Here at Butterfly we believe that being able to get under the skin of human behaviour and decision making is important in order to understand the ‘nitty gritty’ behind the ‘why’ when consumers behave irrationally. In the good words of Rory Sutherlands, “the conscious brain is not the oval office. It’s actually the press office issuing explanations for actions we’ve already taken.” Therefore in research are we actually being given the ‘explanations’ and post justification of behaviours by consumers? And if so, how do we get down to the core truth of what consumers are really thinking?

We recognise the role of behavioural science in consumer decision making and wanted to demystify the world of behavioural science. In doing so, we highlight an actionable way to apply these tactics to fuel your brand’s vision in the most positive manner (use these for good, not evil!).

In research, consumers are faced with multiple variants of choice. We are taught that freedom equals choices, and that one can never have too many choices.  However, research by the psychologist Barry Schwartz in 2004, identified that too much choice can in fact present more problems, and create a higher level of anxiety for consumers than not having enough choice. Schwartz argues that eliminating consumer choice can greatly reduce anxiety.

Take car shopping for example. Cars are typically considered high ticket items due to the large price tag attached. Think back to the last time you visited a car show-room. Many new car sales people report that despite having successfully converted a browser into a potential buyer, at the last minute the buyer hesitates and takes themselves out of the sales process. This last minute moment is often tied to the number of decisions they have to make about the optional specifications of the car. They have had the choice of style colour, engine size, interior etc. For this reason, many automotive manufacturers have limited the number of choices one can make for different models or restricting the options purely to what is on the showroom floor.

Now consider the idea of buying a new tube of toothpaste.  When you walk to the aisle in a supermarket you are greeted by a wall of multiple variants from each different brand. Within each brand there is often little to distinguish between the variants and sku’s and many even share some form of the same sub-brand or descriptor. Often consumers will either revert back to a previous choice (the familiar), move to another brand within which they find it easier to navigate or forego the decision entirely for another time. Within the toothpaste category, consumers are faced with the paradigm of not having the service of a sales person to aid their decision making process (like in the car showroom). Therefore, although it is a smaller ticket item, there is more uncontrolled disruption in the decision making process.

As in the real-time moment, consumers face the same decision barriers when it comes to making decisions in research. To unpack the psychology of decision making in more detail,  psychologist Daniel Kahneman famous for his system 1 and system 2 framework which unpacks the core of decision science, aka, behavioural science:

System 1 is classified as implicit responses; fast, automatic, effortless decisions (which means we could argue they are more truthful answers). System 2 is classified as explicit responses; slow, deliberate, and effortful decisions (therefore more controlled and filtered, one could argue they are therefore less truthful answers if constructed too carefully).

In the industry, most qualitative research is designed for system 2 thinking or responses. However, things that turn off system 2 include:

•  Low involvement

•  Time pressure

•  Information overload

•  Complexity

By understanding the way in which our consumers make sense of the world and the information around them, this enables us to advise a way that helps strengthen brands by anticipating consumer reactions to make powerful connections. Here at Butterfly we are very conscious of asking the right question and designing research to receive a system 1 or system 2 response to avoid turning off either system. As Thomas J Watson once said, “the ability to ask the right question is more than half the battle of finding the answer.”

By appealing to how consumers inherently think and make decisions, we can use this understanding to develop new tools and adapt old ones, and therefore engage consumers more positively along the way to garner new insight!

Our tool, Narrator, is fuelled by Behavioural Science to help us understand how and why consumers made their decisions, their inherent biases and how they arrive at their beliefs.  To find out more, please get in touch at

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