Introducing behavioural science at Verve

Every year, dozens of people gather at Cooper’s Hill in Gloucester, England to race down a 180-metre-long hill. Why? To catch a round of Double Gloucester cheese that’s been rolled down it.1

Is this a rational behaviour, in the classical sense? Probably not – you don’t win a big prize (although you do win the cheese2), and there’s a risk of injury so it’s not necessarily good for your health.

So why do people do it? Probably partly ‘because they can’ - a bit like mountaineer George Mallory’s reply when asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest. His answer: “because it’s there”3.

Behavioural Science is an approach helps us establish why people do what they do. It’s used to understand the ‘why’ behind the decisions people make. Underpinning it is the premise that our behaviour can be influenced by a whole multitude of factors: the mental shortcuts we make because we lack time, mental effort, the information at hand or sufficient attention to make a ‘proper’ decision. We can be influenced by emotions, the actions of other people, and even the environment and context we’re in at that point in time. We might consider some of these irrelevant when making a decision, yet these influences can make us behave in ways that may not seem ‘rational’.

The value of behavioural science in market research

Behavioural science helps deal with a dilemma that market research has long known – what people actually do is often not the same as what they say they do. There can be a huge gulf between saying and doing - New Year’s resolutions, sustainability and saving money are obvious examples of the Say-Do gap. Behavioural science helps explore why this happens and potential solutions on how to bridge this.

Whilst having a feel for what we think is underpinning behaviour is all well and good, it’s rarely the end goal in the commercial world; usually the ask is more around exploring ‘how can we encourage a change in behaviour X?’. It means drawing out biases and heuristics, doing a ‘behavioural diagnosis’, using behaviour change frameworks (like EAST and COM-B), optimising questionnaires (‘asking questions about asking questions’), testing the impact of different nudges in quant, and using technologies like eye tracking. Some great work has been elevated by applying a behavioural science lens, from reducing food waste to tackling overcrowding at French train stations4.

Behavioural science at Verve

We help clients explore their business challenges from a behavioural science perspective, working alongside Verve’s team of researchers to add our viewpoint into the mix – ‘Why do people do X when I want them to do Y?’, ‘Why is uptake of X not happening as I expected?’, ‘Why do people keep answering ‘don’t know’ on this specific question in my survey?!’.

Behavioural science is a broader umbrella term that includes behavioural economics, and other disciplines such as cognitive and social psychology, sociology, cultural and social anthropology, and neuroscience, to name a few. This means it naturally collaborates with other specialities like semiotics, anthropology, culture and trends, which can add that vital context.

At Verve, we blend traditional research with innovative methodologies to ensure clients are getting the whole picture of human behaviour – so we have in-house experts in semiotics, culture analysis, social intelligence, digital anthropology, UX, and behavioural science working alongside our qual and quant researchers. Our focuses are distinct yet complementary, helping us get a granular understanding of why people do what they do – and what can be done about it.

We’d love to chat about how behavioural science can help futureproof your brand.

Dr Adele James is Behavioural Science Lead at Verve with extensive experience in bringing a considered behavioural science perspective to quant and qual methodologies, as well as advising on encouraging effective behaviour change. Adele has worked on studies in a variety of sectors, including retail, FMCG, healthcare, technology, transport and B2B.