Context in consumer research

Context in consumer research: Getting in-depth insights from behavioral coding and smart-speaker technology

Is it possible to do market research with smart-speaker surveys? Michelle Niedziela, VP of Research and Innovation at HCD Reseach answered this question during her presentation at Qual360 NA 2021.

The importance of context

Think back to the age-old trick of pulling a bunny out of a hat. Most people recognize this as a show-stopping magic. Yet, the trick becomes less glamorous when the bunny is pulled out of a hat on a surface with a hidden opening through which anything can be grabbed. The difference between the two scenarios is context. Context is of the utmost importance to almost everything we do. When exploring any research topic, it is imperative to consider and evaluate the context as a way to find meaningful observations. Considering the circumstances surrounding the experiment helps to shape how to assess and fully understand a situation. For example a hidden compartment for bunnies.

Context may be of most importance to market research as context drives choice and decision making. Anything from the presentation of products and information (framing, sequence/order, and composition) to social and situational factors can influence choice and behavior. These details can be very general. They can be locations or demographics  or as minute as the formatting of a stimuli or the temperature of the room. However, market research often overlooks the importance of relativity when analyzing results, causing an incomplete understanding of the consumer experience. Ultimately, having clear context gives a foundation for validating findings—otherwise, the results could be chalked up magic, not evidence.

Behavioral coding

There are many different approaches to analyzing context in research.

Researchers use behavioral coding specifically to glean insights about human responses. By quantifying a participant’s actions within an environment or with a particular stimulus, behavioral coding acts as a simple, noninvasive research method. This observational tool is utilized in research to identify and observe notable behaviors. These are then recorded, also known as “coded,” to track trends and patterns in behavior. Evaluating the codes of the participant’s experience exposes how circumstances dictate certain responses (Chorney, McMurtry, Chambers, & Bakeman, 2014). Unobtrusively observing how a participant will react to or ignore predetermined codes allows for a systematic method in quantifying an event.

It is easy to implement behavioral coding into home use tests. For example, behavioral coding is a useful tool when exploring website usability to determine if particular formats or features encourage a desired response, such as subscribing to an email list. The act of signing up for the email list is the behavior. This is labeled and quantified, thus being the behavioral code. Codes can be either physical or social. Software can categorize physical codes, such as squinting.

Social codes, such as sensitivity to a topic, require human judgement (Chorney et al., 2014). The codes are dependent on context. Certain types of codes and ratings may be more useful in capturing the target behavior. Therefore, it is important to be cautious in determining the labels for behavioral coding. Based on the objectives and research design, it is subjective.

Smart-speaker surveys

Another valuable methodology for gaining insights into the consumer experience is through the deployment of smart-speaker surveys. By gathering responses through the medium of a smart speaker, participants are able to assess the product in the moment in a personal space. By testing a product in a more naturalistic environment, such as one’s home, rather than in a central location facility, provides an ease of familiarity. Answering survey questions through voice activation gives participants the benefit of responding to questions in the moment of the experience. With this methodology, evaluating a shampoo in the shower is easily obtainable.

Both smart-speaker surveys and behavioral coding are useful for evaluating products or services in context. The surrounding environment influences the consumer experience. So it ultimately plays a major role in consumer behavior and decision making. In-the-moment, contextual research examines consumer behaviors, choices, and product use. Traditional surveys cannot asses these. Integrating smart-speaker surveys or behavioral coding to market research allows for hands-free consumer responses while using products in their own homes. Outputs recorded from these methodologies helps enhance the understanding of how brands, products, and perceptions are fundamental components of the consumer experience.

Key Takeaways

• Context is a fundamental component of market research, which impacts the consumer response and perception of a stimulus.
• Behavioral coding quantifies consumer responses as a way to unobtrusively examine consumer behavior towards specific product features or environmental cues.
• Smart-speaker technology is an innovative approach to gathering in-the-moment responses to products from any location in the home. This opens the opportunity for more intimate and honest research in places like the bathroom or bedroom.


Chorney, J. M., McMurtry, C. M., Chambers, C. T., & Bakeman, R. (2014). Developing and modifying behavioral coding schemes in pediatric psychology: a practical guide. Journal of pediatric psychology, 40(1), 154-164.

Watch the full presentation, as well as dozen of case studies from international brands, in the Qual360 video library. In addition, you might be interested in our Qual360 EU keynote from Sorin Patliniet: Transforming qualitative research at Mars

Smart-speaker surveys and behavioral coding at Qual360 EU

Your next chances to join the Qual360 community live are Qual360 Europe held on October 20&21 in Berlin (F2F and online) and Qual360 APAC conference held on November 10&11 in Singapore (F2F and online)!

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Jens Cornelissen

Jens Cornelissen has been writing for over two decades – initially for general newspapers in his home country Germany. After receiving an MA degree in Communications, he joined a new media start-up in Amsterdam as consultant on new media technologies and country editor for two daily newsletters. In his current day job, Jens runs the global conference division for Merlien’s dedicated marketing research events. Jens is a trained journalist with a BA in Journalism from Westminster University in London and has authored several media industry reports and articles on mobile and media technology.

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