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The big Behavioral Economics debate

In order to bring alive the practicalities of embracing behavioural economics in market research, I asked each of the four members of the ESOMAR Behavioural Economics Seminar Advisory Board a few of the most common questions that practitioners raise about doing BE-led research.
Their answers reveal some very strong areas of agreement and some very clear shared advice about the practical steps researchers can take. But, as you might expect, there is also some healthy debate about quite how close research practice should be to what goes on in the science.

Q1. How do you explain BE to clients and colleagues?

Steve: It is the study of human behaviour grounded in real life, not academic assumptions. It helps us understand what real people do in real-life situations.
Caroline: We call it 'decision science.' It helps explain what BE does rather than what it is.
Florian: Until recently, there was no theoretical basis for market research other than the implicit model of the Homo economicus. BE changed that and replaced this flawed model with empirically validated insights into the heuristics and biases of human decision making on the basis of countless experiments.
John: Agreed. Homo economicus is as flawed in economics as the left brain/right brain persuasion model in marketing. Better is Kahneman's model which says most decisions are made instinctively, emotionally [System 1] and then post-rationalised cognitively [System 2]. Emotion trumps logic; seduction trumps persuasion.

Q 2. Is BE a fundamental challenge to everything we do-from surveys to focus groups? Or is it an enhancer of market research?

Steve: To me, it is an enhancer. We should look at our current approaches with a BE lens and decide how appropriate they still are. Some techniques will come through fine; others will be found inappropriate (conjoint being my favourite example of a methodolo¬gy based on academic assumption and not in any way grounded in real human understanding).
Caroline: Its significance cannot be underestimated. Just as marketing has taught us for the last 20 years that attitude precedes behaviour and thus became the prevailing wisdom of the how people really make decisions and, therefore, how to build famous brands. This means changing what we measure and how.
Florian: BE adds to market research what is urgently missing. It is nothing less than the theoretical basis for everything we do in market research.

Q 3. What kind of response have you had from clients? Have these responses changed over time?

Florian: At first, it seemed to many like an interesting side issue; today it is supported by many case studies and advanced tools. They accept it as a much more efficient way of doing research, although the level of acceptance is also very sector specific.
Caroline: We tailor how we use it based on the client. Some like the thinking behind it to be made explicit; some prefer a more implicit approach.
Steve: BE has become a topic of interest and discussion, and our input into the debate has even led to us getting a few more briefs! However, when we talk about our work, we don't necessarily focus on the BE component but instead what the results will do for our client's business.
John: The more senior the client, the more they love it and want to introduce it. The conversation then turns

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Research World
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