Neuroscience can help us learn our audience’s most profound perceptions of our products and services
Let’s think of the following scenario:
We’ve created an ad that we want to publish on a variety of platforms (TV, online, etc.), and to make sure everything is right we seek approval from a representative sample of our target audience.
They’ll be our thermometer.
- If we get them to like the ad, we’ll have a better chance of success once we launch it to all our audience.
- If it isn’t well-received, we’ll get valuable data to make the necessary changes (deletion/addition of scenes, sound revisions, etc.) and test it again until we get it right.
We need to find out their most genuine emotions (and behavior) towards this ad or else all the hard work (and money of course) into making it will be in vain.
So how do we get to them?
What Kind of Information Do We Want to Gather?
Conscious (rational) driven data
This first option allows us to collect information from what the audience can tell us themselves.
We can ask them to share their thoughts in group conversations or through individual questionnaires and collect their diverse responses.
Nonetheless, we can’t seize more subtle elements (e.g. physiological changes), pure sensations, or information that the participant doesn’t want or is ashamed of sharing.
Now, there’s also information that the subject doesn’t even perceive consciously.
How can they share it with you if they can’t process it consciously?
That’s where the second option comes in handy.
Unconscious (emotional) driven data
Thanks to neuroscience, we can tap into this other way of processing information using techniques that collect the most primary reactions of a human being, free from language interference.
We’re talking about physiological reactions and unconscious muscle signals such as:
- Heart rate
- Electrodermal activity
- Facial expressions
- Brain wave activity
- Eye movement and pupil dilation
These are all expressions of emotional states below the person’s conscious threshold. They take place without voluntary intervention so we could say they’re more genuine reactions and more difficult to falsify.
Neuroscience can help us in this domain. It’s a field that serves as a bridge between emotions and the most unconscious parts of our body.
This branch of science explores the nervous system (brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves) and as part of that system, the limbic structure. This last system’s main function is the control of all emotional output, and with the following three cool gadgets we can tap into the most unconscious part of our brain.
1. Facial Recognition Software — Faces Tell You People’s Inner Emotions
Using facial expression software, we’re able to register and analyze people’s facial reactions to a stimulus.
The software identifies facial features such as the forehead, eyebrows, lips, among others, and it generates a simplified facial model of the participant. We’re not looking for beauty here, so don’t worry.
Next, the software’s algorithm classifies those characteristics into emotional states, comparing them with a database that’s compiled of thousands of faces from multiple geographical areas. Each facial recognition software has its own database which is why the final analysis can vary depending on the facial reference at hand.
The facial expression recognition software is based on Paul Ekman’s theory of universal traits. In 1971, Ekman and Friesen discovered six global facial expressions: joy, surprise, fear, sadness, anger, and disgust. They said that regardless of people’s geographic location or culture, we all expressed these basic emotions similarly and anyone could identify them as a specific set of facial features.
When people look at an image, listen to a sound/music, or sense a smell, they’ll make a certain face that matches what they’re feeling inside of them.
The different combinations of muscle movement on our face (e.g. our eyebrows and mouth corners raised) tell us people’s inner emotions.
Back to our initial ad.
Let’s say we have one we’d like to get people’s first reactions on it. We’ll see how their face changes throughout the length of this commercial spot.
We’ll register sudden changes in facial expressions that we can pinpoint to an exact moment in the ad and learn what they felt there.
Some reactions will be brief, microexpressions such as a faint smile, and others held for longer time periods.
We’ll know if there’s a specific scene that caused rejection in the audience or another one that made them feel happy. We’ll also notice if they’re really concentrated on what’s going on or, sadly, totally uninterested.
Considering all these facts, we can extract a lot of useful information from these facial expressions. By relying on people’s moment-to-moment reactions to certain content we can guide the way we do advertisements for them.
2. Eye Tracker — Following Your Eye Gaze and Movements
This software can analyze the movement of our eyes while looking at a screen.
It can show us some interesting data based on our gaze pattern:
- Order of fixation: Did you first see the logo, the price, or the face of the ad? This metric tells you exactly the order in which you looked at all the elements displayed on the screen. You’ll know the salience of each of the elements you’ve put in your ad.
- Time spent looking at certain elements: You can also learn how much time people spend looking at certain things. Do they just glance at your logo and focus more on the price tag? Do they stare too much at the underlined words and don’t acknowledge the price at all?
- Time to fixation: You can learn how much time it took people to find a certain element. If you wanted them to first see the logo but people saw it after two other elements, that’s a bummer. Rearrange things, and test the ad again to see if it changes.
- Heatmaps: It shows you the number of gaze points people had for a certain area of your image. It’s usually shown as a color gradient with the red area being the most-watched and the green area the least-watched. Think of the military. When they use infrared cameras to see their enemies at night, they look for heat signatures. The hottest zone is in the center of the body (painted in red), and the coldest area in the periphery (painted as light green).
That’s not all — there is much more you can learn just by tracking people’s eye movements. Here’s a list of the 10 most used metrics.
3. Electrodermal Activity — Getting Under People’s Skin
Our skin becomes a better conductor of electricity when we are aroused by an inner or external stimulus. And so we take advantage of these variations to measure people’s emotions to certain content.
Our hands and feet are the most reliable source from which we can measure skin conductance. These places have a higher concentration of eccrine glands which enable the skin to be more or less conductive of electricity.
Two electrodes are placed on either of these places. Then, a tiny current passes between them, and whenever the participant becomes aroused, his/her skin becomes a slightly better conductor of electricity.
It takes a couple of seconds to react to a stimulus, but we can match the time of arousal with what the participant experienced at that moment.
This is an unconscious reaction of the body, so it’s more difficult to control it consciously. It helps us understand the most genuine reactions while looking at a certain ad, and it’s less likely someone can falsify it.
Arousal by itself can be difficult to interpret. Is this arousal an expression of happiness or disgust? You only see a spike, so how do you know it’s because of positive or negative emotion?
That’s why it’s better to cross-reference this data with another research tool (e.g. facial expressions.) This way you can better understand what you’re looking at. You’ll see that your ad elicited high arousal due to positive emotions instead of causing rage or disgust.
Good to know, right?
Summary — Tools That Let You See Things You Usually Can’t
Once we decide we want to find out the most unconscious reactions from our customers, we have at least three cool tools to find out more about our customers:
- Facial recognition software: Our face reveals more about ourselves than what we’d like to show. We can see these inner emotions through their facial expressions and we can pinpoint the exact emotional reaction at a given time and see people’s true feelings towards our content.
- Eye tracker: We’re able to determine a diverse array of gaze patterns by tracking people’s eye movements. In today’s business world where the key asset is attention, brands can understand how to better market themselves with this device. If the saying that our eyes are the mirror to our soul is true, then neuroscience can help us get inside our customers’ souls.
- Electrodermal activity: Our skin can betray us even if we try to stay unprovoked on the outside. By looking at the changes in our skin’s conductance of electricity, we can measure the amount of arousal the customers are experiencing as they watch an ad. This is a new level for neuroscience to get under our skin.
Who Do I Call for This Type of Research?
Now that we’ve found out new ways to test our brand’s content, it would be useful to talk to the experts of consumer research.
I work in one of these companies, but to avoid bias, I’ll put a list of companies without telling you which one is mine.
We’ve got some powerful tools to help us understand our customer’s emotions and their most genuine reactions towards our brand. Now it’s up to us to decide to use them to gain more insight into our consumer’s behavior.
Science has much to say, we just need to listen to it.
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