Topics I did not expect at May’s MA Marketing Meetup.  

I think we all know that humans and therefore customers are complicated beasts, and as marketers we spend considerable time trying to work them out so that we can better influence their decisions, but is our research getting us what we want to hear, or what we need to hear?

The Marketing Association’s Special Interest group for CX hosted a panel discussion “Lies, lies + more damn lies” to take a deeper look at ways to really tap into consumer’s minds, and uncover things that could transform how we market to them.

Led by Carolyn Schofield, Brand Strategy Consultant and ex-Head of Brand at Trustpower and Greg Whitam, Consulting Director at Datacom, the group was treated to a rundown of first hand experiences from both, that by the end of the evening had them fondly labelled the ‘scientist’ and the ‘stalker’.

The Scientist

Carolyn, a self-proclaimed nerd in this space, took us on a journey to better understand neuroscience and the role it can play in conjunction with more traditional research methods.

Touching on the understanding that “humans are predictably irrational” Carolyn explained the distinction between our System 1 and System 2 brains. System 2 being our slow brain, the one that can make slower, logical decisions – the brain that can work through pro’s and con’s and come to a decision. System 1 brain on the flip side being the one that consistently makes you pick up the same brand of toothpaste without thinking – the brain running on instinctive decisions. It is with this system 1 brain (or subconscious) that we make up to 80% of our decisions. The challenge being this is often not the one we are building our marketing around, and is harder to understand.  

Neuroscience to the rescue; a space that Carolyn has had the delight to have played in over the last few years, and has had impressive proven results. (That three-legged dog gets me in the feels every time!)

But how? Neuroscience sounds like something reserved for NASA and multi-billion-dollar brands. Carolyn exclaims that this is not the case, and in fact the tactics she has used need not cost more than your traditional quantitative surveys or qualitative focus groups.  

Neuro techniques such as handheld sensors, or more complex brain sensors can be used to understand how different creative evokes an emotive response in a customer. Removing any bias of what they ‘think’ they should feel, and showing us what they actually feel, and therefor how they are likely to respond.  

Creative can then be edited based off results to create outputs that drive precisely the unconscious emotional response required, and ultimately deliver of the chart effectiveness. Studies have found the rate of customers who recommend a brand based on emotional connection is 71%, and their own appetite to purchase from a brand that drives an intense emotional connection within them from advertising is very likely in 70% of cases.

Carolyn further clarifies that the role of run of the mill qualitative and quantitative research should not be replaced by neuro techniques, but can be used in conjunction to correlate the data and reinforce marketing decisions.  

The Stalker

For someone currently employed by Datacom, we heard a very much more ‘fuzzy’ response from Greg as he uncovered ethnographic techniques in his own practice that have unearthed some of his most valuable consumer insights to date.  

After calling the group out for being ‘liars’ Greg went on to explain that we are all ethnographers, all the time; constantly making sense of all sensory inputs. He admits that ethnography, often understood as “hanging out with customers” can be a hard sell and hard to write up into a substantive, widely understood report. But that it can in fact be the greatest unlock to customer insights that may otherwise never be picked up.

Greg gave a great example of a retail client that was struggling to work out the unlock to keeping customers in store for longer (something that competitors appeared to be achieving). During a ‘shadow shopping’ trip it was notice that the shopper was happily bopping along to the music and it later unfolded that this sensory input was having a positive, longer holding impact on their shopping experience. The client trailed a new approach to instore music and saw a 1.8% lift in revenue. It is unlikely that this insight would have surfaced itself through a more traditional research technique.  

Similar stories come from P&G - longstanding champions of ethnographic techniques – uncovering that one of their baby bath products was being bought as it made an excellent squirty toy, based on the packaging design, and the invention of the Swiffer following in home research that showed customers spending more time cleaning their traditional mops than using them.  

Despite the obvious benefits of ethnographic insights, Greg reinforced the fact that there is a trick to doing it well, and in many cases it can be done wrong. Here are Greg’s two top tips to successful ethnography;

Do not go into it looking to prove something. This technique is for exploration not validation.  

Prior to embarking in this territory write down everything you think you know and what you don’t know – so you can as best as possible remove your own bias.

The Future

The end of the session brought up some interesting questions and discussion, one in particular on the top of everyone’s mind “What does research look like in the age of AI?”

Both Carolyn and Greg were aligned in their response, that AI has a long way to go before it can act with empathy and human qualities. At the end of the day the human brain is irrational, and AI is only making rational outputs. It is built to give a credible answer which is not necessarily the right answer. It may be possible for AI to build out an impressive Level 2 brain function, but to progress to the Level 1 function and act on instinct or gut is not something any of us need to worry about just yet.  

In the meantime, investigating the contents of customers glove boxes and tapping their brains is proving a fascinating playground for CX enthusiasts. 

The Party Trick

Greg loves to understand people and with this disclosed one of his favourite tricks to quickly assess what type of person he is confronted with in terms of whether they are predominantly a left or right brain thinker.

Simply hold your hands together infront of you with interlocking fingers.

Which thumb is sitting on the top?

If it is the left – you are predominantly a right brain thinker – creative and intuitive

If it is the right – you are predominantly a left rain thinker – logical and analytical

(Apologies in advance for this distraction as you walk around the office confirming your theories about your colleagues!)