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  • Writer's pictureElina Halonen

Thinking Behaviourally: a streamlined approach to impactful consumer insights

In today's fast-paced business world, consumer insights teams are under constant pressure to deliver faster, leaner, and more actionable insights. Despite progress in agile research methods and the integration of data from multiple sources, it remains challenging to transform data into insights that businesses can actually use. The solution to this challenge is not to add more complexity to our research, but instead to shift our focus to the ultimate objective of every research project: changing specific consumer behaviours.

Identifying the Right Problem

As human beings, we tend to fall in love with our own hypotheses about why consumers behave the way they do. Every stakeholder in an organization has slightly different hypotheses based on their unique experiences and perspectives. These unspoken hypotheses exert an invisible influence on how research briefs are written, the choices made throughout a research project, and how findings are analyzed and interpreted.

To overcome this, we need to heed the wisdom of Albert Einstein:

"If I had an hour to solve a problem, I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions."

By spending more time clearly defining the problem before jumping to solutions, we can bring precision and clarity to marketing objectives and research briefs, ultimately streamlining research projects.

This process involves:

  • Identifying the specific business outcome you want to achieve

  • Ensuring the outcome is realistic given available resources

  • Avoiding vague ambitions or customer insights that don't directly link to the bottom line

  • Being as specific as possible with the terms used and what can be measured

A 3-Step Process for Behavioural Insights

The first step is to determine the desired business outcome. Ask yourself:

  • What would make the CEO happy to report at the next annual meeting?

  • Are you looking for growth, maintaining the current position, or something else?

  • In what time period do you want to see the change?

  • How will you measure success?

Once you have a clear, specific, and measurable business outcome, work backwards to define the consumer behaviours needed to drive that outcome. Be as specific as possible about:

  • Who is doing the behaviour (individual, household, larger groups)

  • How often they currently do the behaviour

  • Whether you want them to stop the current behaviour, start a new one, or replace an existing behaviour

  • If you want to change the frequency, duration, or intensity of the behaviour

The next step is to identify the current undesired behaviours and the desired replacement behaviours. Be as specific as possible and describe the behaviour so precisely that you could draw it. If you're in doubt about whether something is a "behaviour," ask yourself if you can see it—you can observe behaviours, but not emotions or thoughts.

Consider the characteristics of the behaviour, such as:

  • Frequency (one-off vs. continuous)

  • Complexity (simple vs. complex)

  • Context (controlled vs. uncontrolled environment)

  • Audience motivation (autonomous vs. controlled)

Keep in mind that complex behaviours requiring more motivation in uncontrolled contexts are the most challenging to change. The table below provides examples of how to size up the challenge based on the characteristics of the behaviour:

Easier to influence

Harder to influence

One-off or simple behaviours

Continuous or complex behaviours

When you have more control over context

When you can't control the choice environment or need to adjust many things

When you need to influence behaviour once only

Complex activities that include coordinating many behaviours

Starting or stopping, depending on the behaviour

Established routines or patterns of behaviour, replacing a behaviour (vs. start/stop)

The Self-Determination Theory (Deci & Ryan, 2011) outlines six types of motivation on a continuum from stronger, more autonomous motivation to weaker, more controlled motivation. The stronger your audience's existing internal motivation, the easier it is to influence; conversely, if your audience has little desire to do the behaviour you want, it will take significant resources to achieve your goals.

Impact Likelihood Matrix (adapted from Kneebone, Smith & Fielding, 2017)

When you have multiple potential target behaviours, it may not be feasible for the organization to address all of them simultaneously. This is where the Impact-Likelihood Matrix comes in handy. Map behaviours onto a two-by-two matrix based on their estimated impact (the extent to which changing the behaviour will contribute to achieving the desired outcome) and the likelihood that the target audience will actually change their behaviour.

By going through this process meticulously, you will articulate a clear understanding of the behaviour in question and often reframe the problem in ways that open up different solutions. Thinking explicitly about behaviour will also help you design solutions that match its characteristics, as one size does not fit all when it comes to behaviour change.


Thinking behaviourally with this streamlined approach may seem simple, but its power lies in its ability to crystallize your thinking about what you want to achieve and how you will get there.

This process helps you:

  • Define tangible, measurable business objectives that connect directly to the bottom line

  • Clarify research briefs and ensure alignment among stakeholders

  • Optimize research methodology, sample design, and content

  • Identify if answers already exist within your organization's data sources

  • Generate clearer, more actionable insights and recommendations

By focusing on the end behaviour you want to influence, you can improve research efficiency and return on investment by stripping projects down to their essentials. Embracing this behaviourally-focused approach will lead to leaner, more impactful research that drives meaningful change in consumer behaviour, sometimes at a fraction of the usual cost.

If we shift our focus to the specific consumer behaviours we want to change, we can streamline research projects, sharpen insights, and ultimately drive more impactful business outcomes. Adopting a behavioural approach to consumer insights is not just a nice-to-have; it's a necessity in today's fast-paced, data-driven world.

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