Qual Street

Dedication to the answer


The stimulus effect

The stimulus effect


In a recent project I explored 5 different ways to say the same thing…

…It was a product descriptor. It needed to grab people’s imagination in just a couple of sentences in order to trigger their ‘want’ responses.

The format was very simple… A headline statement followed by a second sentence that gave a bit more detail on what the product actually was. The intriguing thing… people skipped the headline sentence and went straight to the follow up one. Their instinct told them the headline was ‘fluff’ and the second sentence was where the real info was stored. Which meant they missed the crucial fact that this deal was FREE.

It didn’t just happen once, it happened with nearly every respondent.

I also encouraged the client to develop stimulus so we could show the product descriptor in situ…

…in this case on their website – we used screen grabs.

Again, very interesting reactions. The concept looked very vanilla to respondents – there was no WOW to the message. Responses were being driven by the bland presentation of the offer as much as by its key features…(Not the clients fault, the research timings were too tight to develop a more polished look and feel.)

Respondents were quite uninspired by the idea, but a lot of that was driven by the way it looked. (I know this because we did later rounds of research where respondents didn’t see the concept ‘in situ’ and responses were so much more positive.)

Rotated positioning statements – clear research effect…

Respondents were also shown different positioning statements – different angles the client could use to ‘sell’ the idea in advertising. Again, biased responses emerged. There was obviously a point in the interviews at which respondents ‘stuck’ with their story. So if they’d declared themselves a fan of a particular positioning statement they found it hard to like another one as much.

My take out

  1. We need to pre-test stimulus/ make sure we build in an iterative approach to research so we can get it as good as possible
  2. We need to check back in interviews with what respondents are seeing and noticing – testing all their senses…
  3. We need to be on the look out for ‘what could be affecting responses’ in a total way – context is as important as message
  4. We need to provide clients with insight not just into ‘what the message should be’, but also ‘how it should be’
  5. We need to acknowledge confirmation bias will impact on what people are saying – people want to be consistent, and they can convince themselves of the truth of their argument. This could mean we need to listen hardest to the first instinctive response to the first idea in a rotation of concepts, and pretty much disregard everything else. Or, it could mean we need to find different ways to identify which message works best for people…asking questions in a different way. It might be better to ask people how other people would react to the ideas – as social scientists now think we are more reliable at knowing others than ourselves…

Kath Rhodes, Qual Street Owner

I love love learning and so I invest time and resources with Ambreen and Claire into exploring social psychology, neuro science, creativity and new techniques in research. Read all about it and help yourself to the ideas that will deliver your business the insight it needs

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@Qualstreet on 17 March 2023