Groundbreaking Study Shows the Value of “Gut Reactions”

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A University researcher did an experiment to answer an important question.

Is it true that when people spend more time thinking about and making a purchase that they will be happier long-term?

To answer this question, he randomly assigned students into two groups.  The task of each of these groups was to look at a variety of art posters and choose one to take home:

Group 1 – “Quick Buyers” – had no specific instructions and had limited time to choose their art poster.

Group 2 – “The Thinkers” – were instructed to think deeply about the poster they wanted to buy and to write down their reasons for choosing the art poster.

Three weeks later, the professor followed-up with each student to determine how much they liked their poster.

The results were not just surprising but shocking.

Group 1 “Quick Buyers” liked their poster significantly more than Group 2.  They were more likely to still have it, hung it on the wall and say positive things about the poster.

Group 2 “The Thinkers” were significantly more likely to have changed their minds or no longer like or even have the poster.

3 Reasons why more time is NOT your friend.

Providing more time allows for the “rational” mind to kick in.  But this is rarely the way decisions are made. Paradoxically, too much data can lead to less optimal decisions – and less happy buyers as our professor found out.

There are three problems with giving people too much time:

  1. Time kills “gut reactions” – Many of our most crucial choices are made on feelings or “gut reactions” which are decisions that are beyond or beneath consciousness.
  2. Too much time can confuse. “You can’t handle the truth!” This famous Jack Nicholson line from “A few Good Men” tells all. When asked, consumers tell us that they want lots of information before purchasing. But this can lead to confusion and suboptimal choices.
  3. It’s normal to make decisions quickly. While buyers may say they want lots of information, observation proves that the vast majority of decisions are made quickly, at an unconscious level, and with relatively limited data.

Implications for Market Research

I have found that response time tells me a lot when interviewing consumers – even business to business buyers.

Let me give you an example. I recently conducted 30 one-on-one interviews of business buyers for a large international manufacturer. The manufacturer wanted to extend its product line into categories that were quite different than the way their customers perceived their brand today.

During these interviews, I observed something I have seen many times before. The single factor that could predictive the customers’ acceptance of a brand’s extension into a new product category was how quickly they answered the question!

Fast Response = GOOD

The amount of time it took the respondent to react to the brand entering the new product category told me everything.  When the customer felt that there was a viable fit for the company in the new product category, they immediately responded and were able to explain why with very little prompting.

Slow Response = BAD

However, when the respondent took a while to answer – indicating that they had to really think about how the brand fit the new product category – then they had a very difficult time envisioning the company extending its product into that product category.  In other words, a bad fit.

Bottom Line

When conducting interviews, it is not only what the respondent says but how quickly they answer that can open a door into their unconscious needs and desires and predict consumer behavior.