reaction time tests rapidly. This test is used to provide a profile of a design based on a range of attributes, and in this case 30 relevant attributes. By careful selection of attributes it is possible to identify the strengths and weaknesses of a design (and how well each delivers the brand’s values) without directly asking respondents. As has been well documented elsewhere, traditional methods of gathering consumer evaluations over-rely on subjective views and there are several problems with this. Firstly, respondents may only be consciously aware of global and generalised feelings, but not more specific feelings. It has been argued that self-knowledge is often based on trying to rationalise one’s own behaviour, rather than by having a ‘privileged access’ into one’s deeper feelings. Attitudes and feelings can hence be very difficult to identify and put into words. Secondly, respondents may try to appear consistent in their responses. This results in poor discrimination as they assign all of their positive evaluations to the brand they prefer the most and all of the negative evaluations to the brand they prefer the least. Yet in reality, consumers often feel ambivalent towards brands and without a detailed, more discriminative response, a brand will never know its genuine strengths and weaknesses. A third problem with relying on subjective methods is that respondents may deliberately try to hide their feelings. This can happen when one is asking about certain behaviours that might be embarrassing, illegal, or socially less acceptable, or even if respondents want to hide their feelings for no obvious reason other than they just do not want to divulge the information.

Done properly, implicit reaction time tests abstract how a respondent feels about the design, brand, and packaging and so on without directly asking them. By presenting words and images on the screen very rapidly and requiring a quick response, it is possible to infer how they feel towards the brand. For this project, we employed our implicit test on each design and on regular customers, lapsed customers, and considerers.

The question concerning how menu information can be presented to maximise customer decisions required us to consider a range of candidate tests. One of the advantages of employing a team of experienced psychologists and neuroscientists is that they have familiarity with a range of cognitive tests, and so they are not restricted to the set of tools most often used in neuromarketing but open to scores of tests used in academia but which can have direct use in consumer research. For this, we identified a scientifically validated test of working memory. The logic for using this test is this:

Imagine that you have entered a restaurant you have never visited before. You are in the queue, unsure what you want, but your turn to order is rapidly approaching. You look at the menu board. There are so many options…you’re studying the menu board but it looks too much like an Excel spreadsheet. You consider one option and all it has to offer (a brief description, the quantity, its price, the number of calories), and then a second, but by the time you have considered option two, you have forgotten the first. You commit to an option, it might not be your ideal, but at least you got through the ordeal.

From a psychological viewpoint, we would argue that a poorly organised menu board will put a strain on working memory. This aspect of memory deals with immediate information that needs to be stored over the short-term. Examples, would be a shopping list held in memory, or a list of drinks ordered for you and your friends you store mentally as you wait to be served at a bar. Working memory has a fixed capacity and people differ in their working memory capacity – some people can easily recall a dozen or so items in the short term, while others have problems with more than three or so. The way information is presented can also impose limits working memory. Menu boards can differ in how well they support working memory. A poorly designed memory board places severe constraints on one’s working memory capacity, leading to problems in making a decision. A well organised menu board can make use of a person’s optimal working memory capacity. While there are some general rules about how to optimise working memory, not all of these are relevant to menu board design. So the method here was to test six layouts to identify the limits of working memory capacity for each design.

Menu boards consisted of four main sections. Each section was re-created using two different designs. This means that the total number of configurations was sixteen, meaning that one could create sixteen unique menu boards from these designs. However, for the client, several of these were ruled out due certain considerations (i.e., a mix of aesthetics and functionality). Hence we tested eight configurations implicitly and in terms of their effects on working memory. After an initial pilot phase, a further two configurations were ruled out and we subsequently tested four configurations in the implicit and working memory tests.

The sample was drawn from brand-aware respondents in the US, split into regular users, occasional users and light users. They evaluated each design on 30 attributes that covered the features and benefit of the brand, in an implicit test. We were then able to provide profiles of each menu design which quantifies the strengths and weaknesses of each.

In the next phase respondents took the working memory test which was similar to the change blindness method. Images were presented in quick succession and respondents had to press one of two keys, depending upon whether they thought the image was the same or different. A correct response occurs when the respondent detect a change or correctly detects no change and indicates good working memory. An incorrect response means the change was either missed or thought to be present when it wasn’t (false alarm) and indicates poor working memory.

For each menu element, we computed the probability of correct recall, hence in our data we had recall scores for 1, 2, and 3 items for each menu design, as well as an overall recall score for each design. Results for all sample (weighted), see below. The data shows that even when there is only one item, responses are not 100% correct, reflecting the difficulty of memorising menu items in the short term. This ability declines when there are two items, and falls even further with three items. In fact, for Menu Boards 4 and 6, recall is less than 50% with three items. Menu Boards 1 and 3 were significantly better in aiding working memory. Looking at the implicit data, Menu Board 6 was very clearly least able to deliver the brand values, whereas as Menu Boards 3 and 4 strongly delivered brand values around health and customer service, as well as purchase intent and advocacy, with menu Board 1 lagging behind these two.


Results of the working memory test. Probability of correct recall for each menu board containing 1, 2 or 3 menu items.

Results of the implicit test. Implicit association scores computed as an Association Index (%).

An important insight here is that a menu board design that visually delivers brand values may not be the best in terms of being easy to use at a functional level. If one wishes to prefer the design that is most congruent with the brand values then one could choose Menu Board 3 or 4. However, Menu Board 1 clearly works better at optimising working memory. Menu Board 3 may be the preferred option since it balances both constraints.

Further analysis revealed differences in both tests between males and females, between customers with varying frequency of visit, and between different age groups. For example, and as expected, the older group performed worse on the working memory test and the youngest group performed the best. It was interesting to note that high frequency visitors performed less well on the working memory test than did low frequency visitors, which is surprising given their greater familiarity (presumably) with the menu items. However, this may even be a symptom of the difficulties the company were having with the previous design, meaning that due to the difficulties in choosing from the menu, high frequency customers may habitually buy the same option. The more optimal design may therefore encourage their loyal customers to explore the range of options being offered.

Armed with this information, the company then chose the top design in the knowledge that it can drive the brand image whilst at the same time working as a functional, easier to use menu board. In addition, the company used the data gathered to optimise the design further by using learnings regarding individual components of the full set of designs.

The study shows what can be achieved by using a combination of objective psychological tests. Rather than simply invite consumers to state their preferences, these methods allow us to dig deeper and find a more optimal solution. The research shows that the many constraints put on menu design need to be researched objectively if the menu is to deliver its purpose effectively.

Of course, working memory is involved in many consumer activities, not just studying a menu. It is at work on the shelf in the supermarket, in fact in any shopper situation where comparisons of goods or offers are being made. Working memory is the hub through which all sensory stimuli are processed and integrated (consciously and unconsciously) with knowledge, beliefs, and intuitions. Its role in consumer psychology has only very recently been a subject of academic research. For brands, researching how their products are stored in working memory and how accessible they are, is crucial for a deeper understanding of the decisions made at various touchpoints, especially the intention to make a purchase.

Dr Eamon Fulcher, May 2019

Featured image by Waqas Saeed @waqart

© 2016-2020: SPLIT SECOND RESEARCH, All Rights Reserved | Developed by: Split Second Software Services Corporation