Category Archives: Blog

Addressing the WEIRD problem in consumer science: Representation in Research

To explain the WEIRD problem, let’s start with a weird analogy… 

Every career involves some type of research, which inevitably helps professionals get better at their craft. Consider a baker with a specialization in pies. Custard, cream, and apple pies are all second nature to this person because they learned as much as possible to become an expert in this particular domain. Yet, the credibility of the baker becomes questionable if they start saying they know everything about every type of food using only the knowledge they have about pies. Pies are such a small percentage of all the different types of food in the world- how could this baker possibly make claims over all types of food?  

This is the exact situation occurring within social science, but rather than worrying about misrepresenting pasta or pastries, there is a bias in participants recruited. Henrich, Heine, and Norenzayan (2010) were some of the first researchers to expose the massive amount of disproportionate sampling within behavioral science. The demographics for the majority of research fell into the WEIRD acronym coined by these researchers. WEIRD stands for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. Although some consumers do fall into the WEIRD category, it is very safe to say it’s not all-encompassing. Recruiting only individuals within this bracket would not present an issue if all humans shared the same reactions and behaviors, but human beings have a lot of variability. Similar problems have been noted in biology and neuroscience where a lot of research solely studied males in neurobiology animal research. In either situation, overarching claims easily misrepresent populations. Ingrained beliefs, values, past experiences, and social conditions all impact judgment, perception, and behavior. Therefore, measuring only a small subsect of the population and generalizing it to all humans is not only misleading—it’s wrong.  

What types of issues does this create?  

Cross-cultural studies have demonstrated the need for diversity in research by suggesting the WEIRD population is actually more of an outlier than a norm (Muthukrishna et al., 2020). Patterns within the WEIRD population are cited for being more individualistic, independent, and analytical, and impersonally prosocial (Schulz et al., 2019). To complicate matters even more, variability even exists among, within, and across the WEIRD population (just ask any New Yorker visiting rural Kentucky). These differences highlight the need to understand cross-cultural context in consumer science.  

Henrich, Heine, and Norenzayan (2010)’s paper shares that only 12% of the world’s population was utilized in 96% of psychological samples. This implies there is a much greater likelihood of being studied when attending a Western university as opposed to any person you may pass on the street. Additionally, this disproportionate analysis of human behavior is perpetuated by many of the big labs, journals, editors, researchers, and conferences who also are WEIRD. The study of culture is informed by the researchers’ culture. It is important to have more diverse researchers in the field to help appropriately investigate particular individuals. Without fully knowing what it is like to live in someone else’s culture or society, important questions or specifications may be overlooked. Therefore, a lot of the foundational research may be flawed or inaccurate in its generalizations when replicated with other groups of individuals. The cycle of researching only a small subsect of the population and assuming its applicable universally creates distortion about behavior by neglecting trends and patterns within other groups.  

Expanding the scope of research is challenging; however, the current literature regarding judgment and decision making is heavily biased since the focus was driven by the WEIRD population. The past literature has a lot to offer in terms of framework, design, as well as cautionary limitations. Findings from any piece of research must be considered within its cultural confines. As scientists, we must acknowledge and appreciate the gaps in research in order to learn more about the human effect. Reviewing the main effects of research under this critical lens may be messier, but it is especially important in consumer science. Exposure to ads, products, or packaging can vary drastically depending on the context. By addressing the differences within cultures and societies around the world, companies can cater to consumers better to meet their personalized needs. While it may feel overwhelming, there is an opportunity to make major improvements by adjusting the research to better serve the target demographic.   

The Mess in Measures  

The implications of the WEIRD problem extend into the tools used to measure populations. Having a scale or methodology be validated and reliable with one subgroup does not guarantee its effectiveness with another. Advances in technology have provided many benefits for faster and easier communication, data collection, and management; however, not all tools are made equal or accessible. Customizing the choice in methodologies to the research question is crucial when trying to explore a concept for a certain group. It is important to be aware of the constraints about each tool or technique in order to determine if that limitation will compromise the study.  

Certain advancements also may isolate certain populations. For example, consider a study using an app as a way to record daily experiences of participants. Having a smart phone compatible with the app is a major limiting factor in recruitment. Furthermore, within that population, many individuals may be technologically inept and find using the app challenging. An inability to handle the app is just as concerning, since the data will not be recorded if the participant cannot access the right interface. As seen in this example, to meet scientific goals, it is important to account for the culture and conditions of the participants. For research innovation and advancement to take place, studies must have strategies in place to understand and account for the differences that may occur.     

Blind Spots in Technology  

As market researchers, HCD looks to produce the best quality results for specific research questions. By constantly exploring new and emerging technology, it is important to consider how scalable the technology is and how useful its application will be in any of our client’s studies. One of the most important parts of evaluating new technology is understanding how to use the tool, which includes understanding any barriers. Critically evaluating the tools is one of the first safeguards to ensuring useful data. We are motivated to seek out new methods and technology for specific research questions to ensure there is a consideration for the validity of the findings through its connections to the cross-cultural context.   

Awareness of WEIRD is important because research can plan and design in ways that address the issue. The way consumers live will have a major impact on the way they see, hear, and experience any product, ad, or package. As the research is crafted, the population explored, and the tools used to measure any effect, should not be taken lightly. Screening questions must be carefully constructed with consideration of complex components such as gender identity and mixed races. These decisions must have a strong justification as they will have ramifications on other research decisions such as sample size and scalability.   

Getting comfortable with familiar methods may be tempting, but the objective is to be effective not compliant. In The Art of War by Sun Tzu, he shares wise advice very applicable to consumer science research, “Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.” Understanding context is how this field will continue to grow and evolve, but only if the appropriate measures are used to accurately report an experience.    

If you are interested in starting a conversation about using the right tool for the right question, please feel free to contact HCD Research via email at or call 908.788.9393. 


Henrich, J., Heine, S. J., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world?. Behavioral and brain sciences, 33(2-3), 61-83. 

Muthukrishna, M., Bell, A. V., Henrich, J., Curtin, C. M., Gedranovich, A., McInerney, J., & Thue, B. (2020). Beyond Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) psychology: Measuring and mapping scales of cultural and psychological distance. Psychological science, 31(6), 678-701. 

Schulz, J. F., Bahrami-Rad, D., Beauchamp, J. P., & Henrich, J. (2019). The Church, intensive kinship, and global psychological variation. Science, 366(6466). 

Never a Dull Moment? Optimizing the Value of Neuro-based UX Research

Coauthored by HCD’s VP of Research & Innovation, Michelle Niedziela, PhD, and Manager of Behavioral & Marketing Sciences, Kathryn Ambroze

As seen in the retail issue of NMSBA’s INsights mag…

Meaningful product or service experiences drive consumer satisfaction. From enjoyment to usability, designing a successful consumer-centric experience meeting consumer needs and expectations. Defining success in this space is not always straightforward, as what constitutes a good experience for one person may differ for someone else.

Can tools from neuroscience provide much needed moment-by-moment assessment of the user experience (UX)? Is it value-added or just a fancy add-on? Unfortunately, there hasn’t always been a good track record for neuromarketing products meeting their promises, especially in the case of UX. Here we will break down key needs in UX and how neuro approaches can pave a path forward.

What is successful UX?

UX design is a culmination of numerous decisions from aesthetics to functionality. But ultimately, a successful UX design must meet certain criteria: easy, useful, desirable.

  • Is it easy? Usability research is the process of making sure that things work well and are easy to use and motivate some call-to-action (such as subscriptions or purchases). A normal person should be able to use the product without getting frustrated or annoyed. The challenge in designing successful UX is that consumers may have different thresholds for what is intuitive.
  • Is it useful? If the product purpose is overlooked, disrupted, or ignored, the consumer need remains unmet. If expectations are unmet, consumers may find satisfaction elsewhere by abandoning the site or returning the product. Learning the goals, skills, preferences, and tendencies of the consumers enhances the content and facilitates the appropriate call-to-action.
  • Is it desirable? Desirability is an important component of UX that gauges how much a product or service is wanted by a consumer. Sometimes, high desirability can be expressed through a premium. Increased prices sometimes evoke desirability—for example, as seen with a sleek expensive car design.

Successful UX research can be challenging as it often relies on retrospective consumer feedback and disruptive think-aloud exercises. Retroactively reviewing a product experience may result in omission of valuable information, sharing only what is easily recalled. Think-aloud exercises, or answering questions during an experience, interrupts the experience natural flow. Self-reports and questionnaires are prone to different types of bias which may influence what consumers share and can be ambiguous or misleading if the user struggles to recall the experience or how to best describe it. Demand effects (changes in the user’s behavior caused by assumptions about a study’s purpose) and other social pressures may impact the thoughts or feelings disclosed.

Brainy Solutions 

There are several approaches to gaining insights into UX; however, determining the ideal methodology should be dependent on the research objective. Choosing the right tools involves acknowledging one tool will never provide all the answers. To gain valuable and clear findings, streamline research to learn for a specific question. Reflect on the current knowledge gaps to formulate a research question and use this question to determine appropriate methodologies and technologies. Through proper UX testing, you can find design flaws you might otherwise overlook, then leverage these insights to make improvements. Whenever you run a usability test, your chief objectives are to:

  1. Determine whether testers can complete tasks successfully and independently.
  2. Assess their performance and mental state as they try to complete tasks, to see how well your design works.
  3. See how much users enjoy using it.
  4. Identify problems and their severity.
  5. Find solutions.

To add context to fragmented traditional approaches (think-aloud, retrospective self-report), tools from neuroscience, such as electroencephalography (EEG), provide a novel way to explore gaps in UX.Brain-based, non-obtrusive measurements can ensure the experience is intuitive and optimized for consumer satisfaction through proper study design and meaningful metrics such as cognitive load and emotional response. 

So how can neuroscientific tools help?

  • Don’t make users think – Neuroscientific Tools

When it comes to UX, if you make people think, you make them unhappy. Users don’t want to see a product or service like some sort of difficult puzzle – they want to know what they should do immediately and then do it. The more you make people think, the more likely they are to go elsewhere to get the job done.

Brain-based measures can capture objective information beyond self-reported responses using tools such as EEG. This non-invasive methodology collects unbiased, user-generated reactions, uncovering cognitive states, such as engagement or alertness, or mental workload, like attention or stress (Johnson et al., 2011; Frey et al., 2016). With high temporal sampling rates, EEG records neural activity in real time, avoiding disrupting the user experience and determining the user’s interactions at any point (Bunge & Kahn, 2009). Exploring the user neurological emotional states and cognition throughout a product experience helps identify pain points and user needs, exposing compelling and actionable next steps for designers.

  • Time Wasting Sucks – Behavioral Analysis

Consumers go online to save time, not to spend it. Consumers move on if you waste their time. This concept should be obvious when you consider how page loading times are analyzed in Google ranks. Further, people are habitual. If something works well – consumers tend to continue to use it. Even if there’s a better way to do something out there – it’s unlikely that they’ll go looking for it. That doesn’t mean that consumers won’t eventually have it called to their attention but if you make things more usable; you make them sticky and habit forming.

To gain context surrounding the user experience and the paths people take, a combination of eye tracking and behavioral coding can lend insight. Eye tracking informs how users view and interact with different interfaces. In behavioral coding, each code is used to mark the occurrence and duration of a specific behavior or set of behaviors. Behavioral drivers are exposed by learning what users visually attend to or ignore and comparing it with qualitative or neuroscientific tools. These outputs give supporting evidence about what consumers find intuitive, as well as what elements advance or hinder progress in completing the task at hand.  The observations indicate what (through eye tracking) and how (through behavioral coding) consumer behavior fails or successful reaches a call-to-action.  

  • UX Testing is an Iterative Process

Perhaps most important in any research is proper research design for clear and actionable results. To make usability testing work best, you should:

  1. Plan –
    • A.) Define what you want to test. Ask yourself questions about your design/product. What aspect/s of it do you want to test? With a clear hypothesis, you’ll have the exact aspect you want to test.
    • B.) Decide how to conduct your test. Define the scope of what to test (e.g., navigation) and stick to it throughout the test. When you test aspects individually, you’ll eventually build a broader view of how well your design works overall.
  2. Set user tasks –
    • A.) Prioritize the most important tasks to meet objectives (e.g., complete checkout) with no more than 5 tasks per participant in a 1-hr timeframe.
    • B.) Clearly define tasks with realistic goals.
    • C.) Create scenarios where users can try to use the design naturally.
[figure caption] HCD’s NeuroUX study of usability for COVID-19 vaccination registration using EEG, eye tracking, and behavioral coding.

The Fairytale Ending: Creating an Intuitive Interface 

UX design influenced by cognitive data can fill the gaps within UX research. Neuroscientific measures should never replace traditional measures. However, these tools can be a great addition to investigating certain research questions. Knowing the priorities and pitfalls of any product or service experience allows designers to solve for the wants and needs of the user.  It is through an accessible and seamless design that user engagement is captured and sustained.

The integration of behavioral designs into user research provides tangible data about the entire experience. EEG, eye tracking, and behavioral coding tools can analyze the user experience, giving direct feedback on how real consumers work with the design. Proper research design exposes behavioral drivers of the user experience and gives insight into ways to help consumers feel in control and satisfied. By employing appropriate metrics for targeted research questions, designers gain insight into building clear and consistent interfaces.

Knowing the user translates to user-friendly outcomes, promoting user confidence, trust, and loyalty. By asking the right questions and using the right measures, user research can construct a consumer’s happily ever after.


Bunge, S. A., and Kahn, I. (2009). ‘‘Cognition: an overview of neuroimaging techniques,’’ in Encyclopedia of Neuroscience (Vol. 2), ed L. R. Squire (Cambridge, MA: Academic Press), 1063–1067.

Frey, J., Daniel, M., Castet, J., Hachet, M., & Lotte, F. (2016). Framework for electroencephalography-based evaluation of user experience. In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 2283-2294).

Johnson, R. R., Popovic, D. P., Olmstead, R. E., Stikic, M., Levendowski, D. J., & Berka, C. (2011). Drowsiness/alertness algorithm development and validation using synchronized EEG and cognitive performance to individualize a generalized model. Biological psychology, 87(2), 241-250.

Innovation Lab Webinar Panel: A Recap

From businesses to government all the way to non-profit organizations, the word “innovation” is often thrown around to generate excitement and create the illusion of advancement. Although it is frequently used as a buzzword, there is a lot of substance and value that can be gained from the process of innovation if approached correctly. Innovation in consumer research can improve future growth and sustainability by developing a strategy to take an idea from concept to creation. Establishing a space for creative thoughts allows new ideas to be generated and stretches the boundaries of traditional solutions. Furthermore, harnessing those ideas or concepts into tangible action-items builds an innovation plan which connects consumers to the products in meaningful ways.

“You don’t see new ideas by looking harder in the same direction.”

Edward de Bono

In the latest webinar entitled Innovation Lab: A Frank Discussion on Innovation Essentials, HCD gathered expert panelists from several different areas of the industry to understand how innovative thinking in research, product design, and marketing is attempted. A lot of thought-provoking comments came about from this conversation, so we wanted to share a quick overview of just a few of the many interesting insights that came out of this live session…


Innovation is everywhere.

HCD’s VP of Research & Innovation, Michelle Niedziela, notes how innovation can be applied to many different areas all the way from products to processes. By sharing a few historic innovation failures, such as Colgate’s frozen dinners and Google Glass, Michelle demonstrates how aspects like timing and alienation can result in consumer disinterest and must be considered when talking about innovation. 

What is innovation? Why is it important?

Michelle Niedziela kicks off the panel conversation by questioning what innovation actually means. The conversation immediately breaks down the process of innovation by acknowledging how innovation is needed for an idea to blossom into something of value and, for many companies, profit. Zvi Loewy mentions that successful innovation requires both an advancement that addresses a need and a consumer who is willing to experiment with the new attempt of satisfying that same need. What happens if one of those two components is missing? The concept remains an idea rather than an innovation. 

3 Pillars of Innovation

Zarak Kahn also describes a useful framework to clarify the different types of innovation that occur. He breaks down innovation into three categories as follows:

  • Incremental Innovation: Adding small changes over a period of time based on continuous learnings which result in small and slow pivots
  • Adjacent Innovation: Using an existing innovation and applying it to a new market
  • Transformational Innovation: Creating a brand-new business model

This clear and concise explanation of the types of innovation is useful when discussing potential approaches with clients. Different types of innovation routes require fluctuating timeframes and budgets while also having varying degrees of uncertainty. Understanding these nuances of implementing innovation can have a big influence on the project and promote divergent thinking to be better prepared.  

Keep context in focus.

While discussing various tools that can help with innovation, Dulce Paredes shifts the lens to focus on the context to help determine the appropriate tool. She highlights the importance of testing a hypothesis through the scientific process for validation, but she also stresses focusing on researchers’ own shortcomings. Consumer research needs to focus on context in order to give an accurate interpretation of daily life. Dulce points out how not every competitor will exist on paper in the same category; therefore, it is important to offer every option as opposed to the options the researchers typically focus on. Learning where the product fits in consumers’ lives helps reveal pain points to ensure the innovation is impactful.   

Brand Dis-harmony

Products that do not fit the expectations set by the brand or messaging often result in the alienation of the consumer; however, a contributing root cause of this disconnect may actually be isolation from the Innovation team. Bob Baron emphasizes the importance of cross-functional team collaboration by revealing how internal alienation ensures innovation failure. For an innovation to move forward in the business process, a strong support from the overall team is nonnegotiable. Having clear and stated objectives with the overall team allows space for differing opinions and perspectives to really analyze the idea or concept to ensure it serves a valuable purpose.    

Consumer-centered Design

Looking into the future of innovation, Alex Woo summarizes a major takeaway of the conversation by responding, “…understand the human side, not the product side, and we will be able to design better.”  Focusing on the user, rather than the technology or metric, grounds the research and accounts for the importance of the environment, emotion, and experience because each factor plays a major influence on consumer decision-making. 

Find inspiration in all aspects of life.

This point was emphasized by Zvi earlier in the webinar with a wonderful example that not only speaks to focusing on the consumer but taking inspiration from all aspects of life. Take previous issues with compliance among diabetes patients for blood sampling. The major roadblock for compliance was the pain of taking a blood sample. Innovation is often birthed from focusing on removing barriers for the consumer.  Taking inspiration from nature, this innovation story focused on mosquitoes. Often, we are bit, yet don’t even notice until we start to itch. If the mosquito can draw blood without us feeling it, how can we do the same? Fast forward to an innovation that essentially mimics the same dimensions of a mosquito’s mouth with the blood sampling needle.  The pain, the barrier, for patients is torn down and compliance increases. By focusing on the consumer and taking inspiration from the world around us, we can make meaningful impacts on consumers’ lives.

This webinar shed light on the multidimensional world of innovation by proving it does not have to be evolutionary or disruptive to be valuable. By thinking strategically about each individual situation and communicating effectively with your team, the innovation process can connect curiosity with implementation.

If you are interested in connecting with Team HCD to discuss this trending topic further, please contact Allison Gutkowski (

The HCD Mindset: 5 Highlights From Our Producer

With 2 seasons, 45 episodes, 15 guests, over 1500 views and so many topics covered, The HCD Mindset series has been in full bloom since the beginning of lockdown in 2020. Conferences, lunches, and coffee dates came to a screeching halt as we all geared up to stay home and embrace a “new normal”— whatever that would eventually mean.

Virtual communication came to the forefront of our means of connection, and the HCD Innovation and Marketing Teams saw an opportunity to produce a new series combining the components of both a podcast and our popular webinars in conversation with Michelle Niedziela, PhD, VP of Research & Innovation, and Kathryn Ambroze, Manager of Behavioral & Marketing Sciences. We’ve covered it all in this series of curious discussions surrounding consumer neuroscience in market research, from modern technology and innovative applications to reflective episodes on each of our guest’s personal journey through his/her career.

Needless to say, as this series has continued to evolve, it’s been an amazing opportunity to produce each episode alongside Kathryn and Michelle. In the market research industry, there is an immense amount of information flooding our news feeds with updates and press releases sharing the next great innovation. This charisma to push the needle forward should always be encouraged and celebrated. However, this series has also reignited our value in speaking conversationally while talking through it all and addressing frequently asked questions from the rookies and the seasoned veterans.

Check out these 5 clips from both seasons 1 & 2 that highlight valuable takeaways from the series with regards to anecdotes, considerations, and stories from the experiences of various experts in the field:

Our brains are relevant

Season 1: Episode 7 | Uses & Abuses of Behavioral Science (2:49-5:05)

In this clip from an episode covering the uses & abuses of behavioral science, Michelle leads with a noteworthy reminder of the relevancy of applied neuroscience tech and methodologies in research with the intricate and vast system of neurons that connect to build the foundation of our daily behaviors and decisions. From breathing to planning a lunch with friends, your brain is the source of it all, emphasizing how relevant our ways of thinking are in any consumer experience.

The Not-So-Secret Formula

Season 1: Episode 14 | Habit Loops (8:54-10:37)

Methodologies, like the behavioral economic approach, keep consumers in focus with tools to think critically about the role brands play in our daily routines. This lens can be leveraged to aid in the understanding of brand users on a deeper level, allowing more context on how the product or service is cued into each user’s habit loop, and then, ultimately, implemented to create a sense of satisfaction. Investing in these types of frameworks adds tremendous value to both traditional and emerging tools because they are grounded in our behaviors beyond surface level.

Pessimist Predictions

Season 2: Episode 6 | Martha Bajec’s Personal Journey (35:39-39:13)

Being a pessimist is often frowned upon, but what about in research? Sitting down with Consulting Director of Health & Wellness Research, Martha Bajec, PhD, our co-hosts discussed why this mindset could help your research initiatives thrive. Our team certainly agreed that there is value in preparing for any factors of research to potentially go awry, so if and when they do, you can handle each situation accordingly. Being as detailed as possible in anticipating what consumers are going to do as well as what they could potentially do instead, leads to more thorough insights.

Navigating The Shifts

Season 2: Episode 17 | Navigating Norms with Michael Brereton (5:53-7:08)

When sitting down with Michael Brereton, Professor & Executive in Residence in the Department of Marketing at Michigan State University, to discuss norms, he raises the valuable point that the modern market research industry is truly in a state of flux. With new players, offerings, and ways of thinking comes a need for adaptability and openness to transformation. In his program at Michigan State, the faculty strives to achieve that balance of foundational and emerging applications to truly create a rounded understanding of research, so when their students enter the field, there is an appreciation for innovation.

Good, Fast, & Cheap?! Oh My!

Season 2: Episode 19 | Consumer Acceptability vs. Scientific Validity (12:35-15:16)

The intersection of any methodology or approach is often met with 3 parameters of being cheap, fast, and good. Who wouldn’t want to attain these attributes in their research design? More often than not, we are faced with the desire from clients for quick turnarounds with accuracy for as cheap as possible. However, in this clip, Michelle makes it known that this intersection does not exist. Successful research programs are attainable quickly, but it could cost you more, they can be cheaper but will probably take longer or, if they are both fast and cheap, there is risk of reduced quality. This leads to the overarching truth that answering simple questions effectively can take us further than answering complex questions poorly. Establishing clear outlines as to what we, as researchers, are seeking makes it easier to draw valuable data that tells the complete story.

These 5 takeaways are only a small sampling of the vast resource of information in this series. Our co-hosts have done an excellent job at taking a deep dive into these pressing topics in market research today with all of the pros and cons at the forefront of conversation. This value in an educational understanding of these tools and methodologies is what led to creating The HCD Mindset, and we have plenty in store for season 3! To stay up to date on this series, subscribe to our YouTube channel here.

Reflecting on how much can change in the blink of an eye!

I’ve always been one to write more so with my heart than my head (I leave that to my published peers to speak on our methodologies or the newest tech). So, when our marketing manager asked that I change things up a bit and write a blog, I figured, why not share something based on just pure emotion, research aside.

Being in business development for most of my career, my passion for selling has always lied in my belief in the unique and innovative solutions we have for our clients’ research questions, but my joy has always been driven from connecting with people. Grabbing coffee, a lunch, meeting on site, a dinner, conferences, etc.– meaningful moments of connecting with people on a deeper level than just business. Forming true relationships and friendships. I invited clients to my wedding, actually had one read my bloodwork when I was pregnant and put the gender in an envelope that I could bring to a baker! We have shared big moments of life and made the everyday humdrum a bit more fun.

Then, welcome the biggest disruption that we will likely ever see in our lifetimes, the global pandemic. How quickly life changed and has remained as such for 14 long, dreadful months. (I often think back in disbelief that we made it to the Quirks conference in NYC the week before the world shut down. (& came out unscathed!) It was the last conference I would attend in over a year now.) While I think we all adapted during the first few months to the new norm, I know that I am now left hungry and yearning to connect again in those real authentic ways. To grab that coffee or lunch with an old friend and talk about life. 

Zoom, you have certainly helped, but I am so over you! We are so often reminded that you are not the real thing… the tireless ‘oh sorry, no you go’ when two people are speaking at once, not being able to toggle your video on because your 3-year-old is racing around on his scooter shirtless speeding like Luigi in Mario Cart, or the awkward transition to the next conversation in a moment of silence where we all stare at each other like deer in headlights. Stick a fork in me because I am done! I want the 5-D experience… seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and even tasting (the food that is!).

I hope this summer breathes new life into our souls. I respect that many organizations’ main priority has been to keep their people safe, which often meant no outsiders or non-internal meetings in-person, but I do look forward to that lunch at Ricky Thai’s talking about how much our kids have grown in the past year, that coffee on Main Street discussing where the next big vacation will be, or that conference where I will see everyone in one location again. And of course, all wrapped in with discussing brand and product research 😊

Hope to see you all soon!

The Brand-Consumer Connection: Finding Loyalty in the Loops

Coauthored by HCD’s VP of Research & Innovation, Michelle Niedziela, PhD, and Manager of Behavioral & Marketing Sciences, Kathryn Ambroze

As seen in the memory issue of NMSBA’s INsights mag…

A positive, personal experience with a brand tailored to habit formation is an effective way to make a product become a household staple. Growing up baking with a certain type of chocolate chip or cleaning with a specific disinfectant spray shapes expectations and acceptability, with the brand being at the cornerstone of the experience. Chaudhuri and Holbrook (2001) explain how consumers expect a product to perform a certain way based on prior experiences, creating trust and loyalty to that brand of that product. Some brands can become so deeply embedded in consumers’ lives that they act as an extension of self-expression, a representative of who they are (van der Westhuizen, 2018). Through brand loyalty and aversion to ambiguity, consumers bypass unnecessary circumspection in their shopping, gravitating, and depending on the more familiar instead of taking any chances (Muthukrishnan, Wathieu, & Xu, 2009). This intricate relationship between consumers and brands demonstrates the importance of brands in life, impacting daily routines as well as special holiday traditions. Paying attention to changing perceptions, associations, and preferences allows brands to mold to the current needs within consumer habits. By connecting to the consumer at this deep level, brands can be embedded in fond memories, in consumer lifestyles, and ultimately, remembered for future purchases.

Every association counts

Associations, or mental links, are built through experiences. Information from all five senses—touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound—are utilized to learn and create an association profile to better anticipate what to do if a similar situation occurs again in the future. Furthermore, the knowledge obtained helps to predict the best course of action to take for each situation presented. Humans automatically evaluate uncertainty and risk of a situation to prepare an appropriate response. By creating comparisons and associations to minimize uncertainty, individuals gain comfort in making foreign concepts familiar in order to behave accordingly. By validating personal beliefs through meeting expectations, associations are reinforced and replaced..   

A consumer’s interaction with a brand is made up of several components which consist of sensory, behavioral, intellectual, and affective elements (Brakus et al., 2009). Each of these individual facets plays a bigger role in developing the overall perception of the product. Experiencing the brand, either by watching an ad or holding the physical product, allows the consumer to evaluate its ability to meet a need. The information gathered from brand exposure can be stored and later recalled using memory. But, it is through the automatic processing of implicit memory that allows even small encounters or incidental information to impact the way consumers react in the future (Keane, Cruz, & Verfaellie, 2015). For example, seeing fluffy clouds during a pillow commercial may impact the perception of the product’s softness or comfort. Every lived experience can establish an attachment between the two concepts, thus creating a conceptual link in response to the circumstance.

Neural networks, or pathways, communicate and respond to changes in environmental cues (Berkman, 2018). These connections are updating constantly as situations change and more information about an environment is gathered. The neural pathways are not fixed— associations can decay or strengthen over time depending on how frequently they are utilized. More commonly used pathways are stronger and require less effort, thus conserving energy. Memories also link performance to contexts such as people, items, places, or times typically present during the overall repeated experience (Wood, Tam, & Witt, 2005). Brands can become part of a repeated action by fitting in the proper context and bringing value to the experience.

The malleability of the neural pathways creates an opportunity to mold products or messaging to consumer ideals and better align them with the desired experience. Consider the best way to engineer a product to be identifiable and remembered by a consumer. This communication and design strategy should reflect the values and expectations of the consumer, making the product not only more enticing to try, but also encouraging repeat purchases. By designing a product which meets expectations of the consumer, it will more likely avoid reappraisal and create satisfied product experiences.

Let’s make a habit of it

Those repeated actions are frequently performed as habits. Relevant contexts cause certain behaviors to be routinely rehearsed to the point where they becomes automatic. Habits, which often include products or brands, are engrained throughout daily life. By diving into how brands are incorporated into habits, product developers can better innovate to meet and exceed those needs. Improving the products or messaging, strengthens or redirects existing associations to better meet expectations. By embedding the brands into the habit loop, brand innovation can truly impact the consumer lifestyle, since experiences are so interwoven with everyday living.

The habit loops consist of three fundamental components: the cue, routine, and feedback. Cues initiate the habit loop by acting as a trigger for the behavior. A cue can be as obvious as an alarm reminding consumers to restock the toilet paper to something as covert as the delicious smell of freshly baked pretzels pouring out of a bakery. Although both examples insinuate different anticipated outcomes, they change the environment which causes the consumer to react. The response to the cue is the routine which involves some type of expense, such as time or energy. Based on the feedback within the context of the habit, the individual will be motivated to either avoid or repeat this routine in the future. The feedback is what entices or deters the consumer to continue to partake in the routine. Therefore, consumer’s perceived response of the product must be a positive contribution or else the consumer will take preemptive measures, such as buying a competitor product, to prevent the same outcome. Feedback can be anything from a punishment, such as running late to work for hitting snooze, to a reward with a social benefit, such as seeing friends after work. Habits are governed by dopamine release, which is linked to triggering the (good or bad) motivational importance of an environment or context, thus “stamping-in” a memory for future consideration (Wise, 2004; Berkman, 2018).

Figure 1: An example of a habit loop consisting of a cue, routine, and feedback. The cue, or the mess, initiate the behavior to use a cleaning product, ultimately resulting in the feedback, a cleaner space. Credit: HCD Research 

Brand loyalty demonstrates how a product or service can be integrated and reinforced into the habit loop.  The brand can connect with the consumer by contributing to a life experience. The brand identity impacts the overall product experience, which the consumer evaluates to decide if the quality is worth continuing (or discontinuing) in the future.  By fulfilling an unmet need, the brand recognition may resonate with the consumer to encourage purchase intent. The relationship with a brand is impacted by how it’s perceived, making it important to ensure each component of the product experience creates a unified, cohesive message which resonates with the consumer. Using cues, routines, and feedback to understand where the brand can help consumers can be a beneficial strategy for its adoption into regular use. Furthermore, detecting cues in the habit loop can aid in achieving higher-order benefits in emotional and physical well-being through indirect suggestions (aka behavioral nudges). Emphasizing certain perceptions through communications or packaging can build up a consumer’s reason to believe in the product and encourage continued brand loyalty.

If it isn’t broke, improve it.

Memories connect the past to the present. It is through learned associations that habits can link certain triggers to predicted outcomes (Wood et al., 2005). Creating a brand identity to reliably serve a purpose in the consumer’s life allows the brand to take on a role larger than its original purpose. Once the brand is part of a routine, the individual will find comfort in its familiarity and build a connection to the experience. Additionally, if a brand outperforms its competition, it makes sense why the consumer would prefer it within the routine since the outcome creates a greater reward. However, to retain consumer loyalty, the brand must actively work to remain relevant. Checking in to fit the needs of the consumer means a brand must reshape to the new ideals. The brand must evolve to position itself within the habit loops. In consistently having a space in the consumer’s lifestyle, it builds brand confidence. Recalling on past experiences allows consumers to depend on a brand, proving in each purchase brand experience is worth the cost. 


Berkman, E. (2018). The Neuroscience of Goals and Behavior Change. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 70(1), 28–44.

Brakus, J. J., Schmitt, B. H., & Zarantonello, L. (2009). Brand experience: what is it? How is it measured? Does it affect loyalty?. Journal of Marketing73(3), 52-68.

Chaudhuri, A., & Holbrook, M. B. (2001). The chain of effects from brand trust and brand affect to brand performance: The role of brand loyalty. Journal of Marketing, 65(2), 81-93.

Keane, M. M., Cruz, M. E., & Verfaellie, M. (2015). Attention and implicit memory: priming-induced benefits and costs have distinct attentional requirements. Memory & cognition43(2), 216-225.

Muthukrishnan, A. V., Wathieu, L., & Xu, A. J. (2009). Ambiguity aversion and the preference for established brands. Management Science55(12), 1933-1941.

van der Westhuizen, L. M. (2018). Brand loyalty: exploring self-brand connection and brand experience. Journal of Product & Brand Management.

Wise, R. A. (2004). Dopamine, learning and motivation. Nature reviews neuroscience5(6), 483-494.

Wood, W., Tam, L., & Witt, M. G. (2005). Changing circumstances, disrupting habits. Journal of personality and social psychology, 88(6), 918.

Beauty: The Update that Saved Cosmetics

Washing your face with a cleanser, putting on foundation, or using lip balm to help chapped lips are some of the many personal care rituals integrated into consumers’ lives. Personal care is an intimate part of a consumer’s day, and the reality is that the circumstances of 2020 forced many of us to reconsider personal care routines, since our daily lives were disrupted. This created a domino effect, making industries, like the beauty industry, refocus on new needs. Since consumers’ routines were modified, the products involved in certain regimens were also reconsidered as essential, luxury, or unnecessary. This was a time for beauty brands to identify the new practices in place and learn where and how cosmetics can better support the consumer.

The pandemic obviously impacted not only the act of personal care but the means of exploring and purchasing products. While online shopping has been steadily becoming more normalized the past few years, store restrictions or personal health precautions pushed this digital approach to the forefront of the shopping experience. Going digital opens up a lot of opportunities, but it absolutely comes with some cautionary concerns. Reflecting on these advancements in the beauty industry shows how retailers and brands combatted the challenges of 2020 by creating novel ways to keep the consumer close and connected.

Selling in a Digital World  

The dynamic online experience holds a lot of opportunities for beauty brands to uniquely express themselves and connect with consumers in an innovative forum. The beauty industry has needed to adapt new strategies to attract consumers as well as meet changing needs. The biggest shift can be seen in the switch to both digital products and communications.  

As the world of shopping has shifted from in-store to online, especially in the wake of the pandemic, consumers have lost the ability to touch, feel, and experience products in person. In the past, this was a key selling point for cosmetic products where consumers could see the colors next to their skin or even try on test products. In those moments, consumers could evaluate the coloring or consistency in-person to help feel confident in a purchase. However, with this shift to digital, marketers have needed to find ways to emulate the tangibility and accessibility of experiencing a product at shelf, including free trials and samples or influencer campaigns in social media, to help consumers review and evaluate a new product without being able to touch it. These consumer-centric tactics help build a connection and trust in the brands and products in the absence of direct experiences.  

The nuances of social media marketing, however, are no longer a surprise. We all anticipate seeing personalized (some eerily so) ads when scrolling social media platforms. The ability to integrate offline experiences to the digital world is no longer a “nice to have” but presumed by consumers. Therefore, cosmetic companies must welcome creative ideas to deliver unique and impactful experiences that are superior to the competition to be able to stand out. Beauty brands must manifest novel ways to keep the consumer excited and engaged. The future of foundation is not only an interactive beauty application (through virtual try-ons, interactive questionnaires, beauty scanning apps, etc.) but also through truly personalized care. Truly innovative, creative, and authentic personalization, however, requires investment into really understanding consumer behavior, expectations, and drivers of purchase. Otherwise, brands risk losing consumer trust and loyalty. 

Smart Technology, Smart Consumers

Understanding how vital the smartphone has become to most consumers, beauty brands began to invest in technology to stay in touch with the consumer—literally. From tapping the screen to applying formula on the skin, beauty brands want to be at consumers’ fingertips. Finding ways to ensure products perform well includes any initial interactions the consumer has with the brand prior to purchase all the way until final use. The technology should ease the process and make a complicated process simpler. A convenient outlet offering a wide variety of options creates a strong consumer-centric message.   

Smart technology can be interactive by giving feedback or advice, emulating the counter service that diminished during the pandemic. Through outlets like the internet, the consumer is becoming more educated on components of life to consider when exploring personal care items. The beauty industry is aware of this growth, thus highlighting how context may impact which product to purchase. For example, evaluating a consumer’s skin does not only mean recommending certain shades to best match. The consideration of environmental factors (like humidity, air quality, or UV exposure) as well as consumer priorities (such as fine lines, pore visibility, or dark spots) makes the serum feel unique and catered to consumer lifestyles. Companies are trying to help consumers feel satisfied with the products by finding innovative ways to get the most out of a beauty routine. By incorporating consumer electronics into the beauty industry, brands can use the behavioral data to follow the trends and priorities of consumers more precisely and, therefore, adapt quickly.

From curating personalized recommendations through AI (artificial intelligence) to using an app with augmented reality (AR) capabilities to virtually sample different products, the beauty industry has adopted new technologies into the product process to give consumers confidence in their purchase without physically handling the product. Enhancing the sensory experience in this process is critical since consumers are more frequently removed from the aisle and arriving at a phone screen. Using devices to formulate results through an easy interface gives the perception of higher quality and overall professionalism. The no-hassle approach is appealing for consumers interested in testing out various looks easily. The user experience is no longer just the product and package itself but includes the virtual arms attached to the product. Whether it be an app with voice-enabled commands or the ability to virtually try-on various shades of eyeshadow, the technology informs the consumer in a digestible manner, thus helping make the new tech part of an established regimen.

Using technology does require foresight into how this addition will be incorporated into the product experience. A balance must be achieved to ensure its an appropriate application of the technology. While it is cool to incorporate trendy features and gain the perception of being cutting-edge, the improper implementation may cause the tech-push to fall flat. When choosing the right technology to include, consider the value it will bring to the consumer in the context of buying personal care items. The digital technology should support the actual product rather than overshadow it. Consumers will know if the technology isn’t intuitive or doesn’t add value to a product. So, even though offering personalized experiences at scale through digital means gives the consumers a sense of individual attention, ensure the technology proves itself as part of a product with purpose rather than some wacky add-on gadget. The technological tools should be used to enhance the overall product experience.  

The Data is in the Details

The truth about digital products, such as apps, search engines, or websites, is that there is a lot of tracking done with the data. This resource of information is often managed by for-profit companies, allowing channels of communication and access to collect, store, and analyze user behaviors. The “big brother watching you” mentality has caused some consumers to be weary to utilize smart technology, while others either recognize it as a tradeoff for the service, or worse, don’t realize this is occurring at all. For companies to appropriately utilize smart technology while promoting a trustworthy image, transparency must be at the forefront of the user experience. New laws, such as the CCPA, are being enacted to protect the consumer with data privacy objectives. While these basic requirements illustrate the need for a level compliance, companies also benefit by being upfront with consumers. Allowing consumers to agree to the well stated terms and conditions gives a sense of ownership and autonomy back to the consumer. Furthermore, being forthcoming about the data creates a positive brand image, ultimately promoting the overall goal: to connect with consumers.  

When beauty tech products emphasize a certain formula for a consumer, the individual should always have the agency to defer to a different product, brand, style, or nothing. Technology can help consumers in making decisions, but it can never make the decision for the consumer. If the consumer decides against a suggestion, the marketers and designers may learn what is driving interest elsewhere and push the company to create better products. The benefits and hesitations about data usage are valuable to know and give a clear understanding of the product. By taking ahold of the narrative, the company can set the proper expectations for consumers to feel both comfortable and satisfied with the overall experience.

Being compliant to privacy mandates adds a sense of authenticity to the brand image since the consumer knows what the deal is upfront. Transparency not only keeps the brand honest, it also sets a precedent which can have ramifications if broken. The integrity earned in sharing this information should not feel like a threat or a reward but a fact of the matter. Consumers should have the right to make an informed decision, which ultimately benefits the company because openness helps avoid backlash. Using the digital experience is a proactive approach to informing and enhancing the beauty buying journey. Support the consumer in the fine details by aligning product objectives with consumer expectations.

Moving Forward 

From using skin-scanning devices to customize regimens to tracking results through a smart mirror, smart beauty devices are helping companies learn the driving forces behind consumer preferences. Having this insight is crucial for brands to grow with the consumer. The shift towards digital advances requires companies to anticipate ways to address future scrutiny. Brands must prepare to be able to effectively communicate how the technological medium benefits both the consumer and the company. Further, brands must be ready to explain the inner workings of the app or device to let consumers be aware of its impact.

The world of cosmetics continues to expand as innovations rush to meet the needs and interests of consumers. Some changes from the pandemic will extend far beyond the year 2020. Being camera-ready for video conference calls or finding ways to combat acne caused by mask wearing (“maskne”) were not major concerns until Covid-19 occurred. Keeping up with the general consumer is a challenge, but smart technology is a way to provide lifestyle relief. Integrating technology should have an objective for creating products that consumers do not see as a whacky machine but as something that adds value to their daily routines and lifestyle. The beauty industry is one of the many industries effectively trying to elevate the standard experience by leveraging higher engagement with modern mediums.

If you are interested in learning more about technology that helps to better understand the consumer, please reach out to Allison Gutkowski at

The Power in Knowing: How Media Marketing Optimized the “Now Streaming…” Craze

Streaming services such as Netflix, Spotify, Twitch, and even social media platforms like YouTube or Instagram Live, have infiltrated the entertainment business from various angles and are poised to become (if not already) more popular than cable services. Even if your household doesn’t subscribe to one of the many on-demand options for shows, movies, or music, the concept of streaming is most likely not foreign. With this increase in streaming entertainment, the means of traditional media-based marketing has needed to adjust to accommodate changing behaviors towards advertising and types of marketing exposures. The evolution of how leisure time is spent impacts how consumers establish connections and, therefore, requires marketers to develop innovative ways to discover consumer preferences. 

To convert new customers, media consumers are inundated with promotional activities to get hooked. Having family rates or bundle deals are some of the many ways companies attract viewers to their platform. Behaviorally, rather than a one-time payment, these streaming services typically utilize monthly subscriptions. Access to different levels of service and benefits may be determined by the amount you pay. Hulu, as an example, offers a base service with the option for add-on networks. The freedom to access entertainment on-demand is convenient and enticing but has ultimately and fundamentally changed how consumers consume and retain information. Understanding consumer preferences and priorities gives developers and marketers a better gauge as to which messaging, offerings, and designs are best to promote. Addressing how the streaming industry uses market research strategies to combat consumer hesitations reveals the value in really knowing the consumer. Through the appropriate use of media market research, information gleaned can be telling of which strategies are best to employ.

The Marie Kondo Motive: Does it bring (the consumer) joy?

The streaming industry has unique challenges to overcome compared to other forms of entertainment. Streaming companies must act aggressively to compete with the other content providers offering similar services. Critical components, such as differentiation and price, will influence the audience willing to consistently subscribe. Consumers have adapted to the on-demand lifestyle and find streaming a very personal experience since the suggestions seem customized to the individual. This discipline of consumer goods, known as digital offerings, does not fit the mold of traditional goods and requires the field to get creative in the marketing space.

The relationship between consumers and content providers has shifted due to the advancement in streaming. Prior to streaming, most individuals would have a cable package or own a physical copy of a DVD, VHS, CD, vinyl LP, etc. Both cable and physical copies have features which may be enticing to consumers. Cable TV offers many types of news outlets as well as local community channels which are not options for many streaming services. Flipping through different channels is also a fun pastime for viewers. Further, owning a physical display, like an impressive CD collection, can have sentimental value or feel like a higher echelon of appreciation due to the continuous process of maintaining and curating. While both cable and physical copies have benefits, it is clear the convenience of streaming technology is enticing many to make the switch. The flexibility of a monthly subscription, personalization of the media, and minimal ads encourages digital adoption.

Modifications to consumer preferences are even represented by the medium in which the entertainment is shared. Entertainment is now accessible not only from the television but also from mobile devices, gaming devices, or tablets. Following the growth of products associated with the service itself helps to learn what best resonates with certain audiences. Awareness of the challenges of traditional means facilitates solutions and improves the advantages of the alternative to better suit consumer expectations.  

One Big Hurdle: Making the Virtual More Tangible

Any new digitalization must prove itself as a real value to consumers’ lives. The physical purchase has a tangible component which is challenging to obtain with streaming. If you cancel a subscription, the service no longer exists (or now includes ads after every few songs or videos). The fragmented experience of streaming altered the expectation from ownership to access (Micken, Roberts, & Oliver, 2020). Kirk and Swain (2018) recognized that physical versus digital entertainment products are an innately different experience both fulfilling the same need; therefore, consumer media habits must benefit by one over the other in order to commit to its use. 

Companies are aware of the disconnect created by selling a service as opposed to tangible items. Different strategies are implemented from behavioral economics to trigger a stronger feeling of ownership. One common concept frequently tapped into is known as the endowment effect, which suggests consumers value items more when they personally own it (Knutson et al., 2008). To trigger the endowment effect, companies try to make the experience as personalized as possible. By insinuating the consumer is associated with the service, it suggests the platform tells something consumer identity. Further, the personalization implies a sense of ownership over the service. For example, offering a three-month free trial taps into the endowment effect by making the service actually available for consumers to use.  Not only does this offer allow consumers to get familiar with the platform, but the interactions give consumers more of a reason to stay. Getting hooked on a new series or creating personalized playlists continues that feeling of ownership, even in a virtual environment. This particular strategy also makes the endowment effect more apparent by setting a limit. After the three months are up, consumers either have to downgrade or start to pay the cost. Having a designated cutoff forces the consumer to be aware of the loss potential of the service. This makes the endowment effect more apparent since consumers have lived the experience of using a streaming service, thus creating a sense of ownership.

Utilizing these strategies from behavioral economics helps companies to encourage service adoption, but the value in keeping the consumer engaged is inherent in the design. Customer retention and increased satisfaction creates brand loyalty, thus making it easier to listen and consider the consumer response. To see what causes certain consumer responses, marketing research can help to analyze behaviors and understand intentionality of the viewer.

The Media Marathon

When investigating media testing, it’s important to consider all the components that make up the final product. Each medium, from advertisements to movies, includes a multitude of variabilities which can impact the experience. It is important to reflect on the overall message of the media research to build a research question addressing key objectives. Commonly explored areas of media testing include attention, affect, memory, and desirability which are constructs used to determine effectiveness. Further, traditional measures, such as self-reports or interviews, can address measures of liking or excitability (Venkatraman et al., 2015). By leveraging the different sources of information from market research, content creators and marketing teams can gain insights into what is engaging the viewer. How entertaining is the experience? Did the viewer notice the call to action at the branding moment? Is the storyline memorable? Behavioral, psychological, neuroscientific, and traditional tools can create more informed decisions to improve the final product and determine what components are enhancing or hindering the desired effect. By collecting the appropriate behavioral data, psychophysiological research, or conducting survey research, the consumer perception of the particular media experience can be revealed. The table below shares some useful methodologies to integrate with media testing from Venkatraman et al. (2015).

ToolFunctionThe Media Advantage
Heart rate/heart rate variability (HR/HRV)Records the electrical activity of the heart through skin electrodesProvides insight into motivation, emotional arousal, and attention
Electroencephalography (EEG)Records the brain’s synaptic waves in volts across its surface to examine brain functions and responsesQuantifies brain states such as cognitive load, engagement, or motivation about an experience
Galvanic Skin Response (GSR)Measures changes in skin conductanceProvides insight into engagement, intensity, and excitement
Facial Electromyography (fEMG)Measures electrical pulses in facial muscle activityRecords positive and negative emotional valences
Eye trackingCaptures visual attention via gaze behaviorIdentifies visual patterns, areas of focus, and the sequence of visual events
Implicit MeasuresMeasures the strength of associations among conceptsUnderstanding consumer perceptions reveals facets such as brand affinity, attitudes towards stimuli, and emotional valence

This table reflects just a few of the many innovative tools which can be used to advance media testing. Designing a study to best answer the research question involves considering all the different tools available to know which is the most appropriate to utilize. Interest in stopping power may need different assessments than evaluations on branding moment or overall attention. By developing a strong research question, the insights can help not only the developers, but the end-viewers as well.

Time is of the Essence

Time is a very valuable resource for companies and consumers. Now more than ever, it’s crucial to create engaging media content to truly have your message received by the viewers. The end-design must best reflect the consumer, or they will just find other content libraries in the vast streaming market. This competitive landscape of media and entertainment pushes the quality of the content to be innovative and engaging. To make that consumer connection, learning about what shapes attitudes, behaviors, and preferences is key to having a successful media campaign. So, the takeaway for mastering the ever-changing consumer media consumption is really quite simple: in order to grow, you have to know. By collecting quality data, an opportunity is created to design a strong, valuable message or service with a lasting effect.   

If you are interested in learning more about how HCD Research can elevate your media testing, please contact Allison Gutkowski at


Kirk, C. P., & Swain, S. D. (2018). Consumer psychological ownership of digital technology. In Psychological ownership and consumer behavior (pp. 69-90). Springer, Cham.

Knutson, B., Wimmer, G. E., Rick, S., Hollon, N. G., Prelec, D., & Loewenstein, G. (2008). Neural antecedents of the endowment effect. Neuron58(5), 814-822.

Micken, K. S., Roberts, S. D., & Oliver, J. D. (2020). The digital continuum: the influence of ownership, access, control, and Cocreation on digital offerings. AMS Review10(1), 98-115.

Venkatraman, V., Dimoka, A., Pavlou, P. A., Vo, K., Hampton, W., Bollinger, B., … & Winer, R. S. (2015). Predicting advertising success beyond traditional measures: New insights from neurophysiological methods and market response modeling. Journal of Marketing Research52(4), 436-452.

Making Claims that Stick: Webinar Panel Recap

The world of wellness can be complicated to navigate as new products and players are constantly entering the market. From the consumer perspective, wellness involves actively making choices towards a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle. This is done by continuously learning how to create a lifestyle to fit specific needs and values. Wellness products may include self-care habits, such as gym weights, mindfulness apps, or aromatherapy diffusers, to aiding recovery through lotions, supplements, or weighted blankets. With the wellness space continuously growing, marketers are trying to find ways to differentiate from competitors by highlighting a special ingredient or benefit. For these claims to be successful, they must not only resonate with the consumer but also adhere to regulatory standards such as validation through clinical or efficacy research. Having strong, validated claims satisfies consumer needs, business objectives, and cross functional priorities. 

In the webinar Making Claims that Stick: A Frank Discussion on the Science of Claims Testing in Consumer & Wellness Products, HCD’s VP of Research and Innovation, Michelle Niedziela, is joined by a roundtable of expert panelists to discuss the rules, rewards, and repercussions regarding claims research. To help get a taste for this exciting conversation, we listed out 5 key moments from the webinar. Curious to learn more about identifying a claim and how you can make one? Keep scrolling!

Keep your claims clear.

Bethia Margoshes and Kristine Wilke kick off the conversation by defining a claim and also sharing the importance of keeping any claim study focused, clear, and targeted. Although it may be enticing to try to get as much out of one study as possible, having a broad amount of data can cause muddy results and potentially create inconclusive findings. Contradictions within the research survey or design can negate the claims and create conflict if the claim is questioned.

Let the claim you are trying to make frame the research.

Dennis Sawchuk shared how claim substantiation can be proven in many different ways, depending on the type of claim being made. While literal claims may be able to use formulation proofs or chemistry research to provide evidence, other claims may require consumer input for descriptive analysis to help prove the claims. Space between different types of claims, such as nutritional or functional, can get complicated quicky. Using resources such as the Significant Scientific Agreement standard (SSA) or the qualified health claims may guide the research to better address any overlap by learning about the general consensus within the literature.  Having data to support a claim is important in order to understand the full extent of the safety and efficacy within the specific research findings.

Make sure to define your terms.

The nuances in the wording of the claim can make or break its impact (and its legitimacy). Clearly defining the intended response of the product allows the claims research to better address the effects in question. Michelle Niedziela brings up the example of different ways to use the term “relax”—does the product promote relaxation? Cause relaxation? Maybe the product relaxes the consumer. Each of these three claims has distinct differences, and thus requires unique research approaches to prove the benefit. Once the core team creates a list of potential claim options, the panel agreed seeking legal or regulatory counseling to navigate which claim is most appropriate is critical. Creating a claim is a team effort among internal departments, including marketing, R&D, and legal. Internal communications and discussions avoid something being overlooked. Martha Bajec reminds everyone to reflect on the potential claim statements to make sure the product can actually deliver what the claim is stating.

Know your audience.

In setting up a claims study, the panel discussed how to be aware of the limits to the claim. Consumer segmentation should be discussed prior to running any studies and will influence how the claims study is set up. Exploring demographic distributions, such as age or gender, is important to justify by explaining the rationale behind why the claim is only applicable to a certain population. Bethia Margoshes suggested exploring Section 9 of the ASTM guidelines to review ways to prepare for a claims substantiation study, especially when selecting a population. As an example, Margoshes explained how the campaign “Choosy mothers choose Jif” focuses on mothers who expressed a choice (aka being choosy) rather than all mothers which would then require the inclusion of mothers who were indifferent. With this carefully crafted slogan, Jif clearly defined the subset of the population in a creative, conspicuous, and catchy way.

Anticipate a challenge from any direction.

Throughout this panel discussion, the importance of planning and preparation is emphasized. From demographics to an analysis plan, claim substantiation requires a thorough assessment of its risks. Is this claim worth investing in? Will the consumers even care about the specific benefit researched? Additionally, Bajec recommends considering any form of possible scrutiny since the claim is going to be evaluated by regulators, governing bodies, competitors, and consumers. To ensure the attention will benefit the company, the claim must deliver. Learning about what motivates the consumer will help develop impactful wording which will resonate with the target demographic. Being efficient by designing a narrow study with clear objectives will enhance the quality of the findings and create an overall more productive experience. Having a streamlined approach avoids any deception or confusion, giving reliable scientific evidence if ever needed.

The complexity surrounding claims research and industry standards can be overwhelming, but learning the best approaches to designing this type of research provides a unique opportunity to connect with consumers. Creating a straightforward design for the claims which need substantiation (or additional actions, such as clinical trials) gives both the company and the consumer confidence in the product or service. Ensuring best practices for a truthful claim is a mutually beneficial experience to be distinguishable in the marketplace and exciting for the consumer. If you are interested in connecting with Team HCD to discuss the claims research process, please contact Allison Gutkowski (

Word Bank of Acronyms:

FTC: Federal Trade Commission 

FDA: Food and Drug Administration

FDC: Federal Data Corporation

FD&C: Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act

ASTM: American Society for Testing and Materials

SSA: Significant Scientific Agreement

SSP: Society for Sensory Professionals

A Reflection on my Science Communications Internship

During my time as a scientific communications intern at HCD Research, I was exposed to a new subdiscipline in my desired career. The internship helped me realize that neuroscience can have a critical role in marketing. When marketing a product or service, it can be really important to do research on the target audience through tools like surveys or biometric technology. Being introduced to interesting components of a discipline, such as applied consumer neuroscience, cannot be overestimated. The research conducted in this particular area serves an important function: to improve the lives of consumers by bettering products, packaging, and communications. Learning about this specific area of research was quite useful for my future endeavors in a career in neuroscience.

I am thankful that the internship broadcast the idea that a successful venture in any field is helped through an interdisciplinary approach. Just as there are many parts to a machine, today’s field of neuroscience includes an array of specialties, all contributing to advancements in the field. I learned important skills, such as adaptability, responsibility, time management, problem-solving, and networking, and discovered just how diligent I need to be to stay updated in such an ever-progressing field.

Proper research focuses on the question at hand and benefits by being well-rounded. Considering the context of research by exploring the public’s opinions and attitudes, as well as the populaces’ fears and desires, can be really important for understanding the whole story. Neuroscience is not just neurons in the brain but ways people behave and respond to the world around them. Through blog-writing, I began to understand how necessary critical thinking skills and creativity are in application to modern problems. We first must address a topic or problem from an objective standpoint, then ponder how market research can step in to propose products or services relevant to the ever-changing customer. I explored the fight-or-flight response and the pandemic-changed society, and researched ways both of these areas are relevant in the marketing world. For both topics, market researchers need to ensure that their stimuli properly communicate the intended message, later improving the stimuli to meet consumer expectations and stay relevant to the ever-changing customer. Research into both blogs tied into the overarching idea that tools from neuroscience can greatly influence market research insights.

I participated in many discussions, the first being a Mindset episode where the importance of consumer research in the complex, novel topic of CBD was emphasized. I also attended a webinar where neuro-driven metrics and predictive norms in the media space were covered.  I ended my internship with a presentation of the application of voice analysis, a biometrics program which allows users to analyze recordings or conversations to identify the emotion and intent of consumers, in marketing. My presentation reviews on how tone analyzer detects audio patterns for stress, tempo, pitch, and rhythm. I then looked into the market research application of how voice analysis may help explain consumer reactions. While researching this topic, it helped me consider not only the benefits, but also the limitations of voice analysis. Being aware of the limitations is a very important aspect of research, which was highlighted during this internship. All of these exercises helped me realize how well neuroscience and marketing complement one another—reliability and validity are undoubtedly the most important qualities in research, no matter the application, and many research strategies can be improved through collaborative studies.