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Into the Wonderland of Neurodesign

In neuromarketing, Shopper Marketing on May 20, 2011 at 3:37 pm

by Jeff Sandgren

Upon learning that NeuroFocus, a curious company that is busy gleaning insights from deep inside our skulls, had recently published findings from a study of the male brain, I thought it prudent to benchmark my male psyche.

It turned out to be a choice like that of Alice, curious to see where the rabbit was going, and stumbling inadvertently into Wonderland.  My simple initial curiosity was, am I a ‘normal’ guy?

“It all depends on what your spouse thinks of you,” cautioned the instantly disarming Dr. Pradeep, CEO and neuro marketing White Rabbit, “your estimate of your own normality can be overly exaggerated.”

Dr. Pradeep is a genial, energetic fellow, whose frequent humor provides comic relief from topics as heavy as brain-wave analysis.  Nevertheless, I decided to proceed with caution, since there were clues here that my wife might already have this guy on her payroll.  Better to leave the personal introspection aside, I thought, and focus on the more general applications, starting with: what, among all their neuro-discoveries, has been the most surprising so far?

According to the good doctor, they run into interesting insights all the time, nearly every day.  But there have been a few fundamental surprises.

Big Aha’s

“One big ‘aha’ concerns the over-sixty segment, and how we talk to them,” explained Dr. Pradeep.  “Their brains seem to almost always discard negative messaging.  There’s a difference between suggesting to an over-sixty person that
they should put their money where it’s safe (negative spin) versus suggesting that they put it where one day their grandchildren can have access to it (positive spin).”  The latter approach, according to this analysis, will likely be more effective.

Another ‘aha’ concerns the teen brain.  Since the different parts of their brain develop at different rates (the reasoning part of the brain develops more slowly than the emotional part of the brain), talking to teenagers should use the language of emotion, rather than the language of reason.

“I’m not just talking about marketing,” Dr. Pradeep added, “but about teaching and even parenting.  We might want to tell them they shouldn’t drink before they’re ready, that they should drive more carefully – what a frustrating exercise that is when we approach it based on rational arguments!”  He didn’t offer a positive alternative here (sorry, parents), but we assume it should be along the lines of “You know, getting a DUI or wrecking your car is SO awesomely uncool.”

So what about the male brain?  What’s the best way to talk to me?

Doctor Pradeep suggests that “… the cliché is to characterize the male brain has having a natural propensity to focus on scantily clad images; but that is an overly simplistic way of characterizing what is actually a more complex underlying emotional phenomenon.  We don’t tend to think of guys as emotional, so we talk to them in the language that grabs their attention.”

The doctor conjectured further.  “What if you understood the emotional territory that men’s brains occupy?  Then you could talk to them in the language that their brains are actually focused on, but do so with a certain emotional high ground.”

At this point in the interview, I abandoned the notion of selling this story to Cosmopolitan instead of using it in BrandTech News.  The notion that men’s brains have such a thing as “emotional high ground” might be too tough a sell.

So what about the female mind?  According to Dr. Pradeep, “It is only a crude and senseless man who would simplify the female mind.  The female mind is mysterious.”  And again, the contagious chuckle.

Seriously, there are insights being gained, and he promised that NeuroFocus will be revealing some big aha’s in the near future.  Dr. Pradeep did note that, while we (the royal Marketing We) seem to agree that there is a Trillion-Dollar Woman out there shopping, much of the marketing and message crafting still isn’t directed towards her, because it is still being created “… by guys, for guys.  We all give each other high fives about how wonderful we are, but too many times we aren’t targeting the decision maker in the language that is natural to their brains.”

Enabling Neuroscience

So how does all this mapping of our brain territory come about?  The enabling technology that NeuroFocus uses for their psycho-cartography is the well-established Electroencephalography (EEG); but not the gooey experience that most of us
envision, with greasy sensors stuck in your hair and a plethora of wires tethering you to the monitors.  Instead, NeuroFocus has developed Mynd™, the first ‘dry’[1] full-brain, wireless EEG apparatus.

The Mynd maps in great detail the parts of your brain that are active when you are sensing and considering various stimuli – without overlaying the subconscious stimuli of being tethered  by a mass of wires, or worrying about messy cleanup afterward.  Mynd effectively untethers the wearer, and the brainwaves it is capturing can be transmitted wirelessly to any Bluetooth-enabled device.

The real magic comes when this is coupled with pixel-level eye tracking, at a rate of two thousand times a second.  Test subjects can then be exposed to various packages, ads, images, messages, etc. while adorned with the NeuroFocus headgear.
A neuro-physiologist can observe in real time, and the ensuing data-stream can be analyzed and interpreted after the session.   The focus of NeuroFocus is on what they deem to be the three key parameters: attention, emotional engagement, and memory retention—because neuroscientists know what physical parts of the human brain correlate to those mental activities, and the EEG can reveal their activation.

But what about this Big Lurking Question:  was this neuroscience a creepy Orwellian invasion, or a way for Marketing to better understand and tailor the big wide world to little old you and me?

“Neuromarketing is just using science to understand what motivates us … and what makes us behave in certain ways,” the doctor assured me.

Focus on Retail

There are many applications for the findings of this research, so it’s not surprising that NeuroFocus has offices in such insight-hungry locations as New York, Hollywood, Cincinnati, Tokyo, London, and more.    The company is a world leader in the fast-growing neuromarketing research field, with numerous patents for its advanced technologies and a blue-chip client list representing the top companies in many Fortune 100 categories.

One solution area that is especially relevant to many of our readers is marketing to shoppers, online and in-store.  In fact, Dr. Pradeep is one of the Keynote Speakers at this year’s upcoming “Shopper Insights In  Action” ( www.iirusa.com/insights/homepage.xml ), along with such big names as A.G. Lafley, former CEO of Procter & Gamble, and Shopper Insights VP’s and Directors from Best Buy, Campbell Soup, Macy’s, Family Dollar, and GameStop.

Asking Dr. Pradeep about marketing at retail revs him up even more, like bumping an electron in the great atomic structure of neuroscience up to an even higher level.  But he isn’t just enthusiastic about it – he’s clearly vexed.

“There is your consumer, just a few feet away from your product.  There is your consumer, in your store, with money, ready to buy,” I could smell the ozone coming through the phone line, over a crackling high-pitched whirring sound that had nothing to do with bad reception. “What is the impact of marketing in that scenario, to a willing person with money in their pocket?  Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent sending messaging to the consumer on the couch, far, far away; yet brand marketers have difficulty justifying a few dollars more at retail.”

Doctor Pradeep suggests a new term, Storefront Marketing, to synthesize both the physical retail in-store environment and the online web storefronts (as distinct from webpages where goods are not being offered for sale), a very consumer-centric definition that defines a moment in time and space (or cyberspace) where a consumer is potentially on the verge of a purchase.

“You’ve done all your broadcast and print advertising, all your brand building, and now the consumer is right there at the point of purchase, eyeballing your merchandise.  How are you connecting with them?  What conversations are you replaying? Are you trying to start a brand new conversation?  Or do you think your previous marketing was so profound that you don’t need to converse with them again?

“Marketers aren’t connecting the dots at retail.  It’s about selective replaying, and that thinking hasn’t happened yet.  The brain of your consumer at retail, it’s the same brain you’ve been talking to.  What would happen now if you could selectively replay the key parts at that moment?  Neuroscience facilitates this by isolating these particularly evocative and memorable snippets.  These are what you need to give to your creative folks, so they can reactivate those snippets in the consumer’s mind and trigger a replay of thewhole story.”

We observed a common maxim of Storefront Marketing (by whatever other name you reference it): that you only have a few seconds of a consumer’s attention in which to engage them and draw them to your product or offer.

“That is precisely the point,” Dr. Pradeep replied.  “If only you could know at the point of purchase what was important to your consumer, and you could tastefully reactivate it, then the whole experience could be recreated in their mind, and you could have them engaged.”

Predictive Analytics

In addition to guiding the design of your Storefront Marketing, Dr. Pradeep believes that the combination of neuromarketing and predictive analytics can be especially effective.  And he had empirical evidence to back it up as his verbal tempo and tone hit the accelerator again.  “We did an experiment with a major client, in which we went back and looked at marketing with over two years of data, and applied to that history the predictions that our neuromarketing research would have made.  We wanted to see how our predictions correlated with real in-market performance.  In some scenarios, you might be very happy to find a 20 – 25% correlation of prediction with in-market results.  In our case, we found a correlation in excess of 80%.

“Imagine if you could know in advance how to make 80% of your ad budget effective.  What would you do?  How much better would your performance be?  What costs of wasted advertising could you save?  The predictive capabilities of these solutions are going to be phenomenal.”

Tapping the brakes just a bit, Dr. Pradeep noted, “Look, the whole truth of the human brain will remain forever unknown … but we can get closer and closer.  Purchase decisions are made at the brain, so the closer we are, the better our opportunities.”

Neurodesign

Finally, we asked Dr. Pradeep for his view of the future of neuromarketing.   There was a rare pause.

“When someone markets to me, I want them to talk to me like I actually have thinking and feeling brain – like I am someone who is not fooled easily.  People want to be talked to in a way that shows respect, that evokes thoughtfulness and passion.

“When we look back from the future, I think the very term ‘neuromarketing’ will become an anachronism,” foretold Dr. Pradeep.  “I think the future is about neuro-design.  By better understanding the human brain, we can move up the chain beyond marketing, to truly designing for the consumer products and offers that will genuinely be of greater service and relevance.

“Look at all the dials and knobs and instructions we have to deal with today.  Who thought I’d want to have to learn all this stuff?  Think of neurodesign as if everything was designed by Apple.  Brand Apple takes the time to make sure their products are fit for human consumption.   We have agencies to decide if food is fit for human consumption, but not product interfaces.

“Marketing informed by neuroscience can do better.  It can improve how we speak to and engage consumers.  It can direct products and features that appeal to the human brain, pricing that is not confusing, promotions that actually make sense.”

In summary, Dr. Pradeep believes we need to “demolish the glibness of marketing, put science in its place, and migrate marketing to the loftier world of design.”

After the interview, I reflected that my initial impression of Dr. Pradeep was all wrong.  He wasn’t the White Rabbit.  Clearly, he was The Caterpillar.  My mind was full of smoky, intoxicating images of a future where the inner mysteries of my brain directed the world of product design and marketing with magical efficiency.  I half-stumbled outside for a breath of fresh air, but still felt a bit dizzy, so I sat for a moment at the base of our maple tree.

An unknown time later, my wife woke me with a gentle shake.

“What are you doing sleeping out here?” she asked, “and what were you dreaming about?  You kept saying ‘curiouser and curiouser’.”

Okay, so my estimate of my own normality may, in fact, be just slightly exaggerated.    JTS

Editors’ Note: for those who would like to go further on this topic, Dr. Pradeep has authored a book titled “The Buying Brain”(2010), a business book bestseller.


[1]
The Mynd headset does require a very tiny amount of hair conditioner to make contact with the scalp

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Emo-Metrics and the New “Q”

In neuromarketing, Shopper Marketing on May 20, 2011 at 3:04 pm

by Jeff Sandgren

Never play poker with David Berman!  CEO of Affectiva, a rising star company in the world of neuromarketing, his team is developing innovations in affective computing to help understand how people feel in order to improve products and experiences.

Be especially careful if he offers to let you wear one of his ‘special’ wristbands. Just give him your money and get it over with, because your ability to bluff will be gone.

The wristband in question is the new Q™ Sensor, a product that was officially launched this month after having been tested with over a hundred beta clients over the past year.  The Q detects and records physiological signs of stress and excitement by measuring slight changes in the skin’s electrical conductivity. This measurement, called electrodermal activity or galvanic skin response[1], is a human response component of emotional reactions.  The Q Sensor senses this measure go up when you are feeling excitement, stress, fear, or engagement, and drop when you are bored or relaxing – and might therefore know whether you really are holding an inside straight, or just faking it.

As the insightful reader has already deduced, this technology wasn’t invented for anything like gambling.  The original prototypes were developed by the M.I.T. Media Lab’s Affective Computing group run by Professor Rosalind W. Picard.  Dr. Picard and Dr. Rana el Kaliouby originally began work together with National Science Foundation (NSF) funding to develop technologies to help people on the autism spectrum, as part of a commendable effort to improve communications for people in the autism spectrum who have trouble reading and processing emotions.  Beyond those benevolent beginnings, though, it is another opportunity, like EEG and eye-tracking (see “Neurodesign” article) for neuromarketers to explore another, more common human foible – our susceptibility to the stimulus of shopping.

The inventors specialize in a science known as ‘affective computing’, which means computing technologies that “sense and respond respectfully to human emotions”, according to Dr. Picard.  Additional tools in their bag of technology tricks include the Affdex™ facial recognition and chromatic cardio monitoring –more on these in a moment.

The core technology for the Q Sensor has been validated in peer-reviewed journals demonstrating the accuracy of the electrodermal activity sensors used on the wrist compared to FDA-approved electrodermal activity sensors wired to fingertips. The validation is especially important for scientific researchers who have been limited in the past to using wired sensors in lab settings.

While basic skin sensing techniques have been used for a century (i.e. in lie detectors); previous methods typically require electrodes, wires and a lab setting. Affectiva has expanded the range of possibilities by making a comfortable sensor the size of a wristwatch, freeing people to wear it during everyday activities outside a lab. The key experiential difference is that the wearer quickly and easily moves beyond any physical distraction of wearing a monitoring device, and the device  enables essentially unlimited mobility.  Researchers can measure real people doing real everyday activities.

Eschewing games of chance (with the certainty of losing), and hungry for more insights on how the science of marketing can penetrate the art of human decision-making, we spoke to a proud and excited David Berman on the day of Affectiva’s first commercial launch, version 1.0 of the Q, called the Q Curve because it is contoured to fit on your wrist with the comfort of a bracelet or watchband “… in a way that is highly resistant to motion artifacts.”  The next version, the Q Pod, will release in a different form later this year, allowing easier wearing by children or adults in alternate locations.

We started by wondering how the company came about.  Not surprisingly, given the altruistic inclinations of the scientists, these inventions almost didn’t see the light of commercialization.  According to Berman, the science spent almost ten years in the MIT Media Lab, funded by a National Science Foundation grant, and supported by a number of corporate sponsors.  As the solutions began to show more and more promise, the pressure from the sponsors to incorporate the  technology into commercial products grew also, until Dr. Picard and Dr. el Kaliouby finally turned to Media Lab Director Frank Moss for resolution.  His solution, akin to the one that created E-Ink Corporation (and subsequently, years later, the Kindle and Nook), was to create spin-off so that the scientists could realize their nobler endeavors. By scaling the technology in the commercial world, they can help make it accessible and affordable to non-profits and fund philanthropy programs. Affectiva was born.

Berman came on board about nine months later, a move to leverage his experience gearing up WebEx, where he was instrumental in implementing the software-as-a-service sales and marketing model that grew revenue by a factor of 100.  David is no stranger to the world of start-ups … or success.  He was President of Worldwide Sales and Services for the company that was recently acquired by Cisco.  “It turned out to be a technology that made peoples’ lives better, and allowed them to have a more effective meeting experience without having to hit the road,” said Berman of WebEx.  “In the same way, Affectiva is providing game-changing technologies to improve other human experiences.”

And there are other correlations of note.

“There’s a sort of correlation between monitoring autistic children and multi-tasking consumers,” explained Berman, “because in one way you’re using the same core technology to let people share emotion to communicate more effectively.”

There’s good reason for Affectiva’s choice of the first two solutions.  The Q is designed to measure arousal, but by itself it doesn’t report whether that arousal is negative or positive.  This coordinate on the emotional map, which Affectiva refers to as ‘valence’, is captured instead by their other upcoming solution, the Affdex facial expression monitoring system.  By combining the inputs of how strongly I am responding to my environment and stimuli, together with the sentiment analysis of whether I do or don’t like a particular arousal, researchers can get a clearer picture of my location on my internal emotional map.

Affdex builds on the work of Paul Ekman, a psychologist who developed the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) to taxonomize every human facial expression.  The doctors automated many of the key elements of this code into a video analysis platform, thus enabling the software to report on the likely emotions of people whose facial expressions are being captured by a video recorder or webcam.

Avoiding Groupon’s Super Bowl Ad Flop

“The neat thing about the Affdex platform,” said Berman “is that you can monitor real time emotion at scale.  Let’s say Groupon had tried this by testing their intended Super Bowl ad (in case you missed the Antibuzz, it was a colossal failure by almost any account).  If they had sent out a trial version of the ad to a few thousand internet viewers who opted in with their webcams on, they could have known up front that people wouldn’t approve of an ad poking fun at culturally endangered Tibetans.”

Readers with webcams are encouraged follow up this newsletter by trying the technology themselves.  Simply click on http://onforb.es/didismile, enable your webcam, and watch a few commercials.  As you’ll see, the software will detect whether or not you smiled – and this is just one simple example of a much broader range of emotional expression interpretation in the platforms capabilities.  It got me right on all three attempts.

As David pointed out, the potential is more than just ‘flop avoidance’.  Marketers could use this to monitor on an ongoing basis whether web content was “getting stale”, or even as a trigger for interaction, by using the emotional read to choose the timing and content for a particular call to action.

“We’re doing a lot of integration work with some of the larger ad measurement companies,” he revealed, “and really building out the platform ahead of the product launch.  Plus, we’re really having a lot of fun!”

“We’re starting with measuring media, but there’s a whole next wave of interaction that this technology enables.”

Regarding privacy concerns, Affectiva “takes the highest road” and is 100% opt-in.   All research participants are volunteers.  “If you make people’s life better, we believe they’ll opt-in.  They key is making sure they get enough value out the experience. At the end of the day, measuring customer experience means consumers will get a better product or more tailored solution.”

Speaking for the editors, we’d LOVE to know what people are thinking when the read our blog at www.brandtechnews.net .

Another example for our readers in the retail space is the MIT Mood Meter, where a deployment of cameras around the MIT campus counts smiles to determine the general sentiment of students, faculty and visitors.  See  www.moodmeter.media.mit.edu/ , and imagine having that insight, that easily about your shoppers.

What about the mysterious third solution?  A little further out, Affectiva is developing a solution that monitors blood circulation by detecting tiny variances in skin tone, as another way of measuring arousal without any worn hardware.  We’ll let you know when news breaks on that.

Early Learning at IPG Shopper Sciences

We were able to connect with one of the earliest users in the consumer goods space, John Ross, CEO of Mediabrands Shopper Sciences, who is using Affectiva and other solutions to gather data as people shop, improve the shopping experience, and create more value for customers.

Interpublic Group, as readers probably know, is one of the giant media companies with agencies around the world.  To serve the broad array of customer needs regarding shopper marketing, they decided a few years ago to build dedicated lab space, the IPG Media Lab, starting with one in Los Angeles.  The New York Lab is scheduled to open in the fall.  Charter clients included Microsoft, Sony, Johnson & Johnson, Bayer, Kohl’s, and Home Depot.

“One important consideration,” Ross told us, “was to facilitate a place where learning and pure research could take place with teams that were NOT necessarily attached to a client, allowing us to advise all our clients more objectively.”

“When the lab identifies trends, products spin out of that,” said Ross “and Shopper Sciences is an example.  In this world where the shopper is so informed, so powerful, we need a new toolset to understand shoppers and the decisions they make.

“Most of the marketing world focuses on consumption, on consumers.  They look a brand awareness, brand consumption, brand tracking.  Retailers focus on transactions like register logs and ecommerce reports.  What’s left in the middle is
WHY – why shoppers behave as they do.”

Shopper Sciences’ tool set include such lofty elements as ‘purchase barrier matrices’, ‘neural shopping matrices’, ‘physical response diagnostics’, and proprietary tools to score point of purchase materials, all to get a better handle on how  shoppers make decisions.

Clearly, it’s a perfect environment for Affectiva solutions.  Ross saw them as a tool set that would allow them to bring a quantitative measurement to emotional decision-making.  A big plus, according to Ross, was that the form factor enabled a methodology that could be readily scaled for retail.

“The form factor was so elegant that it fades into the background,” complimented Ross.  “This is important because shoppers tend to answer surveys smarter than they behave; they under-report the emotional side of their decision-making.  These tools give us better insights to what they’re really feeling.”

Shopper insights versus Buyer insights

Ross cited, as an example, a recent study of young women cosmetics shoppers.  A major brand client was concerned about representation in stores, and wanted to better understand shopper behavior.  Using the Q Sensor, they were able to determine that women were engaged and confident when picking the first product, but then became more stressed when they tried to find additional cosmetics in suitable colors. As a result, very few kept the same brand across the various cosmetics.

With these insights, the brand and retailer are developing improvements to reengineer the shopper experience by making it easier for shoppers to match colors in-category.

“We’re bringing the emotional state of the shopper into the ‘fix the sales’ process,” says Ross.  “Presupposing that the shopper isn’t emotional does them a disservice. What looks like rote behavior by shoppers often isn’t.  Shoppers bring in a burden of worry, concerns, and need for education.  These new techniques allow us the scale to reveal the ‘micro-moments’ when the shopper becomes distressed or disengaged.”

As brands and retailers seek to improve  consumer experience (and their own performance), there seems to be a clear need to go beyond ‘Buyer Insights’, which only assess what people actually bought, into the more transient realm of ‘Shopper Insights’, looking at what’s going on inside the minds of those who are on the verge of making a purchase decision.

“We have all this data and agency reporting on buyers,” agrees Ross, “but the data on the poor shopper is so thin by comparison, that it gets lost in the strategic decision-making process.  We’re on the cusp of bringing the voice of the shopper into the process, and we believe this will transform retail. ”

The voice of the shopper, the internal voice that captures both rational and emotional elements, is perhaps the compass by which our consumer-driven economy can recover its direction.  Ground breaking research at the intersection of branding and technology is pointing the way.   JTS


[1]
The Q Sensor also measures temperature and 3-axis motion for additional
contextual interpretation of user state

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