What to do when concept testing results differ from in-market results

published on February 19, 2024

Someone comparing market research study data on a smart phone and tablet.Our aim as market researchers is to unearth consumer insights that can be translated into tangible business outcomes through informed decision-making by industry experts. However, we know that consumers’ perceptions, emotions, and behaviors don’t always align.

If we aren’t careful, these “truths” can lead researchers and stakeholders down a path that might not be fruitful. Understanding the dynamic between what consumers say and do is key to developing solutions that drive impactful outcomes.

Dilemma: Respondents don’t always accurately predict their behavior

When respondents inaccurately predict their behavior, this might result in disparities between concept testing and in-market results. These variations may arise from differences in test implementation or execution in the market.

In social sciences and psychology, a well-known phenomenon called the intention-behavior gap (also known as the value-action gap) helps describe “the failure to translate intentions into action” — or the difference between what people say and do. Researchers can reduce this gap by:

  • Being specific, informative, and intentional with the wording of questions. The more context you can provide when asking about respondents’ intentions, the more predictive their answers may be of real behavior. Without considering the occasion of shopping for or using a product or service, vital context may be lost in understanding what people will do and why.
  • Examining past behavior. Analyzing how a respondent has made choices in a given category in the past arms the researcher with a lens to assess predicted behavior. Suppose a shopper indexes high on category A purchases and low on category B, but they indicate a preference for category B in their survey response. In that case, we should become suspicious and investigate the incongruence.

Dilemma: Research data doesn’t align with sales data

Sometimes the research process isn’t responsible for misalignment with sales.

  • There might be a gap between the original concept description and the actual execution of the concept.
  • Sometimes pricing isn’t consistent with what was tested.
  • Sometimes the competitive sets in tests are different from in-market.
  • We’ve seen promotional prominence have a significant impact.
  • We know people will overstate preferences for healthy options, especially if choosing them takes sacrifice in the form of money, time, or effort.

There is a myriad of reasons why data may be inconsistent. When sales data doesn’t align with concept testing results, there’s always a reason — it can usually be discovered if you dig deeper. Once identified, the causes can be mitigated and applied when designing and interpreting future research or go-to-market strategies.

Ready to get closer to the truth?

Marrying what people say about a brand with what they really do and how they feel is key to uncovering actional insights. Our teams are ready to dive into your business and design a market research study that produces meaningful solutions. Reach out to discuss your goals.

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