The latest news and developments from SENSANALYSIS


Implicit vs. Explicit Product Research: which one should be conducted?


Why not choose both? The right combination of the two research methods is the dream team for the development of winning products.

Human cognition can be defined by two different mental processes. The subconscious mental process occurs quickly and involuntarily, while the conscious one requires concentration to reason through thoughts and feelings. These different time frames allow for two different routes to decision making, suggesting that both types can independently drive behavior.

Sensory experiences are rooted in childhood memories and a cultural sensorial framework, so a person’s habitual behavior or preference was learned a long time ago. As such, it can be argued that these experiences are processed in System 1, and thus it makes a lot of sense to research sensory experiences of a product implicitly.

However, implicit reactions alone do not provide the complete story nor help clients find direct solutions to overcoming potential hurdles which implicit measurements may reveal. Implicit responses alone can leave the researcher ‘speechless’ and clients ‘clueless’ when it comes to understanding what is needed to create really successful and promising products.

Going only through the implicit research route could make it necessary to have a lot of product variations in place with testing through trial and error in order to find the winning product, which is time-consuming, costly, and technically very challenging. Moreover, one would neglect the understanding of real consumer language which is necessary to make sure that all aspects of the product sensory are all cohesive/telling the same ‘story’ as the product and marketing communication.

Garnering consumer reactions and associations as expressed through System 2 can fill the void and create a well-rounded understanding by:

  • Offering hypotheses and potential explanations as to why consumers showed a certain implicit reaction
  • Finding potential solutions to overcome a ‘hurdle’ in the implicit response
  • Helping to create a creative ‘roadmap’ for further product development which can increase a product’s success in implicit testing
  • Generating consumer language for the development of appropriate product/marketing communication and overall sensorial coherence
  • Uncovering any potential gaps between implicit and explicit reactions and help identify which ones are driving the desired outcomes

Furthermore, when it comes to the emotional implications of a product, explicit reactions are as critical as implicit ones to the understanding of the full range of emotions. As emotions are both subconscious and conscious (as derived from both automatic and deliberated thoughts), merely evaluating them implicitly would capture only one part of the decision making process. Emotions that are conscious are just as real as those that we are unaware of, as explicit deliberation create conscious emotions which can confirm or reject implicit thoughts and feelings.

SENSANALYSIS’ 30+ years of sensory research experience has been focused on capturing real consumer language and revealing opportunities/areas for improvement which implicit research alone cannot provide, mainly via our Sessions methodology which aims to circumvent the consumer limitations that other explicit methodologies may have, such as:

  • Limits in their motivation to answer honestly
  • Limits in their opportunity to answer as clearly as they would like, due to the constraints of the measurement tool
  • Limits in their ability to articulate their thoughts and feelings
  • Limits in their awareness, as their thoughts and feelings may not be conscious

Nosek, B; Hawkins, C; & Frazier, R (2011). Implicit Social Cognition: From measures to mechanisms. Trends in Cognitive Science, 15(4), 152-159.

In our Sessions methodology, we conduct a ‘SENSORY JOURNEY’ which avoids, as much as possible, the limitations outlined above. As it is an individual exercise, it avoids the effect of peer pressure in a group discussion or unintended bias from an interviewer which can hide the true reactions of the individual. Similar to writing an entry in a personal journal, this exercise bypasses any unconscious socially expected responses and incorporates a series of projective techniques to help bring deep-seated thoughts and feelings to the conscious mind (using principles similar to the practice of Mindfulness). This methodology is further supported by our careful recruitment of consumers who are able to articulately express sensory expectations, sensations, and emotions.

As the creation of winning products with appropriate and evocative sensory cues is still a big challenge in the FMCG industry, there is no reason to make a choice between engaging in implicit versus explicit research. The right combination of both is the key to creating a complete roadmap for the development of successful products.

Contact us to find out how we can assist you in combining both types of research to create actionable insights.