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requires extremely expensive equipment and takes an hour or more per participant for straightforward studies). Early efforts to use fMRI in the consumer insights space led to some very mixed results, as documented by a recent Advertising Research Council study. Anecdotally, I’m repeatedly surprised to hear that firms have dedicated multimillion-dollar budgets to their efforts in the space, with grand takeaways that distill down to “we found that the reward centre of the brain was more active for our loyal versus casual users during consumption”.

Consumers who fast-forwarded through ads when watching TV shows they had recorded were in many cases more positively disposed to the brand than if they’d watched the actual ads in real time

Implicit measures

Another example might include the use of implicit measures (e.g., the Implicit Association Test) to predict consumer behaviour. Such measures ask respondents to categorize a word or image as quickly as they can. For example, you might be asked to categorize a series of brands as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Which category you put the brand into obviously matters, but the implicit piece of the measure is the speed between when the brand appears on the screen and when you respond. This millisecond response time is taken as an indication of how strongly you hold the opinion that the brand is good or bad, with faster response time indicating more strongly held beliefs. Once again, while there have been some successes, there have been just as many commercial flops attempting to utilize such techniques to predict consumer behaviour. For example, a large retailer I partnered with relayed its experience of attempting with limited success to segment and target its customer base using such implicit response-time measures. Lest I appear to simply be a curmudgeon about implicit and neuroscientific research approaches, note that some of the most interesting research I’m currently involved in uses such techniques (e.g. fMRI, mobile eye-tracking and responsetime measures). The research questions these techniques allow me to answer are unique and different from those I could answer using purely behavioural research approaches. For example, we’re currently pairing mobile eye-tracking data with response-time measures to explore how consumers are impacted by in-store primes. These tools permit us to examine millisecond differences in approach to certain items on a shelf as a function of background imagery (signage above the shelves). When working with my commercial counterparts, I try to emphasize that we first Dialogue Q2 2018

need to figure out the key question we are trying to answer with any research endeavour. Is it whether people attend to a promotional effort of some type? Is it whether their set of associations with our brand changes? Is it whether they’re more likely to pick up our product off a store shelf and investigate for more information? Or is it simply whether a particular promotional effort will lead to more sales of our product? Counterparts on the finance side of the firm typically focus on the last question, but any of the above would be examples of legitimate research questions. Once we’ve got our key question laid out, we can then dig a little deeper and explore what type of research method might be most appropriate. Let’s assume we’re going to explore whether a promotion (an ad, a feature display and so forth) leads to increased sales. I argue that the key determinant of whether a more traditional, conscious research tool fits the bill prior to launch, or whether a newer, nonconscious tool might make more sense, comes down to one key dimension: the degree to which the consumer choice is largely deliberative versus largely spontaneous. Deliberative decisions are often made in consumer settings. For example, when purchasing an automobile, most consumers are not rash, impetuous decision-makers. Rather, they gather information, compare options, weigh strengths and weaknesses etc. Smaller ticket items might also involve highly deliberative decision processes. For example, selecting a present for a loved one hopefully involves some degree of conscious processing. Selecting a product in a category that is new to the consumer would also typically involve fairly deliberative processing (e.g., purchasing an over-the-counter medication for an illness). In such categories, tried and true research

Dialogue Q2 2018  
Dialogue Q2 2018