Taking System 1 & 2 Thinking a Step Further

man with gears behind his head

For quite some time researchers have been talking about System 1 & 2 Thinking and how it relates to consumers and market research. If you aren’t familiar with these systems you can think about it like the id and the ego.

  • System 1 is our mind’s shortcut to making intuitive, emotional decisions, like the id.
  • Like the ego, System 2 is the logical and deliberative type of thinking.

While similar to Sigmund Freud’s idea of the id and the ego, System 1 & 2 Thinking specifically relates to consumers’ perceptions and decision-making. For example, one who’s purchasing a new car will likely be using a lot of System 2 Thinking. When it comes to purchasing one kind of BBQ sauce over another, however, most consumers are using System 1 Thinking, unless you’re really particular about your BBQ sauce.

Understanding the distinction and capturing both forms of thinking in market research has a great impact. Most research only taps into System 2 Thinking. Asking respondents to score a new product based on brand fit will lead them to think more critically about the answer to substantiate their choice. The more complex the data collection or study becomes the more likely it’s approaching System 2. But what happens when we ask a respondent what their favorite brand of coffee is?

System 1 Thinking Happens

While some may say that the price is right, we know you regular Starbucks goers don’t fall into that category. There are a variety of motivations and reasons for choosing one brand over another. While System 2 is like the hall monitor for System 1—and may try and tell you Starbucks is too expensive—it doesn’t always win (this can be a good thing). If our System 1 Thinking didn’t step in to make quick decisions for us we’d all be stressed about whether to buy the green or blue shirt, if we want diet or regular soda, or whether we want chips or cookies for a snack.

Systems 1 & 2 Thinking… Elevated

Now, let’s think about this at the next level. Integrating both systems of thinking is best done by combining qualitative and quantitative research. In other words, combining the two builds the bridge that allows researchers to gain a holistic view of consumers. Agile market research provides this and takes it a step further. Utilizing qualitative and quantitative solutions with an agile and iterative approach allows System 1 & 2 Thinking to not only be captured, but built upon. Within agile market research, a brand is able to conduct multiple phases that layer both systems of thinking. Future research can then be quickly modified as new insights from each form of thinking make themselves known.

Let’s say a brand team is conducting a quant study, and the results show that one of the concepts shows a lack in uniqueness, but the brand team doesn’t know why. With an agile research solution, this brand can concurrently run qual research using tactics like video reactions to gain insights into System 1 Thinking. This in turn allows the brand to understand how consumers perceive uniqueness for this type of product, and how much or how little that factors into purchase intent.

On the flip side, a qualitative study may glean System 1 insights that show how a consumer’s purchase intent relates to design and packaging. Those factors can thus be represented with more applicable metrics in quantitative phases. A brand that can iteratively conduct and continually optimize System 1 & 2 research is a brand that will always have the most relevant insights on their consumer.

Without agile market research, many brands using traditional methodologies face unexpected questions and end up spending additional time and/or money trying to understand their consumers’ System 1 & 2 Thinking. Even worse, some never break the surface into System 1.

To find out more about how agile market research utilizes qualitative research to gain a more holistic view of consumers, check out the case study below.

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