Why Actions Speak Louder than Words: Navigating the Say-Do Gap in Consumer Research

What is the Say-Do Gap?

The Say-Do Gap, originally referred to as the ‘value action gap’, in relation to attitudes and behaviours surrounding environmental issues, refers to the disparity between what individuals claim they will do (or believe they will do) and what they actually end up doing. It's a concept that highlights the inconsistency between intentions/opinions and actions.

J. Blake published a study in 1999 where he delved into the causes of the evident gap from intention to action. He outlined individuality, responsibility, practicability as the three main obstacles preventing consumers from changing their recycling behaviour. 

To truly close this gap, it's crucial for businesses to dive deep into consumer behaviour, and analyse how and where their voice diverges from their actions with behavioural research.

Why does the Say-Do Gap exist? 

The Say-Do Gap exists due to a combination of the above groups of behaviour changes resulting from cognitive, psychological, and social factors, for example:

  • Social Desirability Bias: People often provide answers they believe are socially acceptable or expected, even if those answers don't align with their true feelings or intentions. This is particularly prevalent in settings where individuals feel their responses are being judged or evaluated.
  • Cognitive dissonance: People strive for consistency in their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours. When there's a mismatch, such as when one's actions don't align with their stated intentions or beliefs, they experience discomfort. To reduce this discomfort, they might either change their behaviour or adjust their stated beliefs, leading to the Say-Do Gap.
  • Optimism bias: Individuals often overestimate their positive qualities and underestimate negative ones. They might genuinely believe they'll act in a certain way (e.g., sticking to a diet or exercise routine) but fall short in reality.
  • Memory gaps and self-awareness: People might not always have accurate memories of their actions, leading them to report behaviors that differ from reality. Moreover, some might not be fully self-aware or introspective, causing a disconnect between what they think they'll do and their actual actions.
  • Situational factors: External events or unforeseen circumstances can impact one's ability to follow through on intentions. For instance, someone might intend to shop at a local store, but bad weather or a hectic schedule might lead them to order online instead.
  • Impulse and immediate gratification: Even with set intentions, humans can be swayed by immediate rewards or impulses. This can lead to actions that contradict previous statements or beliefs.
  • Perceived norms: People might act based on what they perceive as the norm in their social or cultural group, even if it's different from their stated beliefs or intentions.
  • Fear of consequences: In some cases, individuals might avoid certain actions due to fear of potential repercussions, even if they've stated a desire or intention to act otherwise.
  • Information overload: In today's digital age, consumers are bombarded with information, which can influence their decisions and cause them to act differently from their stated intentions.

4 out of 10 People act differently from their stated Behaviour in Shopping

4 out of 10 people act differently from their stated behaviour in shopping
4 out of 10 people act differently from their stated behaviour in shopping. Source: Say-do gap among U.S. active online shoppers 2022, Statista 2023 https://newproductsuccess.org/new-product-failure-rates-2013-jpim-30-pp-976-979/

The discrepancy between what individuals voice and the actions they ultimately take is especially observable in the buying behavior of consumers, threatening consumer companies. A study among US online shoppers found that 38% of shoppers are not actually following their previously stated behavior. This gap in consumer behaviour vs intentions could have the following implications for businesses:

  1. Market research: If businesses rely solely on self-reported consumer intentions without considering the Say-Do Gap, their research may not accurately predict actual purchasing behaviors. This can lead to misguided product launches, misallocated marketing budgets, or failed go-to-markets.
  2. Marketing resources: If advertising campaigns target intentions rather than actual behaviors, they might not resonate with consumers or drive the desired actions. This could result in inefficient use of marketing resources.
  3. Pricing strategies: Businesses might misjudge the price points consumers are genuinely willing to pay based on stated intentions, leading to potential revenue losses, unsold inventory or even missed opportunities for price uplifts.
  4. Product development: Over-reliance on stated consumer desires without considering the Say-Do Gap can lead to products that don't meet real-world consumer needs, resulting in failed product launches or costly product recalibrations post-launch.
  5. Sustainability and ethical considerations: Many consumers state a preference for sustainable or ethically produced products. However, actual purchase patterns might reflect a prioritization of cost or convenience. Businesses need to strike a balance to cater to both stated values and real-world purchasing behaviors.
  6. Market segmentation and personalization: Businesses aiming for personalized marketing might misjudge their audience segments if they base their strategies on stated preferences without factoring in actual behavioural data. This can lead to ineffective targeting and brand communication.

The Say-Do Gap leaves companies with a high uncertainty on demand planning and actual ROI of their product decisions, especially for consumer-facing businesses in times of economic uncertainty, manifested in supply chain disruptions, and material price increases. Product decisions solely based on what consumers say they want or intend to do, without considering potential discrepancies with actual behaviour, can lead to an inaccurate demand forecasting or purchase intent prediction. This might lead to companies investing in products, services, and go-to-market strategies that eventually fail and decrease their ROI.

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Enhancing Decision Intelligence with Behavioural Research

Traditional market research methods heavily rely on self-reported data gathered via surveys or interviews. Blake posited in his paper from 1999 that to truly close the Say-Do gap, it's crucial to understand and address the specific hurdles consumers encounter. This involves engaging with consumers, delving deep into their statements, and analyzing how and where their words diverge from their actions.

In addition to this approach found in 1999 by Blake, i.e. enhancing the qualitative research efforts by further interviewing and surveying consumers, successful consumer companies are already uncovering how consumers would actually behave. They achieve this by implementing research practices into their product decision processes that validate consumer voices with actual behavioural data from real-life buying journeys. Fake door testing is one such practice, validating consumer voice with consumer behaviour data and can help companies bridge the Say-Do gap.

Uncovering Consumer Actions with Fake Door Tests

"Fake door tests," also known as "smoke tests", “painted door tests”, or “red eye tests”, is a pretotyping method based on landing pages used to gauge consumer interest or purchase intent from real consumers (mainly from social media or search channels) in a new product, feature, price, target market or other product specific before actually developing or releasing it. It involves presenting consumers with various options of product, features, price or else (the "fake doors") and measuring their engagement, i.e. consumer behaviour in a situation that represents their typical buying journey. It can help businesses to increase the accuracy of their market research, addressing the Say-Do gap.

How fake door tests work

Setting up and crafting the test

The initial phase of a fake door test involves deciding on the test's focus, whether that's a product concept, specific features, a target group, brand perception, or assessing the pricing elasticity of a product. Following that, a landing page and advertisements is created to showcase the idea as though it's a tangible offering. This includes brand elements, mock-ups of the product, unique selling points, potential benefits, and a distinct call-to-action across the page, such as a buying option or registration.

Test Execution

To conduct the fake door test, you direct traffic to the landing page, commonly via ads on platforms like Google or Meta and measure consumer behaviour along the entire journey. In contrast to survey panels, these platforms can target real-life consumer audiences.

Methodologies and Key Metrics

The fake door test approach predominantly focuses on data points like conversion rates based on consumer actions (e.g., clicks on the 'add to cart' option). This mirrors the foundational ideas of Alberto Savoia's pretotyping theory, which underscores the importance of gathering initial, genuine user behavior data to validate or challenge product-market fit hypotheses. Savoia believes a majority of fresh products fail because they're built on conjecture and assumptions rather than actual market needs and consumer interest. We've linked the video to his keynote Stanford University on the methodology 👇

Data Interpretation

The essence of fake test analytics lies in harnessing actual consumer behavior data to shape product decisions. In contrast to opinion-based surveys, it observes tangible actions like interactions with ads and engagement on the crafted landing page, mirroring genuine buying intentions from consumers for the presented concept.

Use Cases for Closing the Say-Do Gap with Fake Door Tests

Validating Ideas

Fake door tests serve as invaluable tools in preliminary market research, assisting in the validation of potential new products, features or entire businesses. They empower consumer insights, innovation, and product divisions to assess an idea's purchase intent by prospective customers prior to going deep into product development, ensuring resources are allocated accordingly.

Target Group Identification

Behavioural research via fake door tests can help identify the best market for product launches. Teams can use them to assess a target group’s interest in a product. By promoting a product-focused landing page to various market segments, consumer behaviour can indicate in which segment the product will likely be most successful.

Utilising fake door tests within behavioural research can guide in pinpointing the optimal target market for product introductions. Teams can evaluate the interest in a product among specific (socio-)demographic groups. By showcasing a product-centric landing page across distinct target audiences, the reactions of consumers can shed light on which segment meets the biggest potential for a successful go-to-market and ROI. 

Identifying the best possible target groups via behavioural research can help companies to minimise the implications of the Say-Do gap in marketing resources as well as market segmentation and personalisation.

Case Study: Identifying the right Market for new Products with Fake Door Tests

👉 How an international beauty player identified France as the primary market for their new product

Assessing Branding and Design Perception

Trying to increase certainty for companies on the right allocation of marketing resources or addressing the sustainability and ethical considerations of consumers more precisely, fake door tests offer a method to achieve that, by testing and allowing to finetune branding initiatives before they hit the market. A company might leverage these tests to gauge how consumers react to a new brand identity or a distinct value proposition. By introducing the branding idea through a landing page or simulated ads, the firm can measure initial public responses before diving headlong into a full-fledged design.

Uncovering Price Uplifts and Margin Potential

Using a fake door test, consumer-facing teams can explore the potential for price increases by implicitly testing several price levels against each other within the same audience, with distinct samples of the overall population facing only one of the prices. By setting up landing pages at low, middle, and upper-tier prices and sending equal traffic to each, conversions can be closely observed. If pages with higher price tags still see strong conversion actions, like clicks on the 'add-to-cart' button, it's an indicator that there might be leeway to raise a price without negatively impacting demand.

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Closing the Say-Do Gap with Purchase Intent Data

Fake door testing provides market research, innovation and product teams with real-life behavioural data from real-world consumers, to validate consumer voice with action data. With this type of behavioural research being integrated into consumers’ everyday (online) purchasing journey, teams can gather data on their interactions with ads, landing pages and emails to fully understand how your product concept would be received in real life.

The superior insights teams can get from fake door testing stem from consumers being unaware they're participating in a market research study, given the constructed journey seems tangible and the product available for purchase. After they've navigated the process, it's vital to inform them of the test's nature. Before collecting any personal details like an email address, it's crucial to make this disclosure.

Businesses that have successfully implemented fake door tests into their behavioural research, are often anchoring their test KPIs around the number of clicks on the 'add-to-cart' button by consumers on the landing page. This is an effective way of measuring purchase intent and integrating these insights into the business case for the product decision to make.

Here's how they successful consumer corporates are measuring purchase intent from consumers with fake door tests on the example of a price test:

  1. Test setup: Design multiple variants of DTC-like product landing pages and ads for audience acquisition, and develop them into high fidelity consumer touchpoints. The primary engagement point on this page should be the 'add-to-cart' button next to the product with the price. In case of the price test, the designed variants should only differ in the price point indicated next to the product. Also, make sure to disclose the test nature of the research before collecting or processing any personal data, so that a resolution step is included in the journey you set up, ideally after the click on the add-to-cart button.
  2. Fielding: Run the test according to a set budget and collect consumer action data. Stop when you’re able to identify a winning variant, for example a certain price point, with statistical confidence.
  3. Measure & decide: During the test, closely monitor and compare the number of visitors who engage with ads, visit the landing page, and most importantly those who click the 'add-to-cart' button for each of the price variants. This action indicates a genuine interest in purchasing the product and can be a valuable data point for decision making.

Setup for a fake door test to identify price uplift potential

By harnessing the power of behavioural research and focusing on conversion rates from the 'add-to-cart' button, businesses can derive actionable insights into consumer purchase intent  for certain price points. Especially in combination with projected customer acquisition costs based on the allocation of ad spend to the number of add-to-cart conversions, this data can serve as the validator for consumer opinions from previous qualitative research and be integrated into the product-specific business case.

Actions Speak louder than Words

People's actions hardly match their words. This can lead to missteps in product decisions and investments. Fake door testing offers a solution to bridge the gap between what people say they will do and what they actually do. Using realistic consumer journey scenarios, these tests show how consumers might genuinely act, giving businesses an accurate indication of purchase intent for certain product, features, prices, branding or target groups. This is key to improve top or bottom-line results of your innovation efforts or products in the market.

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Written by
Daniel Putsche
Daniel is the Founder & CEO of Horizon. He is driving the strategic development of the organization, establishing a thriving company culture with a team on a mission to help teams build products that customers really want. Daniel has a strong record in sales, marketing and building startups from zero to one. Before Horizon, he successfully founded and co-founded multiple companies, i.e. Candylabs, BikeBeat and Venture Advisory Partners.
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