A lot of talk about consumer research is not terribly original or helpful, says Rosie Hawkins. In fact there’s a lot of talk is about what is happening in the field, but not necessarily about what the sector is doing about it.
Hawkins is global head of brand and communications for TNS Global. In South Africa recently to talk about what TNS describes as a “ground-breaking new way of communications testing”, Hawkins described a recent four-way pitch for a big account. The feedback from the client was that the contestants had all read the same books, and gave the same spiel. Their offers were largely indistinguishable. What the decision finally boiled down to was price.
“This led me to think, ‘what’s going on’? Have pitches become box-ticking exercises liberally sprinkled with references to System 1 or System 2 as if to say ‘see, I’m clever’? The companies had taken a traditional approach and thrown in a little bit of facial recognition and biometrics, The problem is if we really take on the thinking behind this thinking on neuroscience, then we have to fundamentally rethink our current practices,” Hawkins said.
TNS researchers Alida Jansen and Lorcan McHarry recently won gold at the SAMRA conference for a paper on communication testing, titled ‘Beating the Brain Game – Communications success in the new era of Neuroscience’.
They challenged what they call the “short-term sales-focused outcomes” measured to determine the success of a campaign, urging the media research industry to consider long-term brand impact too. And to do this, researchers need to take on neuroscience findings and behavioural economics to see how brand memories are formed.
This is vital, says Hawkins, if brands want to compete in the hyper-fragmented media world in which massive shifts have taken place in terms of how people communicate and how they consume media.
“This is not about taking rash decisions but about taking calculated risks,” says Hawkins. “It’s a considered choice that challenges us and other agencies to see how much we are prepared to adopt new practices.
“Of course we’re tempted to stay with outmoded ways of thinking, and prefer to keep things the same. But think about what Unilever’s Keith Weed said about digital: ‘. . . we have an extraordinary situation where we have a lost generation of people from 35 to early 40s who lead a lot of our brands.’ This is a real danger for brands and research agencies if we don’t adopt practices that give us an competitive edge.”
Hawkins said it’s what we now know, and what we can do now, that requires a fundamental rethink. The common theme, she said, is brand memory and decision-making. “The reality is we make a lot of decisions on cumulative brand memories so wee need to go deeper into that area,” she says. “Most brand decisions aren’t deliberative, but due to experience and memories that draw us to that choice. We need to understand the strength and pull of that memory, and then see how we can tap into it.” This boils down to influencing the power in the mind.
“Ads are created to deliver in the short-term as they need to deliver sales but they don’t necessarily deliver long-term profitability,”Hawkins says. “To build strong and compelling brand memories requires us to know how brand memory works. Experience is part of memory; memory is part of experience.”
Jansen and McHarry, in their award-winning paper, say much neuroscience research has gone into understanding how our minds process information. The mind, they say, is ruthless when it comes to deciding what information is stored in our deepest memories. But this autobiographical memory, where our personal history is stored, has a “profound impact on the automated choices we make on a daily basis. Brands that land up in this memory, as part of our ‘personal history’, have a greater chance of being bought”.
They reference a neuroscience paper written by Lisman and Grace in 2005 that identifies a critical pathway that the mind employs when processing new information and deciding whether to embed it into the autobiographical memory. Lisman and Grace discovered that new information must pass through three gateways in order for it to become a personal and deep memory: it needs to be novel in some way (different than expected), have some sort of deeply personal affect, and it must be relevant to the person’s current goals.
It was this that TNS used to “inspire quantitative survey measures to reflect the three memory gateways. Testing these quantitative survey measures against Neuroscience results from an EEG test revealed that the combination of these quantitative surveys is able to reflect the truth of what happens in the brain”.
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