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System 1 Research is Product Management

Anders Bengtsson, CEO of Protobrand, shares how to use system 1 research techniques to uncover what drives consumer behavior.


At Protobrand, a market research consultancy that uses behavioral science research to uncover consumer insights, they use a unique research approach to uncover human truths: System 1 thinking.

Where System 2 thinking is a conscious cognitive process, system 1 is automatic and unconscious. “Let's say that you’re driving and you’re on the phone at the same time. And let’s say something happens on the road and it requires your attention. That's where system 1 alerts system 2 and says, ‘Pay attention.’ If we were consciously aware of everything that system 1 takes in, we would be mentally exhausted,” explains Anders Bengtsson, CEO.

Both system 1 thinking and system 2 thinking are useful in market research and product development in order to truly understand how people make decisions. Often, traditional research methodologies like focus groups or surveys only tap into system 2 thinking, or don’t fully eliminate cognitive biases.

Because consumers process and make decisions using both conscious and unconscious thinking, it’s important to pair both system 1 and system 2 research techniques together when evaluating product attributes or testing and ideating early stage opportunities.

Uncovering people’s emotional and experiential associates with a brand is valuable and informative for positioning, messaging, and marketing exercises, but collecting unconscious thoughts, feelings, or insights from people isn’t straightforward or simple. Protobrand uses methodologies and techniques like metaphor elicitation, visual stimuli tracking, response latency techniques, and facial coding.

“Evaluating product attributes alone from a System 2 perspective is a good start, but it's not enough,” says Anders.

In this episode, you’ll learn a lot about system 1 thinking, research strategies, and decision-making.

Here are the highlights: 

  • The difference between system 1 thinking and system 2 thinking (2:08)
  • Research strategies that can be used to tap into system 1 thinking (10:19)
  • How this type of research can better inform a brand or product’s positioning (15:48)

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