B2B International
Written byJames McNeilis

June 1, 2016

Does Asking Questions Drive Behaviour?

Almost 30 years ago, young Joe was asked if he was going to vote in a forthcoming election. Dozens of others were asked the same question. The result was surprising. Those who were asked if they intended to vote were significantly more likely to do so than the rest of the population. The very act of asking an intention question seemed to drive behaviour (Greenwald, Carnot, Beach, & Young, 1987).

What began 30 years ago as an experiment is now a widely accepted phenomenon – asking someone a question about their future behaviour influences their subsequent performance of that behaviour (Morwitz & Fitzsimons, 2004).

The Net Promoter Score And Subsequent Attitudes

If asking a question influences subsequent behaviour, the question-behaviour effect must be taken into consideration in market research because market researchers are always asking questions. For example, let’s consider customer loyalty and the Net Promotor Score (Reichheld, 2003). The Net Promotor Score asks participants: How likely are you to recommend our company to a friend or a colleague? Participants are then classified into one of three categories:

  1. Promoters – those participants who are likely to recommend the company (and give a score of 9 or 10).

  2. Passives – those participants who are neither likely nor unlikely to recommend the company. (They give a score of 7 or 8)

  3. Detractors – those participants who are likely to share negative opinions about the company. (They give a score of 6 or less)

Taking the question-behaviour effect into consideration, does this mean that promoters who are asked the Net Promoter question are more likely to recommend the company in future? Furthermore, does this mean that detractors who are asked the Net Promoter question are more likely to share negative opinions about the company in future? This paper aims to address these issues, with the view to illustrate that market research is more than just a measure – it can also drive customer behaviour.

Market researchers use a variety of methods to collect data, including: online surveys, telephone interviews, and face-to-face interviews. Therefore, if we are to determine whether the question-behaviour effect influences the behaviour of those participants asked the Net Promoter Question, we must know whether the question-behaviour effect is pertinent across a range of research methods. In a review of the literature, Spangenberg and colleagues (2008) noted that question-behaviour effects have been demonstrated in a variety of research methods, including: online surveys, telephone interviews, face-to-face interviews, as well as mass-communicated marketing campaigns. Thus, it is almost certain that participants in market research are susceptible to the question-behaviour effect.

Increase In Purchase Intent Following Questions

So far, we have established that participants in market research could be susceptible to the question-behaviour effect. However, to suggest that the question behaviour effect may influence the behaviour of those participants asked the Net Promoter question, we require tangible evidence of the question-behaviour effect at work in market research. Morwitz and colleagues (1993) used data from market research panels to investigate the question-behaviour effect in regards to purchase intent. Participants in the experimental group were asked about their intent to buy a high-ticket item (e.g., an automobile), mid-ticket item (e.g., a personal computer), and low-ticket items (e.g., household goods). It was found that these participants were significantly more likely to purchase these items in the next six months than those participants in the control group. Thus, simply asking participants about their intent to purchase increased the likelihood that participants would purchase these items in the near future. With this in mind, it is highly probable that asking the Net Promoter question will influence behaviour.

How Does Market Research Influence Attitudes And Behaviour?

At this point, we have established that asking the Net Promoter question is highly likely to influence the attitudes of participants in market research. However, to determine how asking the Net Promoter Score will influence the attitudes of participants in market research, we must understand how asking a question influences attitudes. There are two main theories that explain how the question-behaviour effect influences participants’ future behaviour and attitudes:

  1. Increasing the accessibility of attitudes. An important consequence of answering a question is that attitudes become more accessible in our minds (Morwitz et al., 1993). The accessibility of attitudes has been shown to influence our attitude consistent behaviour (Fazio, Powell, & Williams, 1989). For example, Morwitz and Fitzsimons (2004) found that participants asked about their intent to purchase a chocolate bar were more likely to purchase a brand they held positive attitudes towards than a brand they held negative attitudes towards.

  2. Increasing the accessibility of a brand. In this sense, a brand or label refers to the storage of a moniker in our memory. For example, when trying to remember the name of a distant relative, we search our memory for ‘John Smith’. The more often we search for an item in memory, the more accessible it becomes (e.g., Karpicke & Roediger, 2007). Simply put, the more we think about something, the greater the likelihood of us performing the thought or to be precise, the more likely we are to perform the behaviour in future (Morwitz et al., 1993; Morwitz & Fitzsimons, 2004).

Importantly, increasing the accessibility of attitudes has a greater effect on the future behaviour of those with participants with positive attitudes than negative attitudes (Morwitz & Fitzsimons, 2004). In the above research, where participants were asked about their intent to purchase a chocolate bar, the positive behavioural effect of participants choosing a brand they hold positive attitudes towards was greater than the negative behavioural effect of participants not choosing a brand they hold negative attitudes towards after being asked a purchase intent question (Morwitz & Fitzsimons, 2004). This is because participants with negative attitudes towards the brand were still positively influenced by the increased accessibility of the brand’s label. Thus, the question-behaviour effect has a positive net-effect on the future behaviour of participants who engage in market research.

Market Research Can Drive Behaviour!

Finally, we are in a position to answer the initial questions set out at the beginning of this article. Anecdotal evidence suggests that promoters who are asked the Net Promoter question will be more likely to recommend the company in future. Promoters hold positive attitudes towards the brand and the accessibility of these attitudes will increase by asking the Net Promoter question (Morwitz et al., 1993). With these pumped up attitudes, promoters answering the Net Promoter question will be more likely to recommend the company (Fazio et al., 1989). Furthermore, these promoters are likely to engage in attitude consistent behaviour long after the market research has been completed, as positive question-behaviour effects have been shown to last up to six months after the initial question (Spangenberg, 1997). This bodes well for those who wish to undertake market research into customer loyalty and satisfaction. Simply asking the Net Promoter question to a sample population can encourage promoters to recommend a company!

The behaviour of promoters has been explained and is understandable. But what of detractors? Detractors hold negative attitudes towards a brand by giving it a score of 6 or below out a range from 0 to 10. In general detractors are more likely to share negative opinions about a company. However, increasing the accessibility of the brand’s label has a counter-active effect that positively influences detractors’ future behaviour (Morwitz & Fitzsimons, 2004). As stated above, the question-behaviour effect has an overwhelmingly positive net-influence on the future behaviour of participants who engage in market research. Accordingly, the Net Promoter Score not only provides valuable insights that can help improve customer loyalty and satisfaction, it can also drive participants behaviour leaving them motivated to recommend the company to the wider public. The insights obtained from customer loyalty surveys and the uplift in attitudes following such surveys are two strong arguments for carrying out customer loyalty studies.

References

Fazio, R. H., Powell, M. C., & Williams, C. J. (1989). The role of attitude accessibility in the attitude-to-behaviour process. Journal of Consumer Research, 16(3), 280-288.

Greenwald, A. G., Carnot, C. G., Beach, R., & Young, B. (1987). Increasing voting behaviour by asking people if they expect to vote. Journal of Applied Psychology, 72, 315-318.

Karpicke, J. D., & Roediger, H. L. (2007). Repeated retrieval during learning is the key to long-term retention. Journal of Memory and Language, 57, 151-162.

Morwitz, V. G., & Fitzsimons, G. J. (2004). The mere-measurement effect: Why does measuring intentions change actual behaviour? Journal of Consumer Research, 14, 64-74.

Morwitz, V. G., Johnson, E., & Schmittlein, D. (1993). Does measuring intent change behaviour. Journal of Consumer Research, 20, 46-51.

Reichheld, F. F. (2003). The one number you need to grow. Harvard business review, 81(12), 46-55.

Spangenberg, E. R. (1997). Increasing health club attendance through self-prophecy. Marketing Letters, 8(1), 23-32.

Spangenberg, E. R., Greenwald, A. G., & Sprott, D. E. (2008). Will you read this article’s abstract? Theories of the question-behaviour effect. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 18, 102-106.

Sprott, D. E., Spangenberg, E. R., Block, L. G., Fitzsimons, G. J., Morwitz, V. J., & Williams, P. (2006). The question-behaviour effect: What we know and where we go from here. Social Influence, 1(2), 128-137.