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Choice Vs. Decision: Knowledge of Heuristic Decision Making Transforms Message Testing

Newristics 18 July 2022

Message testing research has seen little innovation in 30 years

Market research for messaging testing has seen little to no innovation over the past 30 years. The fundamental approach used in most conventional message testing methodologies (qualitative or quantitative) is the same:

  1. Show messages randomly to respondents in a survey
  2. Ask respondents to rate/rank the messages
  3. Ask respondents to explain their ratings
  4. Conventional message testing methodologies are riddled with challenges because they use scientific principles that have been disproven as a result of research into the field of heuristic decision-making over the past few decades.

    1. Exposing messages randomly to respondents can result in showing options that they have no interest in, thereby wasting limited survey time and opportunities for testing
    2. Respondents are subject to the Observer Effect, knowing they are being observed influences their responses
    3. All humans desire to appear to make rational decisions and give answers that attempt to rationalize decisions, resulting in suboptimal market research

Decision Heuristic Science offers a better way to test messages in market research

Over the last 30 years, hundreds of specific decision heuristics have been discovered about human decision-making. In the context of customer behavior, heuristic decision-making can help us understand why customers respond to certain messages or product offerings.

Decision heuristics science is the three-time Nobel prize-winning field of research that explains how human beings make 95% of decisions using heuristic decision-making or mental shortcuts without being aware of them. Often, we make bad or irrational decisions because of heuristic decision-making and rationalize them after the fact, both to ourselves and others.

An ideal message testing software isn’t just speculation anymore. By drawing from behavioral sciences and insights about heuristic decision-making, innovators found an untapped opportunity for message testing. This breakthrough application of decision heuristics science can be used in multiple ways for message testing:

  1. It can be used as a message optimizing software that can improve language in messages before they're tested with customers.
  2. It can also be used during the research as a powerful message testing market research methodology. When messages are tested in a message testing survey using heuristics, all respondents have to do is make choices and the drivers of their preferences are explained by the underlying heuristics behind each message.

Knowledge of heuristic decision-making can transform how messages are tested in surveys

Behavioral science helps in understanding the probability of the reaction of the prospect to a specific message. Implementing heuristic decision-making to test messages means ensuring the best messaging content for the ideal customers and increasing the chances of conversion better than conventional message testing market research. This is different from merely A/B testing message testing methodology which involves the trial and error method. Leveraging behavioral science or heuristic decision-making in message testing helps in delivering and improving messaging campaigns.


Get better data on each message so that we can find better message bundles out of billions of possibilities
When asked why respondents rationalize their response because they don’t know the real reason behind the decision (mental shortcuts are made below the level of awareness). But, if messages are written to heuristic decision-making, a rating in a message testing survey tells us both how and why they make decisions.


Get true message appeal without asking so that we can create even more successful messaging campaigns in the future
If messages are written to heuristic decision-making, you solve the fundamental problem of message testing! Designed experiments using heuristics and picking up patterns, eliminating the need for follow-up questions, simplifying research, and improving accuracy


Test 100s of messages in one survey so that we can improve our chances of finding winning messaging campaigns
Using traditional methods of message testing researchers can only test 30-50 messages. If messages are written to heuristic decision-making, and each respondent is shown more than one message written to every heuristic, you can use a rule of thumb. The score is the heuristic that allows you to accurately predict optimal messaging bundles. It holds up more than 90% of the time!

Artificial intelligence can be used to analyze message testing data differently

This breakthrough application of heuristic decision-making in marketing is transformative on its own, but the combined power of artificial intelligence can make the output of message testing surveys more actionable and campaign ready.

Historically, data from message testing market research studies would be loaded into statistical software systems like SPSS and the output would be standard message hierarchies and/or a TURF analysis. Deploying artificial intelligence on data collected from message testing software helps in the quicker, easier, and hassle-free understanding of the message performance. It saves a lot of manual labor, hours spent, and marketing budget spent by the business on a message testing survey.

Message testing software includes prediction, exploration, and optimization aiming to improve the messaging performance with the campaign message testing process. Artificial intelligence can transform how data from message testing surveys is used to drive campaigns:

  • Be more campaign ready straight out of the research by identifying optimal message bundles/story flow for every channel
  • Reduce marketing waste by personalizing messaging campaigns for each customer segment based on their heuristic decision-making,
  • Train predictive models so that we can refresh campaigns more often without more research

With AI-powered campaign message testing, you can get a channel- and customer-specific messaging playbook that is ready to execute!

Step into the future of message testing in market research

In the past few years, the latest advances in heuristic decision-making science and AI have created new opportunities to build a better message testing system. As an understanding of the human brain and decision-making has evolved, we now know that human beings want to be perceived as making rational decisions, but actually, take mental shortcuts - heuristic decision-making. Decision heuristics science allows messaging choices to be set up as behavioral experiments in research.

Message testing is stuck in the past and continuing to approach message testing in market research based on the rational decision-making model, not the instinctive, fast decision-making model that is the human default, won’t yield the level of success needed to engage customers in today’s hyper-competitive market. Artificial intelligence offers the ability to do more with research data and translate it into winning messaging campaigns. Better message testing powered by scientific and technological advancements will bring message testing in market research up to speed and help brands win in today’s hyper-competitive environment.