The ‘say-do gap’ is a pretty complex phenomenon, yet it’s something we can all relate to.
We claim we’ll prioritise our fitness after Christmas – yet come to the end of January, it feels like too much effort, and our good intentions come to nothing. Maybe we claim that shopping locally is our top priority – and how fond we are of our high streets. But when time is short, and we’re feeling the pinch, we fall back on the supermarkets or Amazon.
This disparity between what we say and what we actually do is the ‘say-do gap’. It’s also referred to as the ‘intention-action gap’ and is a much talked about phrase in the fascinating world of Behavioural Economics.
It’s the void between our intentions and our actions, and for researchers who are aware of its implications, it can be a bit of an issue.
Why is the ‘say-do gap’ a problem?
When it comes to consumer research, the ‘say-do gap’ can often reveal misleading results – particularly when respondents exaggerate or underestimate their priorities, preferences or intentions.
For businesses and brands, this confusing trait of human behaviour leads to contradictions, inaccurate reflections of emerging trends, consumer priorities and market demand – and challenges in forecasting and product development.
If you then apply this same apathy to act on our intentions to wider global issues, like climate change, you start to see the impact that the gap can have.
The ‘say-do gap’ is something that we, as researchers, can work to mitigate – but it also provides key opportunities for brands.
What causes the gap?
I like to think of the gap as a range of obstacles and barriers that consumers may experience. Some are emotional – others are psychological or practical:
The problem is, these barriers can all inhibit accurate responses – and consumers’ ability to follow through on their intentions or priorities.
What can we do to mitigate the ‘say-do gap’?
Measuring the gap can certainly go some way to helping brands understand the scale of the disparity. They can compare intention to buy with sales figures (or the intention to change behaviour with real outcomes). It’s an interesting area to explore, and it can offer some really valuable insight.
But just as importantly, we can minimise the ‘say-do gap’ at the research design stage – reducing overclaiming and underclaiming to reveal a much more accurate picture:
But the ‘say-do gap’ can provide opportunities for brands
It’s impossible to close the ‘say-do gap’ entirely.
But acknowledging that it exists, understanding its scale and taking steps to mitigate it can reveal a fascinating insight into human behaviour.
As consumers increasingly look for convenience (link to brand growth study), anything that eases their journey from intention to action can help to close the gap. It’s about identifying and truly understanding which barriers are stifling your consumers so you can begin to remove them with solutions (be that time-saving benefits, accessibility of information, ease of the process, reassurance or financial incentives).
For me, the ‘say-do gap’ is a phenomenon that brands should really embrace. Be open to it. Explore it. It’s an opportunity to dig a little deeper and really get to grips with what makes your customers tick. The result? You might just unlock a previously inhibited target market.
Intrigued? If you’re open to the ‘say-do gap’ and want to explore what it means for your market or brand, come and talk to us at Vision One. As well as being a friendly bunch, we’re also one of the UK’s leading global consumer insight specialists – and pioneers in our field.