By Alexander Shashkin
As we know, people do not always do what they say. This is especially true for online behavior. Together with the fact that people do not remember what they do online, this does not allow us to use traditional research methods to understand how people choose and buy products in the internet.
Passive behavioral data help to overcome this difficulty. More and more researchers have access to it and experiment with different possible applications of such data. Though, there is still a need to conceptualize the use of behavioral data as well as to bring more case of business value for it.
Our experience with tracking data at OMI started almost three years ago when we created large user-centric panel in Russia on the back of our access panel that consists of over 1 000 000 people. Desktop and mobile trackers were voluntary installed by over 30 000 participants. Now this panel is working on EnjoyTracking software, and we have three consecutive years of cross-device history of behavioral data. It includes URLs and search queries (clickstream data) for desktops as well as data from mobile browsers and apps. Clickstream data was enriched by social demographic variables known from the panelists profile.
Before analyzing the case I would like to bring your attention to the ‘building blocks’ that we use for behavioral data analysis (see Table below):
This means that in addition to social demographics, researchers can use behavioral variables (such as site visits, search terms, or apps usage to define the target audience. Along with the behavioral data we can ask specifying research questions to accomplish results in its usual format (ratings, indices etc.).
For example, you need to clarify what sites are popular among mothers with kids of 3-6 y.o. in order to choose web portal for a special project and make recommendations on its content. Then you follow three steps:
- Define target audience as “mothers with 3-6 years old kids”
- Build website top for this audience (by reach).
- Add Affinity Index for the websites
As a result you would have a full image of online behavior of particular audience such (as mothers with kids we had in our example) and where to find them to bring your message more effectively.
When it comes to the TA definition through visited websites and search queries, the most time-consuming task is manual or partly automated classification (building a code-frame) and coding these queries and the content visited during the relevant web sessions.
You can do more complex research studies, building them as a construction set using the ‘LEGO blocks’ described in Table 1. I would like to share two real examples of such studies:
- Digital segmentation and media optimization for a pharmaceutical brand.
- to describe the online audience of certain pharmaceutical product
- to perform digital segmentation
- to optimize online advertising strategy.
The audience of client’s product was defined as people performing searches for related key words (we called it thesaurus). The set of relevant searches was first brainstormed, then we found panelists who actually proceeded these search queries and looked at other relevant searches they performed in the same web-sessions. The audience was segmented according to their searches: for example, behavior of those who searched for the problem was significantly different from those, who searched for the brand. Each behavioral segment was described in terms of owned, paid and earned digital channel usage.
The study also allowed to rank different web resources inside each channel making it possible to optimize the brand’s digital presence, meaning that fully actionable results leading straight to the media planning were actually delivered.
- Path to purchase for a mobile device.
- to understand the strategies consumers use to search and buy mobile devices online. This would allow more targeted communication on particular stages of a sales funnel to the client.
First, we selected people from our user-centric panel who performed relevant search or visited relevant websites during the last six months. We realized that the purchase itself might happen offline. To define fact of offline purchase and offline factors we used qualitative research survey for respondents whose online history we followed.
On the second stage we segmented websites related to the topic into different categories (owned/paid/earned + shops, etc). We tried to understand the share of usage for each category of sites among segments that were relevant to the client: those who purchased online and offline, those who made expensive purchase as well as various social demographic and geographic segments.
We also analyzed path to purchase for the most interesting segments qualitatively (following the steps of the person URL by URL). Such analysis was followed by the series of IDIs to understand the reasons for certain steps in search/purchase process.
To summarize, online behavior tracking is an ultimate way to describe and understand the online audience of a brand or product. Researchers are able to 1) define the ‘internet behavioral profiles’ and consideration sets of the consumers to build digital segmentation, 2) better understand the potential brand or product audience in the Internet, 3) optimize online media strategy. Knowing the general media consumption of a certain audience is important for media planning, but knowing the media consumption around and during the search for brand-relevant information is crucial for understanding of the consumers’ decision-making. Combining behavioral data with survey research and qualitative analysis helps to understand the place of Internet in the purchase journey and help brands in developing successful digital strategies based on facts, not only words.
Alexander Shashkin, PhD in Sociology, is CEO of Online Market Intelligence (OMI).
By Nichola Kent-Lemon
In an age of global urbanisation, population growth and climate change, it seems inevitable that our transportation infrastructures are reaching breaking point. We continue to buy cars in the name of freedom, independence and convenience but the polluted, congested, urban and suburban reality is increasingly difficult to ignore. Nerves are frayed, tempers are hot and transportation has a lot to answer for.
Freedom of mobility has empowered us to broaden our horizons and become the global community we are today. The stakes are high to ensure that we hold onto that freedom.
The battle to stay ahead of urbanisation and pollution is fierce, with new public transport links, increasingly compact cars, greater access to vehicles via sharing schemes, intelligent technology taking the strain of making and planning journeys and clean fuel solutions becoming increasingly viable.
However, the future of our mobility is far from certain; experts from across the globe agree that change is afoot, but the million dollar question remains – what will be the tipping point?
Predicting adoption of new behaviours represents one of the most challenging objectives for research. We must look to disciplines such as psychology to help us understand the multitude of variables that could play a part. Psychologist Icek Ajzen’s 1985 ‘Theory of Planned Behaviour’ (TPB) has proved a useful aid to predicting new behaviours for several decades. Put simply, the TPB asks three questions to determine the likelihood of behaviour change:
- How achievable is the new behaviour?
- How attractive is the new behaviour?
- And how far will it be condoned by society and peers?
How achievable is the new behaviour? Can I do this easily?
The TPB is of particular relevance to behaviours that benefit wider societies because, unlike other popular theories, it takes into account the extent to which behaviours are perceived as achievable. This is important for behaviours that do not have immediate personal benefits, because, in most cases, these behaviours will only come about if they can be achieved relatively easily.
This is certainly true in terms of transport behaviours. Convenience is often the key determinant of how we travel so, if we want society to adopt greener transport solutions, we must make them as accessible and convenient as possible. Electric cars need the necessary driving range and available charging stations to make them a convenient choice, just as car sharing initiatives must have the fleet size, coverage and usability to ensure they are not just convenient but consistently convenient. Not only must the solutions themselves have convenience at their core, the infrastructures of our cities must keep up with and facilitate these innovations to make them truly relevant.
So, will progressive city infrastructures provide the tipping point for behaviour change? This must surely be an important contributor at the very least.
How attractive is the new behaviour? How much do I want this?
An obvious but important motivator for behaviour change is the extent to which a new behaviour is seen as an attractive option. The protagonist must hold a generally positive attitude towards the new behaviour – will the experience of the new behaviour be superior to the old and will the consequences of the behaviour be beneficial? On a personal level – will I save time or money? And on a larger scale – will society or the environment benefit?
The tipping point in terms of large scale change in the transportation landscape could potentially come in the form of a new transport solution that is truly superior. However, although an appealing idea, the complexity of our transport needs make a silver bullet solution unlikely.
Perhaps more importantly, across the globe our ‘car culture’ is deeply embedded and we are a long way from being ready to move on. Cars have come to represent so much more than a means of transport. They are:
- A means of self-expression, displaying status, personality and taste
- A facilitator of sociability, ready and waiting whenever required
- A private personal and family environment, somewhere to escape to or to enjoy quality family time
- An enabler of increasingly fragmented time-schedules, allowing parenting and work responsibilities to co-exist
- Enjoyable, exhilarating and aesthetically pleasing
The emotional ties we feel towards cars and driving are often overlooked in the context of alternative transportation. From a rational perspective, alternatives may look attractive, but whether or not they can offer the same level of emotional payoff is another question entirely.
How far will the new behaviour be condoned by society and peers? What will people think of me?
Any behaviour change is always subject to social and cultural pressures. Therefore, the question of whether a new behaviour will be condoned by others is an important one – social disapproval can be a powerful force against change. This may seem an easy hurdle to overcome – surely adopting a greener, easier transport pattern is hardly something our peers could get upset about? Not so. The TPB looks at perceived social acceptability in two areas:
- Our normative beliefs; our perceptions of wider social norms and pressures and the extent to which they support a new behaviour
- Our subjective norms; the extent to which we believe that people important to us, for example, our partners, friends and family, will support a new behaviour
Normative beliefs will vary from one culture to the next and could be a barrier to adopting new transport solutions for any number of reasons; for example, if they require clothing or social interactions that are deemed inappropriate by certain religions, think cycling and car sharing. Some solutions may elicit disapproval simply for being unusual in a culture that values conformity, while others may give the wrong impression about the status of the traveller. After all, how we get around can often say a lot about how successful we are.
However, it is our subjective norms that will often present a bigger barrier to behaviour change. The opinions of our partners, close family and friends are shown to have a huge bearing on our choices. Driving smaller cars may, for example, provide access to restricted driving zones or lanes, reducing commuting time and saving money. However, pressure from partners and children to drive larger, more comfortable and luxurious cars will be a powerful deterrent.
Thus, transport solutions that cater to the needs of the traveller as well as to the expectations of peers and wider cultural groups could well be a catalyst for change.
So, what will be the tipping point?
Currently there are barriers to change in terms of travel behaviour from all angles of Ajzen’s ‘Theory of Planned Behaviour’. Alternative or progressive travel solutions available do not challenge traditional car ownership in terms of ease, accessibility, attraction (rational and emotional) or social acceptance to the extent needed to provoke large scale change. Change is piecemeal and isolated to specific areas which have the infrastructure to support new solutions.
However, the traditional car ownership model is certainly less relevant than it once was and it is clear that we are on a trajectory towards change, albeit a slow one. Perhaps the final piece of the puzzle will come in the form of the next generation of city dwelling travellers, a generation who value innovation, clever solutions and technology over ownership and display, spontaneity over planning and for whom congested city streets have always been the norm. For these customers, cars are unlikely to represent freedom in the same way they did for their parents and car ownership may seem too much of a long term commitment in a world of choice and constantly evolving technology.
Perhaps the tipping point will simply be the point at which increasingly accessible and attractive alternative transport solutions coincide with the coming of age of a generation with the right set of expectations and values to support behaviour change. Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
Nichola Kent-Lemon is Associate Director at Northstar Research Partners
Successful brands understand both the universal qualities of human behavior and the cultural context of the local markets in which they operate. Thus, good brand management integrates universals of human nature with locally relevant nurturing through the prism of culture.
So do semiotics and neuromarketing have much in common? Although there has been little interaction between behavioral scientists and semioticians, they share more than is commonly acknowledged and are often solving the same problem from different perspectives.
Context, context, context
Behavioral economics experiments consistently show the crucial role that environmental cues play in shaping human behavior, when even the smallest change to the context of a decision can change that decision (Kahneman, 2012). Semiotics looks from the opposite direction to understand the ‘meanings’ that culture creates for signs and symbols in the world around us (Danesi, 2006; 2007).
But aren’t the two disciplines really doing the same thing? In reality, the brain is a highly sophisticated pattern recognition machine. As information floods in to the brain through the senses, it is analyzed for patterns that have ‘meaning’ in shaping our decisions to help us achieve our goals (Bruner, 1990; Frith, 2007; Gregory, 2009).
Sensory perception is the interface between the outside world of signs and symbols and the ‘inner’ world of the human mind and its decision-making processes. The senses are our signal detection system (like a radar) that act as transducers, converting physical and chemical information from photons of light, sounds waves, food particles and the body’s physical feedback mechanisms into electrical signals forming patterns in the brain and meaning in the mind (Roberts, 2002).
Universal and cultural signs
What do I mean by ‘meaning’? Think of the taste of sugar on your tongue. Even newborn infants are already primed to like sweet tastes, as the meaning of ‘sweet’ is that something is nutritious and contains energy (generally a very positive meaning until very recently in human history). Likewise, even young babies do not like bitter tastes, which are associated in nature with substances that are toxic. These are universal ‘signs’.
A very simple example of a more ‘cultural’ meaning is the flavor Wintergreen, which was rated as the best liked smell in America in one study, while at the same time it was least liked by those in the UK (superficially a very similar culture). The reason for this is that many Americans are first introduced to Wintergreen as candy, while for the British it’s more likely to be first encountered as the taste of medicine.
Our memories store information associatively, linking meanings to experiences, which is why analogy and metaphor are so pervasive and powerful (Lakoff & Turner, 1980; Hoftsadter, 2001). These associations form the basis of the meaning we attach to everything around us, and most particularly whether we associate something with a positive experience or a negative experience (within a specific context). One definition of ‘culture’ would be the collective sum of the associations and meanings shared by any group of people.
The evolution of human goals
The meanings that humans seek go beyond good and bad (or approach versus avoid). Recent work in evolutionary psychology indicates that the mind is not a single holistic entity, but rather a number of (sometimes competing) systems with specific goals associated with successful strategies (by which I mean evolutionary success, see Kendrick & Griskevicius, 2013; Panksepp & Biven, 2012).
In humans, these systems number at least 12 (beyond the basic drives like hunger). These human goals are reflected in the StoryWorks model of brand emotions and motivation, which includes belonging, care, idealism, authority, understanding, transformation, courage, creativity, individuality, freedom, play and intimacy expressed through universal archetypes (Gains, 2013; see Figure 1).
Brands and emotional signals
Recent work in evolutionary psychology shows that these goals or motivations are ‘hard wired’ into the brain, each running through an independent bundle of neural circuits that effectively take control of decision-making according to the context and therefore the most relevant goal. If you are scared, and your brain focuses on the goal of self-protection, not only do you focus on signs that area associated with this goal, you ignore those that are not relevant.
That’s why successful brands can help users to maximize the emotional rewards associated with achieving their goals by sending the right signals. For example, Nike focuses on the goal of bravery, courage and strength across all their communications and how this can be achieved both for professional athletes and amateurs. Nike communicate these meanings through its advertising, as well as the symbolism of its name and logo too.
But can such meanings also be communicated through the senses? And can semiotics inform the design of products and experiences as well as the communication of ideas? I believe they can, and moreover that the meanings derived from experience are often more powerful and lasting than those that come from words (Bergen, 2012).
Most of the published work on sensory branding and marketing has focused on the latter rather than the former – looking at the importance of the senses in creating customer engagement, but with much less emphasis on the symbolic value of sensory experience in creating brand meaning (Lindstrom, 2010; Krishna, 2013). However, the best brand experiences are the ones that have meaning.
Stories, symbols and senses
One of my favorite examples of sensory branding is Dettol, which works at three different levels at communicating its meaning (see Figure 2). The story of Dettol is its “Mission for health”, symbolized through a sword that dominates the logo. The sensory experience reinforces this symbolism, through a distinctive and strong antiseptic smell and a visually impactful white colored milky emulsion that is produced as soon as it is mixed with water. The brand story, the pack symbolism and the sensory signature all create a strong link to the brand promise (associated with the same goal as Nike – the courage to ‘”fight the fight” for cleanliness and health).
The smell of Dettol is instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever used the brand, as is the ‘ouzo effect’ of the white colored milky emulsion produced when it is mixed with water. These aspects of the sensory experience signal the potency and activity of Dettol’s disinfectant chemicals, creating a strong link between product use and efficacy. The smell is used as a sensory signature across Dettol’s range of products around the world.
So how can market research combine semiotic thinking with the latest understanding of human decision-making? TapestryWorks believe that semiotic thinking can contribute to building non-verbal research tools and have developed our own visual vocabularies for exploring human emotions and sensory experience.
Metaphors and visual thinking
I mentioned earlier that metaphor reflects the ‘language’ of the brain, as the majority of the brain’s activity is focused on processing sensory information, 90% of which is visual. We know that the (decision-making) brain thinks much more in the language of physical (sensory) experience than in words. We also know that humans are much better at recognizing something that has been experienced before than in recalling or retrieving a memory of a past experience.
Although, projective techniques have been used in market research for a long time, they have most often been used in a very open way without underlying structure or frameworks. One approach is to develop visual stimuli that can be linked back to a standard framework to aid interpretation. TapestryWorks have done this both for human motivations and the emotions associated with positive and negative outcomes, as well as for the full variety of sensory experiences.
For sensory experience, we then broke down each aspect into binary oppositions (where possible) to create a set of double-sided cards that have proved invaluable in helping clients explore the senses in primary research. The tool helps clients capture implicit associations and non-verbal categorisations (in Daniel Kahneman’s System 1) through a simple card sort.
Semiotics and primary research
In a recent study in Indonesia, we helped a client understand implicit perceptions of two beverages through a series of visual card sorts, helping them decode the differences between their new product variant and a strong market leader. The cards revealed that the key advantage of the market leader was its association with carefree states of mind. This was strongly linked to the experience of consumption, which was perceived as very mild and gentle experience (the client’s brand was seen as more intense and strong), and as very simple and soft (where the client’s brand was seen as more complex and hard edged – see Figure 3 for an example of the cards).
Based on the research, we were able to recommend that the client revise a number of aspects of product and packaging execution, in order to create an experience that was more comparable with their target customers’ goals. This included removing visual and verbal packaging cues that were associated with a sweeter and milkier drinking experience (and therefore creating a perception of a more intense flavor), and adding visual cues for natural (the proposed packaging was seen as relatively artificial).
Semiotics and behavioural science
In summary, behavioral science teaches us that implicit decision-making works in a very different way to that assumed by many standard market research approaches. Specifically, most of the brain’s experience of the world is non-verbal. The best way to understand implicit decision-making is through approaches that work non-verbally to access the meanings that people attach to brands, products and experiences.
As the science of symbolism, semiotics has much to contribute to developing market research tools that can help businesses better understand brand meanings, both by looking from the outside in to decode cultural meanings, and also crucially from the inside out to access how those meanings shape individual human decisions.
Neil Gains is Managing Partner of TapestryWorks and author of Brand esSense.
He can be reached via @neilgains
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