The entry barriers into behavioral science are about as high as getting into my fridge for a late night snack. With the success of behavioral science helping business improve marketing's bottom line it is no shock to see everyone looking to incorporate it. However, many are still confused to really what actually is behavioral science? And how do we know we are doing it right?
3 Ways to Know I am Effectively Applying Behavioral Science
Although there are many flavors of behavioral science floating around the field, here are 3 broad ways to know you are effectively applying behavioral science…
1. Research Design.
A research design is like the frame of your car, it rarely gets noticed but yet is fundamental for safe and effective driving. A behavioral science based research design, is simply better at putting horsepower to the pavement (better at understanding and predicting behavior). Just like car frames, a behavioral science research design isn’t supposed to look “revolutionary” and should be similar to what you have seen in traditional experimental research.
While the goals of research designs will vary, they generally involve isolating behavior(s) that will drive our business outcomes. A behavioral science research design connects dots between a business goal, a research question and a behavior that will create an outcome of interest. It is the big picture strategy for how we tease out answers to our business questions.
Here are a few important (not all) things to consider…
- Is our Research Design set up in a way that will generalize to the real world?
- Are we using the best Experimental design (within or between subjects) to effectively isolate our desire behavior in question?
- Did we have the right behavior in question?
2. Research Methodology
Research methods act like engines to our research. Powerful engines drive powerful results. Bad engines produce bad data and poor results. While Silicon Valley has been busy with technology innovations, behavioral scientists have been grinding out in the lab with “methodological innovations” — solutions to overcome the limitations of traditional self-report. Instead of directly asking your customers questions, behavioral science methods can be applied to better understand and increase the predictive capabilities of your research.
Applying behavioral science to methods can take place in a couple ways…
A) Simple Survey Tactics to Reduce Common Method Bias.
We often forget that we (yes you, and me both) are susceptible to the same biases we are trying to overcome in our research. This is called Common Method Bias. By tidying up our methods, such as by reducing # of questions, order effects, framing questions, etc we can increase the predictive validity of our research.
- For a complete guide on overcoming Common Method Bias check out my old professor’s landmark paper (it’s cited more than Kahnman!)
B) Advanced “Implicit Methods” as Better Proxies of Behavior
Beyond simple survey adjustments there are more advanced methods and "implicit" methodologies which can help get deeper insight into how customer make decisions without directly asking them. Indirect assessments or tools--such as implicit associations or EEG, facial tracking, etc--are simply are methods that infer mental constructs (emotion, motivations, preferences, etc.) in ways different from asking direct questions.
- For a comprehensive guide on applying implicit methods check out this article.
3. Theory Based Interventions
Applying behavioral science theory to research is the difference between driving in unfamiliar area with a map vs. GPS. Theories are like GPS, acting like short-cuts to our solutions. Why attack a problem from scratch when smart scientists have been devoting their lives to identifying the best was to approach the exact same issues we are trying to solve? When appropriately applying a theoretical lens on a business issue, we expedite the critical (and often overlooked) information to design, test, and target an effective solution. Behavior is complex enough - why make it harder? Use theory.
Two Examples of Applying Theory:
- One of our CPG clients was facing an issue where customers were not choosing their brand despite having intentions and strong attitudes for the brand. By applying temporal construal theory, a framework that describes the effects of psychological distance on thinking, decision making, and behavior, we were able to isolate interventions to make benefits customers valued more salient and ultimately increase brand choice.
- Another client, a leader in apparel & footwear category, was losing share to new, and smaller brands. We solved this social image issue by applying Optimal Distinctiveness Theory, to help understand how customers attained an optimal balance of inclusion and distinctiveness within and between their social groups. We helped re-position the brand to help customers feel apart of their social groups (fit in) and create distinctive cues to help them stand out.
Behavioral science theories simply serve as "lenses" to approach our business problems to streamline solutions and achieve better results. Embedding proven theories into our research is about applying the right tools to our behavioral problems, not force fitting one theory to all of our problems. Many readers may be familiar with System 1 and System 2 (dual systems theory), which is only one way (and not necessarily the best way) at approaching our business problems. There are so many other more applied theories (lens) to analyze our business problems and achieve better outcomes.