Do You Research in Colour? And When Green is, Well, Blue.

While flicking through songs on Spotify recently, I came across an old favourite called ‘Do you dream in colour?’ by Bill Nelson. It’s an interesting song and, more importantly, question. I’m sure you’re thinking, “What has that got to do with research?” Well, it reminded me that, despite the improvements in research over the years, it is still the case that most of what the profession does is literally in black and white. It would seem our industry doesn't allow people to express their answers in anything other than monochrome. We work hard to create unambiguous, “no grey area” questions, yet expect our respondents to provide imaginative, revealing, “colourful” answers. Most methods don’t inspire expression in the way people actually think and dream – which is in fact in colour.

To illustrate my point, let me tell you about a study that we did - one of my favourites. It was on the subject of ‘being green’ and environmentally friendly. If we were to ask respondents the direct question “What colour do you think of when you think about being ‘green’?” the incredulous response would be, of course, ‘green’ (maybe with one or two expletives thrown in!) However, when we did the study we asked them to create a collage by selecting available images of what ‘being green’ meant to them. When we had taken into account the number and colour mix of the images available, the colour most associated with ‘being green’ was actually blue!

This provides proof that indirect, creative methods can be more effective in evoking subliminal associations and attitudes that delve beyond the obvious. While direct questions certainly have their place, in order to ‘activate the silent’ and allow consumers to articulate emotions and associations requires a deft balance of creativity and science. Only then can we cut through the black and white to richer and more vibrant and actionable insights.