Market Research Online Communities and Modes of Thinking

Updated: Jan 3

Written by: Megan McDowell


Conscious and Deliberate

In a recent article on Marketresearch.com’s blog Anne Beall examines the two different modes of thinking, one which is conscious and deliberate and the other more unconscious and automatic. These distinct types of thinking are not new, but in terms of market research the treatment of the two as being separate is new and could be of incredible importance. Before we get into further details – let’s stop and understand the difference in the decision making process of a consumer based on the two types of behaviour:


The two type of thinking modes are called systematic and heuristic.

Systematic processing is when a person tries to understand a chunk of information and comes to a belief based on that information. An example of systematic processing by a consumer would be if a consumer is looking to make a new purchase, say for example, the customer needs to purchase a new dishwasher and they go online and research what is available, pricing, reviews, comparing models and features, and then goes to the store to talk to a salesperson about various models and how it might meet their needs.


Heuristic processing is the second type of thinking which is more automatic and less calculated. This thinking is based on prior experiences. An example of this thinking by a consumer would be a person in need of buying a new dishwasher, and going to a store and taking the advice of the salesperson without doing previous research. It could also be purchasing a well-known brand because they are known for their high quality. Beall writes that, “these heuristics allow people to form judgements quickly based on small amounts of information with little critical thinking.” These two types of thinking are used at different times, and work together to make decisions (Chaiken & Ledgerwood, 2012).


The example Beall uses is with automotive services. Most customers find it difficult to determine which auto care service provider is best. So what is a customer to do? Do they choose the one located closest to them? Beall’s research found that many consumers rely on heuristics such as family members or friends who use the service and therefore it must be good, or national companies who are thought to be reputable. Once a company recognizes the heuristics used, then clients can use that information to communicate and sell to potential customers.


What Mode Affects Purchasing

In order to obtain powerful insights into consumer behaviour a market researcher needs to understand which mode consumers use during actual purchasing. This may be different from the thought process used to answer lengthy surveys or in-depth focus group discussions which may generate lots of systematic thinking by consumers because researchers are requiring them to engage in this mode of processing.


Gaining Feedback

The question becomes how an organization obtains feedback on heuristic experiences.  One method for obtaining insights on unconscious buying behaviour is through a technique called ethnography which observes people in their natural setting to understand consumer behaviour.


Beall writes that the ethnographic research with consumers shows that during actual purchasing situations most respondents tend to depend heavily on heuristic type thinking. The key to determining purchasing patterns is to better understand which mode of thinking is used in specific situations and when and why they are used so as to better understand and cater to the consumer.


However, as pointed out by Decision Analyst, the drawbacks to conducting field-oriented ethnography include cost related to recruitment, coordination, travel, and the length of time to conduct the research. In addition to cost this can also result in a significant level of intrusion with the participant.  .


Alternatives to traditional field ethnography could include online ethnography through Market Research Online Communities (MROC). MROCs can provide a platform for this kind of online ethnographic research to understand the conscious and subconscious thought process of a consumer in making a buying decision.


MROCs can also make use of the basic photo and video technology that people utilize regularly on their phones and tablets. In order to get live feedback from something like a diary task (an assisted shopping task, for example), moderators and community managers can ask participants to make videos or post photos as they carry out the task. This is the next best thing to actually being right by a participant’s side to gauge their consumer habits in everyday life, and potentially better as there is no observer influence.


The MROC Advantage

Even if you don’t want to completely replace your tried-and-true methods with an Online Community, MROCs can at the very least be complementary to traditional methods, as they provide several distinct advantages when it comes to gaining market insight.


Market Research Online communities present the following advantages over traditional research:


1. Time – Reduces turnaround time to obtain insights due to not requiring time to recruit as most panelists have already completed a Profile survey on joining the community allowing the researcher to quickly start a sub group when and where required

2. Flexible in that it can accommodate participation either singly or in groups during the respondent’s preferred time. MROCs also provide ample opportunity to observe and allow meaningful interaction with every participant in the community

3. Cost – overall the community represents a cost effective approach to obtaining valuable insights.

4. Inclusiveness – communities facilitate participation from various time zones and geographic areas.


At Insightrix Communities we take market research seriously, and seek to provide the most insightful market research possible.


If you would like to talk to us about how online communities might help meet your needs please feel free to contact us.


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