10 things agencies should be using neuro for:

While much of the neuromarketing hype has centered on “finding the brain’s buy button”, several everyday challenges can be addressed more comprehensively with neuromarketing than with traditional research methods like surveys and focus groups.

Here are 10 things agencies and marketers should be using neuromarketing for:

1) Determining effective frequency of creative exposure has traditionally been more art than science in media agencies. On the digital direct response side, this is much easier to discern, as cookie-level data can tell us how many exposures are required before a particular behaviour is achieved (in digital channels). On the traditional, branded side, however, agencies have relied on benchmarks and norms that are more best practice guesses than anything rigorously scientific. By measuring brain waves responsible for engagement and consideration, neuromarketing techniques can evaluate for agencies an audience’s neural response over the course of exposures, and thus more precisely determine what media weight to invest behind it against a competitive set. This has massive implications for media budgets – if audience consideration can be maximized at 5 exposures on TV over a certain time period, why run at 7 or 10? On the other hand, if my creative underperforms my competitive set, we may need to increase weights and exposures to compensate.

2) In a similar vein, neuromarketing provides a much deeper understanding into creative decay rates and wear out – that is, when does my creative stop working? At what point do audiences completely tune out, and media support become wasteful? Presently, the options for evaluating these are based on GRP levels, not really the quality of the creative behind it, and are largely benchmark-focused and range-based. After 2000 GRPs. Or, 1600-2000, or 2000-2500, but never more than 2200. And so on. You get the idea. By measuring brain response, however, we can much better understand engagement peaks, plateaus and plummets by audience segment, investing in new creative production when required.

3) Neuromarketing gives marketers a superior means to evaluate branded content. Shifts in media consumption behaviour combined with complete overhauls of media business models have given rise to branded content and the trend of products and brands more closely integrating with production. Indeed, without the backing of brands like Heineken, Skyfall wouldn’t have been green-lit for production. Despite this, agencies have had mixed results selling through branded content to their clients. Part of this is legacy, but a big part of this is the fact that measuring the real impact of these different vehicles has been elusive. Surveys, dials and focus groups all rely on self-reporting, which we know is methodologically flawed. What we do, and what we say we do, are often two very different things.

By delivering a second-by-second data feed evaluating brain waves responsible for audience engagement and consideration, neuromarketing empowers content creators with the evidence they need to prove to clients the business value of brand integrations.

4) “Screen neutrality” and “sight, sound, motion” are big buzz terms in media agencies these days, but intuitively we know that audiences engage with different screens in different ways. What’s best for TV may not be best for cinema, mobile screens or desktop computers. Cinema vendors, for example, love saying that viewing an ad on the big screen is a completely different sensory experience than seeing it on a small screen. To prove this, they’ll show audience ad recall scores as if that is the proper metric to evaluate how content is experienced (think about it, it isn’t). Neuromarketing helps agencies fine-tune the nuances behind these buzz terms, by evaluating brain engagement by screen. And the new mobile neuro technologies enable evaluation of these screens within their various environments and contexts. Evaluating engagement across screen type can, among other things, help marketers and their agencies develop better ‘second screen’ initiatives.

5) Every communication brief – if we’re doing our jobs correctly – is designed to drive or change a particular behaviour. Both creative (what we say) and media (how we say it) play a part driving this behaviour change. And as behaviours form in the brain, understanding how it operates and how media and creative activate its relevant parts, is an advance on how we presently evaluate communication effectiveness. Indeed, what neuromarketing delivers is a better way to test creative – at even the concept stage – by media channel. This extends to package design, PR and any other communication vehicle. By testing creative with brain response data, marketers can be far more confident investing the media to communicate that message. This is precisely why movie studios, which invest so much in creating their product, have embraced neuromarketing methods to improve it.

6) And by testing various creatives and content segments by channel, and gaining a second-by-second insight into audience brain response, marketers can understand precisely to what audiences are responding. Are product features more engaging? What of the ‘call to action’? Are audiences responding to the talent? And what audience segments are over-indexing on what? What the scaled application of neuromarketing delivers is robust insight into what stimulates audiences, which can be used to understand audience interests and craft tailored messages to various target segments.

7) For the forward thinking agencies, those like Sid Lee and others that are designing experiences and spaces, understanding how the brain interacts with these spaces is a powerful and revelatory data set. Understanding user-space interaction at the neurological level enables design based on eliciting a desired response from the user. For example, in constructing a space to encourage creativity, a balancing must be struck between collaboration and isolation – the mixing of ideas balanced with the space and time for them to develop and grow. Capturing data on meditative levels (isolation) and engagement/consideration (collaboration) would provide clues to space designers as to how to craft the best environment. A recent study from Edinburgh demonstrates this potential from an urban space design perspective.

8) Agencies should also be using neuromarketing to measure content priming in order to better select programming and content around and within which to run ads. Priming is a well-established psychological phenomenon whereby exposure to stimulus – images, or language, for example – influences an individual’s response to a later stimulus (Malcolm Gladwell, whose book Blink helped to popularize the concept, discusses it here). Several studies have investigated the impact of priming, with variations in behaviour between test and control groups of almost 50%. If I’m Tim Horton’s or McDonald’s, am I better off advertising around news content, or entertainment? Drama or Comedy? These aren’t trivial questions – Top 20 programming costs significantly greater than fringe. With a potential upside in behavioural change effectiveness of 50%, it makes business sense for agencies to brain-test and evaluate ads within different content environments.

9) Changing media consumption habits are putting a premium on live event viewing and experience, meaning growing investment in sponsorships even while growth in other media channels flatlines or shrinks. But understanding the impact of sponsorship again relies on self-reporting (surveys) or media-equivalents (impressions), which don’t fully capture the value of these growing investments. At MediaCom, we used the latter metric to feed into econometric models to test impact, but these inherently treated all sponsorships as equal, and relied on impression and reach variation to determine effectiveness. As a marketing vehicle used to drive emotional association and engagement, this method is incomplete. Do Scotiabank’s hockey sponsorships engage and resonate with audiences like their arts sponsorships? Using neuromarketing techniques like brain wave measurement and eye tracking can more accurately value sponsorship initiatives, helping agencies to determine the best mechanisms to drive business goals.

10) Focusing on measuring the brain – the single fundamental unit we’re trying to understand and influence – empowers marketers to follow through on that desired goal of true customer centricity. But even more, it provides a meaningful depth metric that compliments traditional marketers’ focus on breadth metrics (GRPs, impressions, reach, etc). And it’s a consistent reference point across channels – how the brain engages with search versus TV versus in-store versus PR – which is something the industry still hasn’t cracked on the reach metric front. Indeed, there are scaling issues with neuromarketing technology, but advances in brain-computing interface space mean that technology costs are coming down, opening up new opportunities for marketers and agencies to leverage this game-changing technique.

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