Data Done Right: The Theory of Planned Behavior

Matt Kararo

Consumer Insights, Data Done Right, Analytics

July 6, 2021

Data Done Right: The Theory of Planned Behavior

Causeway Solutions is an industry leader in creating a custom blueprint with our clients and delivering clear, concise results, and I am so excited to be a part of the team. Empowering insights and actionable outcomes are what every business needs. Our analytics team is at the forefront of utilizing individual-level consumer data for modeling purposes, but what if your business isn’t sure if the questions warrant an in-depth modeling project? Allow Causeway Solutions to leverage our survey research expertise to investigate your questions.

How do we get from the initial insights idea to the utilitarian results? The critical step is collecting and analyzing survey data. This process can be, at times, analogous to constructing a house. A good house, just like good survey research, starts with a solid foundation. While we know what makes a good foundation for a house, what makes a good foundation for business insights? Starting with peer-reviewed theory-based survey construction. With a solid theory as the basis for survey research, questions are not crafted from the whole cloth, but are backed by previous research, ensuring all the questions we ask inform client objectives.

Our theory-based approach can empower your business and not only measure variables such as current customer sentiment, but also provide a pathway for action. The best way to understand what makes our approach the best value for our clients is by using an example. One theory we utilize that is well established in multiple contexts is the Theory of Planned Behavior (Ajzen, 2020). This theory has been used historically to conceptualize and explain a diversity of behavioral outcomes from academic studying to taking prescription medicine. The Theory of Planned Behavior posits behaviors are ultimately moderated by intentions, which are influenced by social norms, attitudes, and perceived behavioral control. This can be a daunting framework to wrap your head around, especially when you just asked us a simple question such as “How do I know what people think about my products?” Let’s break down each of these variables with concrete pragmatic applications.

“What do people think about my products?” is a very broad question, so our team would probe to increase specificity for your company’s goal. For example, let’s say you settled on wanting to know people do (or don’t) buy your widget. We would craft a survey based on the Theory of Planned Behavior that would be sent to known widget purchasers and potential widget purchasers. The survey would ask questions about their attitudes regarding your widget, their social circle’s perceived attitudes regarding your widget (social norms), their perceived behavioral control regarding purchasing your widget, and their intentions on purchasing your widget in the future either again or for the first time.

While all variables in our example underlying theory are important to understand and measure, attitudes might be the most intuitive, so let’s begin there. Attitudes can be a fickle thing, especially with the current news cycle being around 60 seconds long and everybody being bombarded with advertisements and content nearly incessantly. While some attitudes may be yet unformed and other attitudes well-defined, everybody has attitudes that can be brought out about pretty much everything if you ask them (sometimes even if you don’t ask…). Attitudes can also shift, so it is important for businesses to track their customer’s attitudes over time, especially when a company is in the media. Although it may be a positive media story, how can you be sure about positive business outcomes without data? Causeway Solutions is positioned to provide our clients with a quick measurement and turnaround of survey data analyses, ensuring you stay up to the minute with the public’s attitudes regarding your widget. We would ask about attitudes in multiple ways, all pointing towards the same concept, to triangulate and provide nuance regarding your customer and potential customer populations. While attitudes could wind up being the sole key variable in a customer’s intention to purchase or not purchase your widget, this is rare, and likely the situation is more complex.

Social norms are another concept of our underlying theory in this example that incorporates your customers’ and potential customers’ social circles into the decision calculation regarding purchasing your widget. While not a direct measure of the social circle’s actual attitudes regarding purchasing your widget, in this case the respondent’s perceptions are reality. Causeway Solutions would go one step further than asking about their social circle, we would also incorporate dimensions of “persuade-ability” that elicit how relevant those social ties are to their own personal decision making regarding your widget. If a potential customer has positive attitudes about purchasing your widget, but their social circles are influential on their purchasing decisions and the social circle has the perception of negative attitudes about your widget, the purchasing behavior may not be likely to occur.

While attitudes and social norms are important, they cannot and should not be considered without perceived behavioral control, the third piece of our example underlying theory. The greatest widget in the world with the most positive press and the greatest public opinion means nothing if the potential customer does not think they can purchase it. Whether or not the survey respondent can actually purchase your widget is irrelevant—again, in this case, perception is reality. Like the other variables, we would ask questions that measure this variable in multiple ways, to provide detailed findings regarding perceived behavioral control (again, the behavior in this example being purchasing your business’s widget).

Attitudes, social norms, and perceived behavioral control can also interact in interesting and counterintuitive ways, so we would also measure your customers’ and potential customers’ intentions to purchase your widget. Sometimes attitudes, social norms, and perceived behavioral control interact in a multiplicative way, other times in an additive way, and sometimes intentions are confounding to actual purchasing behaviors. This may seem like our underlying theory is being challenged, but in context, it can be a powerful finding.

Causeway Solutions has a deep knowledge of the research base and knows how to interpret situations that may arise in a way that results in actionable insights for your business. What if a large group of survey respondents has a good attitude about purchasing your widget, neutral social norms, and positive perceived behavioral controls, but still are not purchasing? Maybe it is a situation of “out of sight, out of mind” and your business would benefit from strategies such as cart reminders, targeted advertising, or product placement. What if your business is about to launch an intensive marketing campaign and you want to monitor how your shiny new commercial influences attitudes over time? We can take a longitudinal strategy, monitoring relevant variables, and offer deeper actionable insights than boiling everything down to a NPS score.

We started out on this journey to answer an initial question of “Why do people buy or not buy my widget?” and hopefully I’ve convinced you why a theory-based survey research project can be the place to start. Once our great team has given you their findings, it may result in a full-on modeling project, which leverages our industry-leading individual-level data on 240 million consumers. You might meet with our team and dive right into the modeling deep end, or you might have us complete survey research and we’ll conclude modeling might not meet your needs. Whatever the case may be, trust that our team will have your business’s best interests in mind, and we’ll provide data done right. Ready to start the conversation? Reach out to Causeway Solutions to get started.

To learn more about our data enhancement services and cross-channel marketing solutions, visit Causeway Solutions to get started!