Understanding consumers' unconscious with online tools

Thomas Zoëga Ramsøy

August 11, 2020

As the world has changed with the COVID-19 crisis, there is an emergent need for new solutions and new tools. Until now, online tests have been focused on conscious and reflective self-reports. True neuromarketing studies have relied on measures of brain activity and eye-tracking. But crises fosters innovation, and again, Neurons is taking the lead on making neuromarketing fully available for online testing. Here, we show just how a combination of online testing solutions can be used to understand both consumers’ conscious and subconscious.

The unconscious consumer

Readers of this blog, and followers of our work, know that to understand consumer sentiments and behaviors, we need to probe both the conscious and unconscious in consumers. It's simply based on how we're wired. Our conscious mind relies on a system that is slow and needs to be engaged and mobilized. For most decisions, it's simply too slow to be important. Contrary to this, the unconscious is always on, quick to respond, and works in a massively distributed and specialized way. This is why the unconscious is so important when we want to measure, understand, and influence consumer choice.

However, traditional neuromarketing and consumer neuroscience methods rely on high-end solutions such as fMRI and EEG brain scanning, as well as eye-tracking. Many of these methods allow us to get a highly granular measure of consumer responses from millisecond to millisecond. This is at the core of our NeuroLab solutions. But in today's situation, there is a need for data on consumers' unconscious responses.

Online solutions for the new normal

In case you've missed it, Neurons have released new solutions that now bring the latest and best neuroscience as online solutions. With Predict, you can analyze your images and videos, and within seconds you get the results on what customers are most likely to see and miss. With Explore, we have just released a completely new and powerful online toolbox for the consumer and market researcher. Here, we will give you an example of just how it is possible to make the most of Predict and Explore in conjunction. Please note that this story is based on previous research, but we were not commissioned by Ben & Jerry's for this study. This brand is only used to mask original sources of the data. Let's say that you represent Ben & Jerry's ice cream products, and you want to test a new ad campaign for social media. But you can't do in-person interviews, which is typically required for neuromarketing studies. What can you do?

Step 1: Run a Predict analysis with AOIs

The first thing you should do is to test your visual campaign with Predict. Here, you get both a heatmap and a fogmap that shows the areas that people are most likely to notice. You will also get a Cognitive Demand score, which tells you if the ad is too visually complex and demanding, and a Clarity score, which shows you if you have too many places pulling on customers' attention. We have found that webcam-based eye-tracking is still not ready for prime time. Instead, Predict is an AI model that is based on the world's largest database of eye-tracking on consumer attention is a better, faster, and more affordable solution.

Now, you can go beyond the heatmap and draw Areas of Interest (AOIs). This allows you to quantify and aggregate the amount of attention specific regions of your creative will get. This also allows you to better compare different versions of the same ad, and help you do fast iterations on the design. Below, you can see the result of an AOI analysis of a Ben & Jerry's ad on Facebook, overlaid on the heatmap:

Neurovision on Ben and Jerry's ad.
Predict analysis of a Ben & Jerry's ad. The heat map shows which areas are most likely to grab attention. The AOI drawings focus on specific areas such as the brand handle, text, product, and call to action.

As you can see, the Ben & Jerry's ad performs pretty well. Attention to all main parts is doing pretty well, and the brand is obvious both in the post top (the so-called "handle") and on the product itself. This means that customers are likely to both see the ad and to connect it to the brand. It might actually matter less if the product name ("Half Baked") is seen. So from this, you can tick the box on customer attention: viewers that are looking at this ad are very likely to see the brand and the product. Mission accomplished, right? Or is it? Now, you might want to ensure that your ad is also remembered, and maybe you're the product owner of Half Baked, and need to show that people remember this also? And how about product desire? Does the ad impact this? Here, Explore solutions come to the rescue!

Step 2: Explore for online measurement of customers' unconscious

Neurons have recently released our fully matured, developed, and validated Explore toolbox. This toolbox is created with a thorough scientific process of both seeking the best-in-class methods for implicit measures, and neuroscience validation from our vast, high-quality database. Here, we will focus on a few main tests from the Explore battery: Implicit Associations Test and the Neuropsychology Memory Test. First, in the case of the  Ben & Jerry's ad, gathering the data would be in your preferred market. Let's say US, Canada, and 3 European countries (UK, France, Spain). For each market, we would recruit around 100 participants for an online test, and from the preferred market segment. So with five countries, the complete sample size would be 500, and we would overrecruit to ensure that the sample size would be reached.

What Explore tests show

During the test, participants would be given a range of different tasks and tests, including the earlier mentioned tests. We first randomized participants into one out of two groups. In the test group the Ben & Jerry's ad was inserted as part of participants' own Facebook feed. In the control group, no  Ben & Jerry's ad was shown. This ad insertion was part of a larger study, allowing the Ben & Jerry's ad effect to be masked so no participant would catch on the purpose of this part of the study. For the tests, we could then see the effects of being exposed to the ad. Let's take them in turn:

Neuropsychology Memory Battery test

This test is based on our years of work in clinical neuropsychology, and consists of separate subscores for tracking different types and strengths of memory. This gives us three main scores:

  1. an overall memory score of the ad
  2. a breakdown into spontaneous and cued recall, and recognition
  3. a separate score of explicit associations

In the present data, we found that the Ben & Jerry's ad showed a very good performance on ad and brand memory. The Ben & Jerry's ad was remembered almost twice as often as the mean memory for the other ads in this study. This suggested that the Ben & Jerry's ad was highly successful in generating a lasting impression and that it could be tied to the Ben & Jerry's brand.

Chart showing the performance of the Ben & Jerry's ad.

Implicit Association Test (IAT)

As part of the memory battery test, we assessed which associations people had to each of the brands tested in the study. This was then compared to the unconscious associations that was measured with the IAT method. Here, we made an interesting finding: although customers did not consciously remember the Half Baked product name, there was a clear unconscious association between Ben & Jerry's and the Half Baked name. This showed that customers were not consciously remembering the link between Ben & Jerry's and the product "Half Baked", but unconsciously they did!

Graphs of explicit and implicit associations.

Together, these results suggested that while there is good attention to the Ben & Jerry's ad and brand, and even the Half Baked product name, this is not enough to manifest consciously. The question is still whether we really need to have conscious associations before customers will act? As we noted earlier, and as a ground truth for neuromarketing, unconscious processes drive customer choice while conscious processes happen after the choice is made. After all, perhaps unconscious associations is even desirable? According to the publications of people such as Robert Heath in his Seducing the Subconscious, it might even be a better effect if customers are not entirely conscious about the links made in their minds. If we can trace them as unconscious associations, it can be argued that this is an extremely powerful ad.

Step 3: Marrying Predict AOI analyses with Explore scores

Finally, an interesting combination of online methods allow us to understand the relationship between attention and other types of responses. For example:

  • by using the brand AOI from an ad, it is possible to show that there is a positive relationship between the Predict value and subsequent memory
  • by looking at the product/slogan AOI value, it is possible to link to subsequent associations made in the IAT (such as the link to Half Baked)
  • the amount of attention to the call to action AOI (the web address, or another action button) is linked to the likelihood that the customer will follow the link in an online test

Together, the combination of Predict and Explore now opens for a completely new and powerful way of doing consumer and market research at a global scale. Faster, more scalable, affordable, and still tracking both conscious and unconscious customer responses.

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Understanding consumers' unconscious with online tools

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