How Behavioral Research Relates to Market Research

Professionals Can Predict Consumer Actions With Behavioral Research

Behavioral Research Goes Beyond Logic
Behavioral Research Identifies Generational Habits. JGI/ Jamie Grill/ Blend Images/ GettyImages


Behavioral research refers to the study of the variables that impact the formation of habits. Habitual patterns of decision-making impact many areas of daily life. 

The Importance of Robust Market Research

In recent years, scientists working in departments of psychology and neurology in universities and major medical centers have made the study of habit formation a primary objective. Those corporate market research departments with generous budgets have also taken notice of this line of inquiry.

Machine learning, which relies on computers to do the heavy lifting involved in the fine-grained data analysis, has become a standard approach to market research. The use of algorithms has turned mathematicians into data mining super stars.

Conventional market research, which utilizes surveys, interviews, and focus groups, has sometimes had to resort to the old fashioned door-to-door research methods instituted by James H. Gamble in the early years of Proctor & Gamble history. Gamble was essentially the father of modern customer satisfaction research and market research at Proctor & Gamble. Many of his strategies are still in use today.

One well-known instance was in the case of Febreeze. A study was implemented to determine why the product was not performing well. The market researchers learned that people tended not to detect unpleasant aromas in their own homes. Thus, the cue, a bad odor or unpleasant aroma, that would trigger the use of Frebreze was absent.

A new cue had to introduced that would compel people to use Frebreze. In fact, the market researchers learned that they needed to establish a new cleaning habit that would embed the use of Frebreze in a psychologically significant way.

The market researchers presented their consumer insights to the advertising department.

Soon, a new set of advertisements were released with the aim of piggybacking a new habit (using Frebreze) onto an established cleaning habit. This new ritual -- spraying Frebreze as a final act of celebration when the act of cleaning a room was completed -- proved to be sticky where trying to establish a new cleaning habit had not been. The Frebreze formula was altered to include perfume, and Frebreze was re-positioned as an air freshener that came at the end of a cleaning ritual.

The Importance of Habit Loops to Marketers

This example from Proctor & Gamble illustrates a number of important market research principles:

  1.  ​Consumer insights must be tested -- straight out of the market research lab, they are sometimes wrong
  2. Observation of consumers engaging with a product or brand is a high-value activity, which is one of the reasons that ethnographic videos are so useful to market researchers. It is typically easier to add an action or activity to a habit loop than it is to try to establish an entirely new habit loop or to get people from using or reverting to an older habit.


Through behavioral research, marketers can determine why a product is failing and identify the consumer disconnect.

Once they've established common customer behaviors, the company can change their strategy to meet the consumers' needs.