This year, the Insights Innovation Exchange (IIeX) conference was held in Boston at the State Room on November 12th and 13th. Against backdrop views of the Boston harbor and cityscape from the 33rd floor, it was easy to be inspired by the passion for scientifically grounded research methods, intellectual collaboration, and a forward-thinking attitude in market research through behavioral science applications. Will Leach and Priscilla McKinney, from TriggerPoint and Little Bird Marketing respectively, opened the conference and set a clear intention for the two days: to facilitate conversations about academic and technological advancements versus traditional market research approaches to challenge the industry’s status quo in a tangible way as we attempt to bridge the gap between literature and practical applications.

One of the reasons I look forward to this event every year is that it affords the unique opportunity to make connections with likeminded researchers across industries and roles. IIeX attracts believers and practitioners of decision sciences from market research suppliers, tech start up innovators, consumer package goods manufacturers, financial services companies, charities, and government organizations, to discuss the research and experiments they are conducting — enabling us to learn, grow, and fine tune the fundamentals of market research methods to improve the accuracy of our results. Not only does this space allow HRW Shift (our behavioral science unit) to stay abreast of behavioral science innovation and learn from other industries, it also encourages sharing of our perspective and experiences. As we focus solely on healthcare, we notice the unique nuances of applying a behavioral lens to a wide range of therapy areas.

The presentation decks from the sessions will be available at IIeX’s website in late November, but my overall highlights in terms of key themes and considerations include the following:

1. Explore Context: Understand the Setting. It may sound obvious, but it can be easy to overlook the importance of the context around a business objective or research question. As researchers, we are often challenged to boil down hours of qualitative interviews or hundreds of rows of quantitative data while giving clients answers to each objective in a concise 1-slide executive summary. Ujwal Arkalgud (from Motivbase) drove home this point in his explanation of contextual intelligence (CI) — context provides an essential foundation for new and exciting research tool innovations, such as artificial intelligence or machine learning, to stand on. He concluded, “Context is everything. If you don’t think about the situation, the things you take away are narrow and you’ll always end up with the same insights.” Often, clients come to the HRW Shift team when they are stuck — it feels like there are additional elements or factors at play that they just can’t quite identify going on, that they just can’t quite get at. Behavioral science can be a powerful tool to identify and tease out the nuance of contextual clues that can often be overlooked when only using traditional market research methods.

2. Integrate Methods: Expand your Toolbox. Almost all presentations included case studies of research combining methodologies, allowing researchers to capture the bigger picture of the situation, and ultimately demonstrating the benefits of integrated research. One suggestion was as straightforward as imputing a classic qualitative image board exercise (showing a set of images, probing respondents to describe the images and explain their selections) into a tracking study, providing the level of depth and brand meaning enjoyed by qualitative research, to the world of quantitative data. A few others combined “snapshot” in the moment tools (such as eye tracking software, unboxing projective techniques) with long term data collection methods (consumer data, social media scraping). At HRW, we often propose multi-stage and mixed method research approaches, as we understand the value of capturing data in different ways; a main driver behind our formal approach to communications testing (Inter:COM). Through positioning, and message and concept testing experiences, we recognized that integrated methodologies give us a much deeper understanding of the results and allow us to go beyond the ‘what’ and dig deeply into the ‘why’ behind perceptions, beliefs, behaviors and explicit feedback.

3. Pressure Test: Apply a Healthy Dose of Skepticism. When discussing how we can dig deeper into the ‘why’ in research, David Johnson (from Decooda), raised an interesting philosophical point: research methods have been created and studied from the researcher’s perspective, it is only recently (with the help of behavioral science) that we have started to think differently about whether our approaches appropriately reflect the reality of decision making. Many other presenters shared not only their positive results, but also the unexpected pitfalls encountered as a reminder that we still have so much to learn. It was comforting to hear that we are not alone in this exploration. The Shift team often looks to behavioral science models for strategic direction or ‘nudge’ intervention inspiration; but at the end of the day we always emphasize the importance of testing and refining solutions to validate what will be most impactful within our clients’ specific therapy area.

We are always excited to discuss behavioral science in more detail or share how we apply these learnings at HRW to deliver deeper, contextualized insights for your brand, so please feel free to reach out with any questions!


By Allie Dautrich

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