Editor’s note: Alicia Cleary is the vice president of marketing and industry relations at VideoMining. This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared under the title “The Problem with Self-Reported Behavior.” 

All marketers dream of being a fly on the wall during their customer’s path to purchase journey. 

The story goes that the closer you can get to your customer – to understanding their hopes, dreams, preferences, motivators and so on – the closer you will get to building informed marketing strategies that are destined for greatness.

To gain deeper insights in market research, qualitative studies are often employed. These studies involve methods such as focus groups and in-depth interviews, which allow for open-ended questions and valuable feedback. However, it's important to note that the information gathered from qualitative research is, frankly, subjective and based on feelings, perceptions and impressions rather than objective, evidence-based data. 

While these methods can offer significant context for marketers seeking to better understand the consumer mind-set, it's important to acknowledge that it may also introduce bias and lead to dangerous blind spots in the insights if not properly considered.

While focus groups and surveys can provide valuable insights, they should not be the sole source of information when it comes to understanding consumer behavior. Behavioral scientists have found that people often make decisions unconsciously and based on emotions, which they are, practically speaking, not able to articulate or recall with accuracy. So, we might think we know why we made certain buying decisions, but truthfully, there are missing pieces of human recollection. 

One leading behavioral scientist, Susan Weinschenk (2019) explains it like this: “Research shows that most of our decisions – big or small – are made unconsciously and involve emotion.” Si...