What is
Implicit Testing?

A testing approach which bypasses the distorting effects encountered when respondents give very rational answers to direct questions. Implicit testing therefore accounts for the many unconscious factors that actually underpin decisions.

What are the aims of Implicit Testing?

The purpose of implicit testing is to get to consumers’ automatic response to something. This is particularly important in retail market research because it is estimated that consumers make at least 80% of their decisions in ‘automatic’ mode.

How is Implicit Testing undertaken?

The Implicit-association test was introduced by Anthony Greenwald, Jordan Schwartz and Debbie McGhee in 1998. It is administered by computer and asks respondents to pair up attributes e.g. ‘men’ and ‘women’ with ‘hard-working’. The programme assesses how quickly associations are made – fast associations are felt to represent a person’s natural ‘automatic’ response.

Modern research techniques are increasingly embracing implicit testing. In qualitative research, it’s prompting a move away from ‘staged research’ such as focus groups towards ethnographic approaches where consumers can be observed in real-life settings. Beyond this it’s often about making research ‘fun’ and ‘light’ – encouraging respondents to almost ‘blurt’ out responses rather than over-rationalise them.  

Gamification of quantitative questionnaires is an attempt to get to automatic responses within the context of a survey. Applying time pressure and Tinder-style swipe left/right are also increasingly used ways of obtaining an implicit read. Both of these are particularly useful for testing brand associations.

What’s an example of an Implicit Test?

We have developed several ways of using implicit testing to gauge brand warmth. Here’s one - respondents are put under time pressure and asked to make a series of choices such as ‘which one of these holidays would you select?’ and ‘which drink would you go for?’. Hidden in this run of questions is ‘which brand would you save from a burning building?’. A brand’s ‘share of saves’ can be tracked over time to understand whether brand warmth is on the up/down.

What is Implicit Testing?

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