Editor’s note: Laura Bayzle is a partner and Claire Murray is a research director at The Link Group, an insights consultancy based in Durham, N.C.

Behavioral economics has become a buzz topic in marketing. At its heart, behavioral economics is the study of how emotions impact rational decision-making. It’s an imperative concept for marketers to understand as consumers rarely make decisions using just their rational brain. Therefore, the role of the “irrational brain” in decision-making needs to be considered as well. 

Daniel Kahneman, the father of behavioral economics, popularized the theory of System 1 and System 2 thinking and brought it to life in his book “Thinking Fast and Slow” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011). In research, we often ask respondents “How do you feel?” This taps into their System 2 “rational” thinking where they rationalize their answer and emotional response. The answers we get from this exercise are helpful, but it may not give us the full story of how the respondent feels or what actually drives decision-making. That driver may lie in System 1 thinking, which is the unconscious “gut” instinct that we rely on for almost all our day-to-day choices. These are emotions that we may not even be consciously aware of, which means we can’t always articulate them when we are asked “How do you feel?” That means we, as market researchers, are missing part of the picture.

Incorporating techniques to understand latent emotions into market research allows us to tap into that System 1 thinking. And if we can better understand those emotions that drive day-to-day choices, we can add more richness and nuance to our findings, helping our clients make better informed decisions. There are several exercises and techniques marketing researchers can use to help uncover the more emotional side of decision-making, but these approaches often take more time and energy to incorporate and analyze which ...