B7 partner Paul Tidmarsh describes how a typical B7 Innovation focus group starts by showing consumers a gallery of 80 separate Adcepts – each one like a stand-alone rough press advertisement. Each respondent is given just 15 minutes to pick the three Adcepts that, for whatever reason, catch his or her eye. New B7 clients are often flabbergasted by the volume of stimulus and paucity of selection time allowed. ‘How can anyone give each idea enough time to see if it’s interesting or not?’ The answer lies in how our brains deal with an overstimulating world.
The human mind has developed an internal computer capable of making decisions very quickly, from very little information. There is simply too much going on around us for our brain to devote rigorous thought to all it encounters. Instead, it relies on what psychologists call our ‘adaptive unconscious’ – a way of sifting information to isolate what is important or interesting and what is not. Psychologist Timothy D. Wilson in his book ‘Strangers to Ourselves’, describes the process: The mind operates most efficiently by relegating a good deal of high-level, sophisticated thinking to the unconscious, just as a modern jetliner is able to fly on autopilot with little or no input from the human ‘conscious’ pilot. The adaptive unconscious does an excellent job of sizing up the world, warning people of danger, setting goals, and initiating action in a sophisticated and efficient manner.
Whenever we react to a new idea, it is the unconscious part of the brain that kicks in and makes decisions in a ‘blink’, as described by writer Malcolm Gladwell. Our world may not be as dangerous as the one our brains evolved in, but our daily lives are surely more complex – recent research estimates that we are bombarded by 10,000 advertising messages every day, each one screaming for our attention. Only those ideas and messages that grab us in an instant are likely to succeed. So when we show consumers 80 Adcepts in 15 minutes, we are simply replicating real life and forcing our focus group members into making the same snap decisions that will decide the fate of the brand or innovation in the real world.
Apart from forcing their unconscious minds into action, the great advantage of showing 80 Adcepts to consumers is that we can explore so many potential themes and subtle variations on ideas. The concept statements traditionally used in qualitative research are normally limited to around six ideas, each one often diluted to shoehorn one idea into another. With B7 Adcepts, we can find not only the most interesting idea – we can isolate the most compelling expression of it. So unlike with concept statements, no idea is passed over simply because it hasn’t been expressed in the right way.
Of course we don’t dismiss the power of our rational, considered ‘system 2’ brain in our research. Once each respondent has chosen his/her three favourites Adcepts from the initial 80, these are then discussed in detail by the group to help prize apart the detail of why an idea works and to examine the ‘reason to believe’ in real depth. This conscious analysis is very important, but the real power driving which brand consumers will spend their money on lies in the hidden world of our unconscious brain and the snap decisions it makes for us.