So why did you buy that? You think you know, but you don’t really know. People are funny that way. Seriously.
Neuromarketing is how to “figure that out”. While part of our brain is conscious and rational, another part is working without our being aware of it. Yes: sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste — knowingly cataloging those sensations, we make sense of our world. But the part underneath is also receiving stimuli, unconsciously, intuitively, sorting out the same inputs…and influencing our purchases. What if you can sway someone at this level?
There are two ways marketers can dig into this. You can use biometrics: measuring heartbeats, brain waves and eyeball movements to see what material makes an impression on the subject. Or you can craft surveys that can trigger associations in the unconscious minds of consumers, then compile and analyze those replies. Either way, the neuromarketer is gathering data to gain an insight.
“There is a lot of misunderstanding what neuromarketing is,” said Billee Howard, CEO and co-founder at BRANDThro. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review article aggregated about 10 years’ worth of information on the topic. “In 2019, we are reaching an inflection point where we separate the wheat from the chaff and see what neuromarketing is when applied to business,” Howard said. “The wild west days are behind us.”
Is neuromarketing misunderstood? “Less so than when the field was novel, and practitioners, academics and clients were still trying to learn each other’s language,” said Kimberly Rose Clark, co-founder of Merchant Mechanics, Inc. Now there is a “shift from ROI to ROI”, as the practitioner’s understanding of “regions of interest” of the brain gives way to the “return on investment” clients are looking for when they hire a neuromarketing research firm, she added.
Biometrics can measure many “signs”, but does not get to the “next step,” said Paul Conner, founder and CEO of Emotive Analytics. But asking people directly may not be much of an improvement, since they may not be willing to share their true thoughts and feelings.
One way to dig a little deeper is through “priming”. The tester will show the subject an image of a product, service or logo, then redirect them to evaluate a different image. The first image “primes” the subject to activate a thought or feeling, while the misdirected image uncovers an implicit, often nonconscious thought or feeling, Conner explained. That misdirected image is usually something abstract, like a Chinese pictograph (if the subject does not know how to read Chinese), or a Rorschach-like abstract image.
The measured positive and negative associations about a product are presented to the client as a series of bar charts for each attribute Emotive is measuring. “It’s the automatic/implicit that we are trying to measure,” Conner added. “There is something about association that I am not conscious about.” One utility here is that negative associations with a product can be uncovered, even when people are not conscious that they are revealing anything negative.
“There is no such thing as a strictly rational decision,” Conner continued. “Emotions and feelings always have a say.”
Personalization is personal
So what is neuromarketing all about? “It’s going beyond personalization to get commercial intimacy at scale,” said BrandThro’s Howard. “You know the person at a deeper level.”
In BRANDthro’s case, the approach is the one-to-one survey, done online. The data is then run through an algorithm that feeds an AI/machine learning set-up. The end-point is a personal understanding of the target, Howard explained.
BrandThro’s online survey only takes 20 minutes, and can run anywhere from 30 to 50 questions. The wording of the survey questions matters, since particular words connect to primary and secondary emotions, Howard continued. Understanding the positive emotions that attach to a brand should create trust, and in turn brand loyalty, she said. The survey is not done statistically. Using a non-equilibrium model, BRANDthro can get to a conclusion with about 100 subjects. After a while, profiles can be categorized. The goal is to give the client a “nano database” of about 750 respondents that can be segmented and queried, Howard said. The result should create scalability, but still be deeply granular, she added.
You have to look at the experience as an “ecosystem” that is infused with language, Howard observed. You are not selling on the promise of inspiration or purpose, but the value the product can deliver. That utility and promise has an emotional basis.
One can do neuromarketing with biometrics and EEGs, but “the ability to use that model has scaling issues,” Howard said.
The body shows many signs
Then again, maybe those biometric measures should not be discarded. They provide strands of data that can be weaved together to produce a tapestry of insight. “There is no silver bullet,” said Clark of Merchant Mechanics. “Data obtained from the brain and body work in conjunction with traditional self-reporting behaviors.” One can “triangulate” the data obtained from biometric sources obtained from larger crowds against “traditional measures” of consumer interest provided by smaller groups. “This allows for greater possible inferences and generalizability of responses.”
“Analyzing online actions such as time on screen and clicks can’t tell you what eyes on information can.” Clark continued. By observing the online shopper, one can figure out how much information the shopper must process before buying, and observe this in real time. One can track their gaze on the screen, check how their brains are processing information via EEG, even measuring heartbeat intervals to see what excites the shopper. “This kind of in-moment information allows us to build models that decode attention and engagement that occur upstream of clicks.” Clark said.
“Having biometric data, such as eye-tracking data, you could tell where the visual attention goes, what distracts user, causing the behavior different from expected. Using the camera for facial coding could also help identify key pain moments – when consumers are irritated, confused, or happy.” said Dmitry Gaiduk, CEO at CoolTool.
“You know that gaze movements tell you about the level of visual attention, but you should apply this into the more practical way – e.g., how noticeable is your ad or product’s package against competitors.” Gaiduk continued. “Measuring brainwaves (EEG) is useless unless you can convert them into actionable findings of attention or interest corresponding (with the) timeline of your ad. And even speed of reaction could tell you how strong is an implicit connection between your brand and consumer needs or category entry points.”
To get that biometric data, one can set up a lab. But every digital consumer has a desktop, laptop or smartphone with a camera. One can use these sources to measure eye tracking, facial expressions to gauge emotional reaction, and of course deliver implicit tests to measure implicit connections. These are more inexpensive, scalable solutions, Gaiduk noted.
It all comes down to something as simple as…figuring out how the brain works.