Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA) - QRCA Views Magazine, Summer 2021

Qualitative researchers operate at the intersection of three, sometimes incom- patible, ways of thinking: business managers who have a mindset grounded in economic and academic theories related to markets; agencies that employ the skills of the creative arts, including design and writing; and the realities of individuals whose behaviors rarely conform to tidy categorizations and theories. Consilience reconciles these contrasting domains, enabling practi- tioners to navigate among them with more confidence. Consilience is rooted in recent breakthroughs in biology, genetics, computing, and other disciplines that allow us to come to terms with the realities of how our brains work. Armed with this knowledge, we can make sense of the disconnect between market metrics, such as purchase frequency and self-reported attitudes, that have been profoundly perplexing. Marketers Not Knowing the Earth Is Round For example, consider the findings of market statistician Andrew Ehrenberg. During his 50-year career, Ehrenberg analyzed purchasing patterns in more than 300 markets across five continents and modeled them using a single mathematical equation known as the Dirichlet formula. The late Ehrenberg was awarded the Gold Medal of the British Market Research Society twice; first in 1969 and again in 1996. In addition, the (Ameri- can) Advertising Research Foundation honored him with a Lifetime Achieve- ment Award in 2010. Even with all of these accomplishments, the marketing community largely ignored his findings. He reported that “repeat-buying of any item from any frequently bought branded product field tends to, within certain broad limits, follow a common pattern and can be dealt with by one single theory [the Dirichlet formula], irrespective of what the brand or product is and irrespective of what other brands its buyers may or may not have bought as well.” He found these patterns not only in packaged-goods markets but also in business-to-business markets, including aviation fuel contracts, ready-mix cement, cars, computers, and medical prescriptions. “Marketing people not knowing about [the Dirichlet formula] is like rocket scientists not knowing that the earth is round,” Ehrenberg wrote. His findings show that advertising does not work by increasing a person’s level of conscious awareness or by changing their attitude. Instead, awareness and changes in attitude follow changes in purchase behavior. We can start to make sense of these puzzling facts by reconceptualizing how human behavior arises. Contrary to age-old presumptions, our behavior is not the result of conscious thought processes, and verbal explanations for our actions are poorly correlated with actual behavior patterns. Behavior Is Not the Result of Thinking Western academic culture is under- pinned with various presumptions about the connection between knowledge, reason, and behavior. It is customary to believe that knowledge leads to conscious deliberation—that is, thinking—that then results in behavior. This picture is akin to visualizing the human brain working in a way similar to how a computer handles and processes information. This portrayal is being overturned by a largely unreported scientific revolution that has been underway for the last two decades. New technologies have made it possible for researchers to observe the brain in action and to see what is happening genetically and chemically in each cell of the human body. It has become clear that actions we think of as dissimilar, such as manipulat- ing an object with our hands, writing, and speaking are, at a neurological level, almost identical. Each requires fine muscular coordination. However, activities we consider simple, such as 21 QUALITATIVE RESEARCH CONSULTANTS ASSOCIATION Tom Beakbane’s book delves deeper into the topics discussed in this article.