When the truth hurts: overcoming the 3 evil Cs of research

Imagine this. For years you’ve been using focus groups and online communities to explore how people engage with the snacking category. You base your business decisions on these insights and you develop products, pack and comms accordingly. But then you run a passive observation project – using technology to observe how people really live.

Reassuringly, it confirms many of the things that you already knew about snacking. But it reveals a whole lot more. You discover things you’ve never seen before and it blows some of your previous findings out of the water. But wait, why did this happen?

Passive observation is just one way of overcoming what we at Decidedly like to call The 3 Evil Cs of Research. That’s research that takes place out of context or relies on claimed or recalled behaviour (okay, not really a C but bear with us!) Getting around these 3 Cs gets us to the truth – even if does hurt when you realise what you’ve been missing!

Here at Decidedly, we’ve made it our mission to fight back against the 3 Evil Cs so we can access better insights that allow you to make more confident decisions. And we’ve developed a customer closeness toolkit full of techniques to banish these biases for good.

In this blog post, we explore the 3 Evil Cs, why they’re so problematic and our top tips for avoiding them in your own research.


Context gives meaning to what we do, think and say. Yet it’s often an overlooked part of research. We tell people to fill in a survey or come along to a focus group. But this can only get us so far. We need to understand the whole picture. How?

Challenge your team to think about how to conduct research in-situ. Passive isn’t the only option here. Even an in-home interview will allow you to see the broader context that an individual operates in. And when you’re trying to understand influences on purchase decisions mobile ethnography (or what we like to call lifelogging) is a great option.

However you do it. Get the context. It’s this that allows for meaningful analysis of findings, helping you to truly understand consumer behaviour.


If you ask someone to tell you about their day, chances are they’ll miss something. It’s only human. It’s just not possible for one person to remember the exact ins and outs of every day. You might remember what watched on TV, but you won’t be able to tell us about the photos you scrolled through on Instagram at the same time.

Yet despite this, we’ve set unrealistically high expectations of memory in our industry. And we’ve become far too dependent on it to relay accurate and detailed accounts of how people were thinking or feeling during a past event or experience.

So how do you get around this? This is where passive really comes into its element. Not only can we use tools to passively observe what people are doing, but we can also passively track how people engage with their devices with the help of a passive tracking app. Analysis of the data you get back allows for a greater level of granularity and allows us to capture the moments that go by unmissed in other forms of consumer research.


What people claim they do versus what they actually do are two very distinct things. And unfortunately, you can’t always count on people to tell you the truth in your research. More often than not, people don’t mean to tell an outright lie. It’s more likely that they’re amplifying certain aspects of their character or trying to project a more sophisticated version of themselves. “I never buy Pot Noodles.” “I’d rather watch a Scandinavian crime drama than a British soap.” You get the picture.

But why does this happen? Sometimes people in focus groups succumb to ‘virtue signalling’ and feel reluctant to tell the truth in front of others. If everyone in a focus group says they never eat junk food, it’s a brave person who admits to their weekly take-out fix.

Challenge yourself to add a behavioural element to your research so you can get to the bottom of how people really behave. But don’t do away with claimed behaviour entirely. In fact, it’s a killer combination of the two that will help you get ahead. When you understand real behaviour as well as people’s aspirational selves you’re able to develop products that fly and comms that really connect.


Over the next few weeks, we’ll give you the inside track, profiling some of the latest and greatest methodologies that are getting us closer to consumer truths than ever before. Watch this space!