How, Why and When to Use Your Brains for What: Neuroinsights in Marketing Research

By Aleksandar Simic

Thinking of your daily trip to the grocery store – you enter with a shopping list, head straight to the aisles of interest, select the items you need, maybe linger a little in the sweets section, and you are out of the door in fifteen minutes.

Now consider a twist – you enter the store, head straight to the relevant aisles, but instead of grabbing what you need, you decide to carefully examine every product in range to obtain all the necessary information before settling on your purchases. Wouldn’t this take forever?

When making routine household purchase decisions, consumers rely more on their System 1 or automatic, instinctive, subconscious minds – than on their System 2 or slow, calculating, conscious minds. Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, who first introduced this distinction, stated that people tend to be overconfident about their understanding of the world and of even themselves. Therefore, conventional research methods that only examine our rational brains fall short in helping us grasp the consumer decision-making process in entirety. In fact, the prediction power of surveys is only 65% (based on validation studies with multiple media companies) or slightly better than flipping a coin! To gain real-time consumer behaviour insights, we need research tools that tap into the subconscious mind.

Neuroinsights in Practice

Measuring System 1 reveals how different content is perceived subconsciously and how that perception affects consumer behaviour. By applying neuroscience techniques to research, marketers can predict consumers’ preferences and actions with a higher degree of certainty and enhance or orient their content accordingly.

So, why don’t standard research kits include neuro tools? Most renowned methods such as brain-imaging techniques (fMRI, EEG, etc.) and biometric reaction monitors are too expensive (ranging from $30K-500K depending on the study’s complexity) and too complex to use routinely. They also require specific conditions and hard-to-come-by technology, drawing a large investment in both financial and human resources. This triggers a vicious cycle of doubt—since these methods are not commonly known about, accessible or used, researchers and companies tend to stick with what they know.

However, some companies are determined to make behavioural insights more accessible and push the industry forward. They feel discouraged by the limitations of conventional market research methodologies and want to provide more precise and relevant insights. To overcome technical challenges, some companies are innovating with technology in ingenious ways to build competitive research tools. Niche technology companies such as Affectiva and Realeyes specialize in facial coding, and those like Sticky (acquired by Tobii) are dedicated to webcam-based eye tracking.

The benefits of using neuro methods remotely — specifically, eye trackingfacial coding and virtual shopping—  are their cost- and time-effectiveness, in addition to being globally scalable. Combined, these methodologies answer questions that are crucial to understanding purchase behaviour:

  • Will consumers notice the product? Where do they look first? How long do they look?
  • Will consumers like the product? Which of the basic six emotions (happiness, sadness, surprise, anger, disgust, fear) do their faces show?
  • Will consumers buy the product?

Since System 1 and System 2 work together, a solid research framework should also include conventional questionnaires to unravel all facets of consumer behaviour. While traditional agencies providing centralized location test research services may only cater to a capacity of 20-30 respondents, expanding a test centre’s capacity to meet 200-300 respondents and even upto a few thousands could offer greater representativeness while avoiding the “lab coat effect”.

When to Use Neuro Tools?

Aware of consumers’ chronic lack of time and attention, advertisers are faced with a serious challenge – creating content that will cut through the clutter and speak to the subconscious mind. Fortunately, behavioural methodologies work not only in stores, but also on digital channels like e-commerce websites, social media, banners, etc. Neuro tools can test a message’s effectiveness by checking for whether it is noticeable, emotionally engaging, and how it impacts sales.

For instance, EyeSee Research has worked with Twitter to offer best practices for holiday campaigns, to evaluate whether branded emojis are a worthy investment (spoiler alert: they are!) and to understand how to attract the “distracted generation” on social media. The most valuable output is presented as actionable recommendations for clients and can be implemented before a campaign begins for the most effective budgeting. This is particularly beneficial when embarking on new projects such as package redesign or innovative product launches.

Neuro tools can also be used for testing and optimizing existing content. Webpages might be the first contact your consumers have with your brand, so it’s important to make the user experience as seamless as possible. When examining the product pages of three major retailer websites – Amazon, Target and Walmart – Eye See Research’s eye-tracking data unveiled significant discrepancies in purchase intent. What makes this section of the website relevant? The product page is the online equivalent of picking up a product in store as a precursor to purchase; so the design of this page’s elements correlate with purchase behaviour. The PDF report based on proprietary data delivers on key elements of consumer-appeal including guidelines for retailers and their clients.

Besides just asking consumers about their opinions, likes, and intentions, it is thus significant to tap into their spontaneous reactions and biases they might not be aware of or are unable to describe. Marketing already has an unfavourable reputation of not bringing enough to the table but vague predictions – 65% of CEOs call it “la la land”. Neuro methodologies can thus enable marketers to test different creative solutions and derive decisions based on data rather than subjective taste or an inflated appetite for awards.

If great brand campaigns have a certain “je ne sais quoi” about them – neuroinsights may well offer some critical answers or inputs to the “quoi”.

The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association’s Emerging Leaders Blog publishes this and more new and innovative work here.

Aleksandar Simic, Business Development Manager, EyeSee Research (New York)has nine years of global corporate experience in product development and strategy, with two years in business development and sales with start-ups. Born in Serbia, he holds a diploma in Marketing Management from Ryerson University, Canada, and an MSc. in Business Performance Management from Aarhus University, Denmark.  

Also Published on Green Book Blog here.

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