How Implicit Research Can Strengthen Your Brand Story

October 25, 2021by Hiebing

The marketing industry is known for leveraging research to unlock the best insights to reach target audiences. Habitually, marketers have used more standard methodologies for collecting quantitative data, such as explicit research, which tends to rely on consumers’ self-evaluation to answer questions about a brand in a deliberate way.

While there are rich learnings to be gathered from explicit research, consumers can be notoriously unaware of what they really feel and perceive – creating what’s called the “can’t say, won’t say” or “unable/unwilling” issue. The result can be a collection of responses that don’t align with actual behaviors or that lack the depth of insight needed to move a brand forward in the marketplace or higher on the preference list of the target.

Because of the gaps endemic in explicit research, there’s a new approach that is gaining traction: implicit research. Implicit research is a neuroscience-based methodology that makes it possible to gain a better understanding of how a customer truly feels about a brand.

To do this, implicit research employs a reaction-time measurement technique to glean a person’s subconscious responses to a brand, an idea, an image, and more. A “response time” baseline is established at the beginning of the research process to benchmark how quickly each respondent answers basic questions. This baselining works to account for the differences in thinking speeds, ranges in dexterity and even internet speeds. Once an average response time is established for each respondent, the audience is exposed to a variety of stimuli, and the reaction time specific to answering each question is tracked. Faster responses are indicative of more certainty of their answer, while slower responses indicate less certainty.

The reaction time data helps unearth the respondent’s subconscious feelings about a brand. The brand can then use key takeaways from the research to create a more insightful brand story that, when followed, can lead to a stronger and more significant connection with your audience.

Implicit Research in Action

Implicit measurement is very straightforward, and yet it can take learnings to a whole new level. Here’s a closer look at how.

Recently, our agency’s research team worked with an organic food brand to develop a stronger brand positioning. While most people would say organic food can be a bit pricey, most consumers still lean favorably toward it. Our challenge was to find the most compelling way to position this brand so that it stood for something beyond being a typical organic product – with the ultimate goal of giving it a much better chance of overcoming price point barriers.

To gauge what mattered most to consumers, we crafted four brand positioning statements, taking a slightly different angle in each. We then asked survey respondents to evaluate each statement.

In this case, we showed respondents language such as “different than organic brands” and then asked about each of the four positioning statements and gave the option to respond “yes,” “no,” or “not sure.” The speed of their responses was used to calculate a conviction measurement, with faster responses indicating more conviction and lower ones less.

These responses, and the speed at which they were provided, allowed us to see which messaging evoked stronger feelings or feelings of indifference. Using those insights, we were able to create a brand story rooted in what our consumers needed to hear or see in order to believe that this particular organic brand offered more value and merited a higher cost.

Benefits for Brands

Implicit research can reveal what messaging truly resonates with your consumer and what causes literal pause so that your brand knows which areas it should lean into (or away from) to make a deeper emotional connection. Not only that, the data around timing – hesitation, if you will – also provides great insight into where the target is on the consumer journey.

For example, if your data indicates that a majority of respondents hesitate when asked if “family-owned farms” differentiates this brand from other organic brands but does not hesitate when asked about “uses only pasture-raised milk,” the brand will know that the “uses only pasture-raised milk” message is the right or resonant one that differentiates it among the competition for the target.

All told, implicit research gives brands a unique opportunity to gauge their customers’ true and subconscious sentiments about a brand. While this research is strong on its own, it can also be paired with explicit research – allowing a look into what people really think, not just what people think they think.

Whether it’s used on its own or in complement to other methods, implicit research is fast, easy and cost-effective – with vast potential to uncover learnings that will allow your brand to captivate and connect with your target in new ways.

Curious to know how implicit research can help fine-tune your brand’s positioning and level-up its relationship with customers? Email Dana at to set up a call.

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