How we can measure action-relevant consumer attitudes instead of mere lip service – with a combination of implicit and explicit measuring instruments!

By Prof. Dirk Frank and Dipl.-Psych. Manuela Richter, ISM GLOBAL DYNAMICS

Do classic attitude measurements provide reliable guidance in the corona crisis?

The market research industry has reacted to the massive uncertainties regarding future consumer behaviour as a result of the corona pandemic. It is providing the various stakeholders from industry and society with numerous, partly self-financed studies, which are intended to guide them through the thicket of the New Normal: What (changed) attitudes do consumers show as a result of Corona? How do priorities in purchasing behaviour change, as do our needs? How do brands have to be (re)positioned so that they can continue to appeal to consumers in a credible way? Valid questions in volatile times, even if little is currently known with certainty about the half-life and validity of the results. Anyone following the discussions on relevant business and social media platforms – and certainly also in private and collegial circles – will confirm that two “camps” are emerging, at least schematically. One group believes in the purifying effect of crises. People themselves, whether they are consumers or entrepreneurs, would “somehow become better” in the future: more sustainable, more environmentally conscious, more mindful. Even the otherwise hard-boiled representatives of the meat industry are purified and announce that things really cannot go on like this in the future. Somewhat more sober contemporaries, on the other hand, remind us of the great challenges associated with sustainable “habit changes” in adulthood: people want to forget and return as quickly and unharmed as possible to partying, drinking and consumption. The fun society (and not only this one) wants “its life back” – a slogan written on a demonstration poster by an impatient protester after only a few days of restriction. It is probably one of the most exciting questions of the Covid-19 pandemic, in which direction the pendulum will swing in the end.

However, if one first looks at one or two findings on the subject of “Corona and consumer behaviour” that have been disseminated in the media, one inevitably gets the impression that there has never been a discussion on the subject of implicit and explicit attitude formation in our industry. It seems that attitude-related answers from consumers are too often taken at face value without critical questioning. But who would actually answer “no” to a question about whether they acknowledge and honour the services of doctors and nurses in the crisis? And can one really expect that the question of whether Covid-19 has led to a reflection of one’s own consumer behaviour will be answered in the negative? Even the hamster buyer of toilet paper and pasta would have to agree here, who at least went to the supermarket earlier in the morning to be able to bring his prey home safely. At least this did not happen without reflection.

Yes, of course there will be the usual distribution of “yes” and “no” answers to our questions for each of the numerous surveys currently underway. But are there corresponding behavioural intentions behind the answers that companies and politicians need for future planning? Do citizens with a grateful attitude towards hospital staff also support corresponding salary increases or are we falling into the traps of social desirability, “political correctness” and pure lip service, especially when it comes to questions about attitude measurements related to Covid-19? What does it mean for food manufacturers if 60 % of surveyed Germans are in favour of more sustainable food consumption at the rationalising cognitive level, but hardly anyone is really, i.e. action-determining, convinced of this?

The international “Covid-19 Fever” study – integrated measurement of explicit and implicit attitudes

Now, it can rightly be objected that the relationship between attitudes and behaviour has never been close,  especially when explicitly measured attitudes are related to real behaviour. The literature on the circumstances under which behaviour prediction based on attitude measurements produces better or worse results fills entire shelves (see also Naderer & Frank, 2013). But where else could the interplay of good will, rational judgement and the proverbial “weak mind” be analysed as well as in the current coping strategies of citizens in the pandemic?

This is exactly what our partner NEUROHM did in a large-scale global comparative study “COVID-19 Fever”, between the late April and early May 2020. The study was conducted in ten countries with 1000 respondents each in cooperation with field partners and market research institutes in the respective country. For Germany, Syno was responsible for the online data collection, ISM GLOBAL DYNAMICS analysed the results from a national perspective and placed the findings in an international context.

The theoretical basis of the applied measurement model of NEUROHM (iCode, see also Ohme, Matukin & Wicher 2020) is the “Attitude Accessibility” model of Fazio (1989). iCode is an intelligent algorithm that allows the calculation of a confidence index (CI), which integrates the explicit and implicit measures of attitudes in one score. The results then show the tension between rationalizing opinions and the underlying security and trustworthiness in the form of implicit confidence. The operationalisation is carried out by measuring the latency period of a person until they express their own opinion. The shorter the latency, the more secure and internalised the conviction behind the answer and thus the probability that a person will act according to the opinion expressed.

What exactly does the “New Normal” that is currently being lived in Germany look like?

In Germany, the declared willingness to wash hands for 20 seconds, where required and necessary, is met with a rationally high level of approval (over 80%), which is also well internalised by the majority of respondents with almost 70% convinced reactions. Washing hands does not cost much apart from time, it is well understood, and it is believed that the virus can be easily washed with soap. Even the somehow bizarre European Union’s spot with Ursula von der Leyen in the leading role, who sings Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” while washing her hands, could obviously not derogate the inner conviction of the Germans here – which could possibly also be due to the short reach of the film. However, where it really matters, are the reactions to statements whose implementation in everyday life would mean leaving one’s comfort zone: “I would like to help people who are more vulnerable to Covid-19 than I am”. Already the explicit approval rate of 64% of the Germans is rather moderate compared to other countries. In countries such as Turkey, Israel, Lebanon and Spain, explicit approval rates of over 80% were found. Only one in ten Germans, by far the lowest figure internationally, is convinced of their own alleged willingness to help. How would a Briton probably comment on something like this: “Charity begins at home!“ Relevant for companies are particularly the consumption-related reactions. A third of the Germans surveyed claim healthier eating habits since Covid-19, but in the end only just under one in five is really convinced of their own response. The rational answers to the questions about one’s own fitness in times of the pandemic are also reminiscent of the good New Year’s Eve resolutions: one in two Germans surveyed claimed to exercise regularly at home – no chance for the “Corona pounds”! Who did not want to believe this?! If one again bases on the inner conviction of those who answered here, then in the end only two out of ten remain, from whom one should, as a researcher, be able to take this off without fundamental doubt.

The international responses to a total of 20 questions on COVID-related attitudes show in an impressive manner the intercultural differences in dealing with the pandemic and – more importantly – the need to distinguish between inexpensive lip service and internalised beliefs, as a manufacturer wants or has to make pandemic-related strategy adjustments based on valid data. In all fields of research in which an increased bias through socially desirable response behaviour is to be expected, and this includes health issues at the forefront, the combined recording of implicit and explicit responses allows a better assessment of the future behavioural relevance of expressed attitudes and opinions.

For further information and deeper insights into the results of the NEUROHM study as well as on the application of combined measurements in attitude research, please contact us:

Prof. Dirk Frank is a graduate psychologist and managing director of ISM GLOBAL DYNAMICS. The graduate psychologist has been working in market research for over 20 years and is an expert in the field of psychological market research methods. He is key account manager for the institute’s pharmaceutical clients and author of numerous professional publications on health. Dirk Frank is also an honorary professor at the University of Applied Sciences in Pforzheim, Department of Economics and Law.

Manuela Richter is a graduate psychologist and has been part of the ISM GLOBAL DYNAMICS team since 2014. Her research interests as Marketing & Research Development Manager include the psychological aspects of healthcare research, especially the recording and modelling of emotions, needs and motives.

Evelyn Kiepfer has a degree in communication science and has been working in market research for over 15 years. As a member of the ISM GLOBAL DYNAMICS team, the Senior Research Manager looks after various clients, particularly in the field of health and consumer goods research, as Key Account Manager. The focus of her long-standing experience is especially on brand, packaging, communication and consumer research. In doing so, she combines implicit and explicit research methods in order to be able to make holistically sound statements.

References:

Fazio, R. H., Powell, M. C., & Williams, C. J. (1989). The role of attitude accessibility in the attitude-to-behavior process. The Journal of Consumer Research, 16(3), 280–288.

Naderer, G. & Frank, D. (2013). Den Homo Heuristicus verstehen: Implizit braucht Explizit – und umgekehrt. In: Fakultät für Wirtschaft und Recht der Hochschule Pforzheim (Hrsg.), 50 Jahre 50 Thesen, Band 4: Marketing und Management, 13-21.

Ohme, R., Matukin, M., & Wicher, P. (2020). Merging explicit declarations with implicit response time to better predict behavior. In V. Chkoniya, A. Madsen & P. Bukhrashvili (Eds.) Anthropological Approaches to Understanding Consumption Patterns and Consumer Behavior. IGI Global.