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Neuroscience and Design: Getting to the Heart of Consumer Motivation Through Their Head


Webinar May 30, 2016
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Neuroscience and Design: Getting to the Heart of Consumer Motivation Through Their Head

For years we’ve been relying on marketing research methods that may not be telling us the whole story. That is, until the application of neuroscience to more accurately predict consumer purchase behaviour.

It’s a well-known fact that people buy based on their emotions. But how do you qualify a gut feeling? “Neuromarketing” is bringing science to the boardroom by tracking brain activity to measure consumer preference through emotion.

Diana Lucaci, founder and CEO of neuromarketing research firm True Impact, explains how to use neuromarketing to measure for more meaningful and relevant data.


  • The fundamentals of neuromarketing
  • How neuromarketing can improve your consumer research
  • How to drive lift and ROI through accurate measurement
  • Best practices for implementing neurometrics in your research

This webinar aired on June 22, 2016.

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Webinar Transcript

Jean-Pierre: Good afternoon and thank you for joining us at today’s session of Design Lounge. I’m Jean-Pierre Lacroix, and I’ll be your moderator for today’s session.

I am very fortunate to have with me Diana Lucaci, who is the CEO of a neural-research firm called True Impact. I’m very excited about this session because neuroscience and research is a new emerging form of getting insights, and true insights. So Diana, welcome. Why don’t you share with us a little bit about your company?

Diana: True Impact is a company founded four years ago. We are a innovation technology company based in Toronto in Canada. We focus on complementing traditional research, and adding another layer of understanding the customer, and that is the emotional layer. So we don’t ask people to tell us how they feel, we simply look to measure their initial gut feeling response they have towards a stimulus, which could be a package, or a product, and we see if their body is reacting positively to it, and what we can do to create a better customer experience.

Interviewer: Could you share with us some examples of a neuro-research you’ve conducted?

Diana: We work with a lot of CPT and retail customers to optimize the shopping experience from the path to purchase, or omni-channel experience. We’ll test packaging. For example, we worked with Colgate to understand how people shop for toothpaste, and try to optimize the whole experience so that a particular item will stand out at the shelf. So we will go through with different concepts of packaging. We’ll see which one stands out at the aisle from certain angles, from certain distances, at certain levels and heights on the shelf, and different price points, to really make sure that it achieves all the marketing objectives that that item has, which is be noticed in the first place, be seen, be relevant in the mind of the customer, and ultimately be selected.

So we’re looking to understand, what is the biology of decision making? How can we make it easier for somebody to go from browsing to selecting an item, and make it so that it is aligned with that person’s values and motivations at that moment?

Jean-Pierre: Well, that’s very interesting, neuro-research, but a lot of what you’re talking about sounds like conventional research. So what differentiates neuroscience, neuro-research versus conventional research?

Diana: Neuroscience research taps into what people are not able to say, and that has to do with measuring their emotions, because ultimately when you understand people’s emotions and motivators, you can predict their future purchase behavior with much higher accuracy than you would if you only go based on what they say. So neuroscience complements traditional research, and it provides the big picture. Where in the past, we knew who’s buying, and what they bought after the fact. Now we can be prescriptive and predictive and we can say, “Why do people do what they do? What are their values? How can we align with those values? How can we elicit trust in our brand?” All of this is emotion speak basically, and ultimately make it easy for them to select us.

This is when neuroscience comes in. To quantify the intangible. It is critical, never before seen information that tells you how people feel, and ultimately being able to predict how they’re going to act.

Jean-Pierre: Well, you know it’s interesting. We coined the phrase the “The Blank Factor,” and that is that brands only have a split second to make an emotional connection with consumers to get their preference. So talk to me a little bit about that split second decision and how we evaluate things, and how we rationalize our decisions.

Diana: We first make a decision with the emotional part of the brain, which is at the very core, that limbic system. That is where your gut feeling comes in and tells you, “Do I trust does this brand, do I not? Am I willing to approach it or avoid it?” You’re not aware of this. This happens automatically. Just like when you meet somebody, you have a positive gut feeling about that person, you know right away.

So it’s the same thing towards a brand. When we’re in the point of making a decision at the shelf for example, within a fraction of a second, about 300 milliseconds, your eye glances over a product and then that information from the visual stimulus enters your conscious awareness, where you make a judgment about, “Do I trust this brand? Do I need this product? Is this valuable to me? Ultimately, is this relevant to my life right now?” That happens so quickly, like you said, it’s automatic, and that’s what we’re looking to understand, because that is the critical moment where you can either grab somebody, or completely distract them.

If you’re offering a new item on the market, you can attract somebody with something like that, or it could be too difficult for them, because it’s new, they’ve never seen it before, and they can be pushed away by it, and all of that happens in a fraction of a second.

Jean-Pierre: So when I think of this type of research, I get confused because there are different forms of techniques you could use. So can you talk to me a little about the different kind of research methodology, and the type of equipment you use to do this type of research?

Diana: The easiest way to describe it is, the “Neuro-Marketing Umbrella,” a term that was coined back in 2002, includes three separate areas, or three separate buckets, if you will. You have the neurosciences, which measure brain activity directly. So neuroscience tools include things like the FMRI. You know what an MRI is. You get a scan of your brain. The Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging is almost like the Cadillac of brain research, and that can really tell you what are the emotions and motivators at the core of a brand.

Then another neuroscience tool we use on a regular basis is EEG, Electroencephalogram, and this was invented, believe it or not, back in 1924, so now it’s completely portable, it’s a small headset. We use this to tell us if people are motivated by what they’re watching or not motivated? Are the persuaded by what they’re seeing in real time, or are they pushing back and drawing away from it? We can tell things like, how difficult is something to understand? Does it require a higher amount of cognitive load? How much cognitive effort does someone have to put in to make sense of a message coming from a brand? Whether it’s online, offline, in-store, you name it. So the EEG and FMRI are the tools that tell us how the brain is doing.

The second bucket has to do with biometrics, and just like the name implies, that…those are measurements coming from the body. And so those include things like eye-tracking, just simply seeing where people are looking in a certain section. Things like facial-coding, which interprets your facial expression and mical [SP] expressions, to let you know how people will react to a stimulus. Things like heart rate or skin response.

Now, the interesting element about biometrics is that they’re unidirectional, which means your heart rate can go up when you’re excited, or it can go up when you’re scared, or it can go up when you’re interested, or perhaps you are thinking of a way to get out of that situation. So a biometric will tell you good or bad, but not necessarily why something is happening. It’s only when you combine something like an eye tracking, where people look, with a neurometric like an in EEG, that you know where they look and also how they felt. Because we always say you can look at something for a long time, like a picture of a train wreck, but it doesn’t mean you like it. So you want to know where people are looking and, hold on, is that because they’re confused, or is that because they’re interested and persuaded, and that’s when we look to the brain and see, well, indeed their brain is reacting well to this message, and they’re motivated by it. And that’s when we really get the big picture.

So the third aspect of it is almost something that we call, like “other,” where you get to measure subconscious beliefs and attitudes that people have towards certain products through a computer. So you can send them something like a link to do a little test, something called an Implicit Association Test or a Reaction Time Test and this is where you get to see, what are the associations people have in their mind with the product and the attributes of it.

So there’s multiple ways to get at the true motivators behind a decision. The most accurate way of doing it, is to measure brain activity properly using an EEG that covers the whole head, and using eye tracking glasses, and biometrics, and then you know for sure that… The brain doesn’t lie. You’re going to get a true vision of what is happening with that consumer at that moment.

Jean-Pierre: Current research, there’s a bias. I mean, there’s a bias if you invite someone to do an online study, because you’re inviting people already predisposed to doing online studies. Same in focus groups. There’s always one or two individuals in that group that kind of sway the rest of the respondents, making it very hard for the research to provide valuable true insights. Do you think though in the future people will be able to cheat this technology?

Diana: No. The brain doesn’t lie. And the beautiful thing about this is that you will have a gut feeling reaction to something, and you can then choose to express that you had a different reaction. You can look at something and hate it, but then you can choose to say, “No, I think it was okay,” but your brain initially has to feel that emotion, and then you then have to think of a lie, let’s say. And we can see that you’re working harder now to come up with something else, and so there’s no way that you can bypass the true feeling that someone has when you measure the brain.

Jean-Pierre: Have you been brought in to do a study after another study was done that further validated? And has there been examples, and maybe not, but examples where the insights you gained were totally different than the insights of the previous research?

Diana: So yes, that did happen a number of times, and what we look to do is, we look to fill in the gap. We want to understand if people are verbally saying that, let’s say, they will purchase eco-friendly cleaners, but then the behavior in the market doesn’t reflect that statement. That is a gap. We need to understand, what is it about the consumer at that moment? What are their reservations? What is happening? Because like you said, some people will say what the what they think the marketer wants to hear, or what would make them look better in the same and in a focus group situation.

So we come in to help identify, are there any gaps in the knowledge currently that we cannot explain with the current forms of research? What is another layer of information that we can add? And then we’ll see differences between, when we partner with another provider, let’s say, people are willing to say one thing in a survey, and then we find that their emotion is very strong for something else in a neuroscience study. And then that really gives a much bigger picture to the brand at that point, to be able to understand, “Well, hold on a second. They’re not willing to tell us what exactly they don’t like about it, but we can…we pinpointed the exact moment when their emotion goes from positive to negative. So what can we do to optimize to make that a little bit easier on them?”

And I find that, in the end, everybody wins when we take that approach. When we put the customer at the center and we look to drive brand our ally, that is where success happens. That is where we really align with the core corporate objective, and everybody wins, starting with the brand.

Jean-Pierre: So when you think of stimuli. So you have a situation where you’re researching an ad, a TV ad, or a print ad, or you’re researching a physical store experience, here’s a store. We’re going to walk you through a store experience. When you look at the cues that drive the most kind of positive or negative stimuli, or reaction, emotional reaction in the brain, and you think of colors and shapes, smells, or language, what are the key triggers that we should be putting more emphasis on, that have a clear, strong link to the emotional side of the brain.

Diana: Yeah, and that is the million dollar question for every brand. What is the shortcut to get into this customer’s habit and to become familiar and chosen time after time? We find that certain elements will work on, let’s say, a more regular basis than others. In a retail environment, rounded corners are preferred as opposed to square end-capped shelves, for example, or colors like the oranges and the reds and yellows are really powerful at drawing the eye to them. Ultimately what a company needs to think of is, what is that one thing I need the customer to do, and how do I draw attention to that one single call to action in a way that that we stand out really easily at the shelf, and they can deselect everything else?

And the way they do that depends on the category, depends on the product being promoted, but ultimately, we do see patterns in preferences and behaviors from person to person that can be applied.

Jean-Pierre: I love that story, the term, “brand shortcut,” because obviously it’s, with the complexity of choice in the marketplace and all those messages vying for the customer’s attention creating a shorthand or a shortcut to the consumer’s memory or emotional side, obviously provides a lot of advantage.

When you look at neuroscience, you could argue that it’s data driven, all this input’s coming in. How do you take all that knowledge, and all those insights where the brain lit up in this area, and it didn’t light up in that area, which is more about science? How do you convert that then into insights that then translate to action? What is the steps you take to convert the brain waves and the brain reaction, into something that you could actually share with a client that is actionable?

Diana: We start off with going through a large amount of information. Let’s say data coming from the brain, we want to clean artifacts, which means that we want to remove eye blinks, muscle movement. We’re only interested in cognitive states. We draw those cognitive states out. We look for areas of interest that the brand is interested in. Well, how often do you look over my product? How often did they [inaudible 00:14:50]? How did they feel at that moment? Or perhaps the competitor’s product. And based on those areas of interest, we will then look at, how do they feel at that moment?

When all of the scientific data is compiled, and all the results come together, it is our team of strategists, including myself, who sit down and paint the picture of what happened, and interpret all the signs for our business audience. What that means is understanding what the goal was in the first place. If a brand was looking to draw attention away from a competitor product onto their brand, or if perhaps they were trying to stand out with a new product at the shelf. We understand what was the question we started out with, and how have we achieved that goal, and if not, how can we go about achieving that goal?

And the insights will be derived based on this research so that, let’s say, insight one, think about being more noticeable among this section with a different type of design perhaps. So we will make a couple of recommendations and then provide, “Here is the science why you need to think about that.” Or, “People are not really aware of the brand at this point. They’re not shopping based on brand. They’re shopping based on price and value and here is the science behind that.” And at the end of the day, instead of all that time spent on research, we’ll spend 80% of our time now on the marketing insight, and what you need to do to apply this to the business, to really get our ally at the end of the day. That is where the rubber meets the road, and that is where 70% of the time our suggestions are being implemented together with the ad agency, and we track then results. And we see a clear relationship between the way that sample of people felt in the lab, and the way now a mass population is behaving. So we are able to predict with much greater accuracy that, when you track emotions, you can be a lot more predictive at anticipating mass behavior. And so we see a correlation between brain activation and then, lift at the shelf, for example, if we’re talking retail.

So it’s fascinating that we now have access that we’re making use of, of science that’s been around for 100 years, and we’re applying it, but what’s really important, is to translate it into marketing and business speak, and make it really meaningful so that they can take small steps and action it right away. That’s where we spend the bulk of our time.

Jean-Pierre: Where do you see the value in neuroscience? What kind of research assignment provides the greatest values? Is it all equal or are there are some that provide greater value?

Diana: We have found that the quick turnaround, the quick to market, quick to grab insights and results for how product is performing in a store, those are the best applications, because then we can go back and work with an agency to tweak certain elements of it, and we can get the results right away. So retail and consumer packaged goods is the first example. Food and beverage is. These are the industries that have been the first to adopt these methodologies, but there’s also a great opportunity for digital branding in general, because again, through digital marketing you can track your results in real time, so making changes on the go is very easy. And that’s when we really get to partner with the company and see, how can we get you to that end goal? What is your, let’s say, 2030 vision, and how can we help partner with you to get you to that point through multiple iterations and through results tracking? So at the end of the day, you’re bringing science into the boardroom. You’re putting numbers behind creative. So it’s not very easy for creative agencies to now have to adopt this sort of thinking. But I think it’s in the benefit of both agencies and brands, because at the end of the day, awards are great, but at the end of the day you really need to drive lift. And you really need to look at, what is your customer’s ROI? How do they measure success? And aligning with that directly. And that is where the greatest opportunity is.

Jean-Pierre: Okay, to wrap this up, we talked a lot about neuro-research, and about current practices. Where do you see the future for neuro-research? Do you see the end of conventional research? Do you see technology being more portable, easier to use? What’s your prediction for neuro-research?

Diana: Nowadays neuroscience technologies are so portable that it’s no more different than wearing a set of headphones or goggles, let’s say. It’s very easy to do. I think in the future though, what we’re going to see is a more optimized marketplace for the human being. So it’s going to be all about putting that customer first and center, understanding what those customers’ motivations and values are, and speaking directly to that. Making sure that you’re not over delivering on message, making sure it’s not too cluttered, and ultimately creating an overall better experience for the customer. I think that’s what we’re all aiming towards.

And there is a time and place for every form of research. I do believe that you need to continue doing the current research that is being conducted. However, nowadays, that you get the opportunity to dive deeper and to find out their true motivations. Why would you not want to know how people truly feel to really give you that big picture behind what drives their decisions? So I do hope that a lot of the science, that is science that we have known for over one hundred years, will be applied in ways that will promote positive human values, that will promote positive behavior in the world, and ultimately create messages that are more meaningful and more authentic, and ultimately relevant in the mind of the customer. I think that’s what we all want. Not just as research practitioners, but also as consumers ourselves. We don’t want to be bombarded with too much irrelevant stuff.

Jean-Pierre: And again thank you very much for joining us, Diana. Thank you very much for joining us.

Diana: Thank you.

Jean-Pierre: Thank you. Have a nice day.

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