Find insights into how people choose. For free.

n my book, The Business of Choice I do a back of an envelope calculation of how much research that is relevant to marketers is generated by academics who study how people make decisions.

We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of minds, and thus brain-power, focused on understanding human behavior and decision-making. Behavioral and social sciences have become the hot ticket in leading academic institutions across the world, and an estimate based on the sizes of the leading faculties and academic societies suggest that more than 5,000 professors and graduate students are today involved in conceiving, carrying out, and analyzing experiments relating to behavior and decision-making. The popularity of behavioral and social science research has led to large, interconnected communities of discussion and collaboration, the output of which is peer-reviewed papers (I estimate that the leading five journals and conferences that cover human decision-making have yielded 1,500 papers over the last two years that are of at least some interest to marketers)…

Besides being, in most cases, available for free, this research has two other great attributes.

  1. The majority of these studies look at how non-conscious processes affect people’s choices. By and large, this is a gap in traditional market research, so can be a great complement — or even contrast — to your existing research.
  2. While some of the research covers very broad themes in how people make choices (which makes for excellent foundational learning for how marketers can influence choices), lots of it looks at very specific areas. Say you have an e-commerce site and you want to know how exploring products products on a touch screen versus on a normal computer screen and keyboard affects choice. There’s research on that. Or if you are a financial institution or healthcare company and you want to know how you can get people to invest in their futures? There’s (a load) of research on that. Or an organization that cares about sustainability and wants to encourage pro-environmental behaviors? There’s research on this as well.

In The Business of Choice we provide a taste from nearly 200 experiments that we believe are, in some way, of interest to marketers. And believe me — we could have included double or triple that number.

The end goal of marketing is simply to influence choice (see my last post here), and thanks to the work of the thousands of people in academia who study how people make choices, marketers have a new source of deep, rich, very human and sometimes almost tailor made insights at their disposal.

Matthew Willcox is Executive Director at the Institute of Decision Making at FCB, and author of “The Business of Choice: Marketing to Consumers’ Instincts”, published by Pearson FT Press and available on Amazon