Focus groups and one-on-one interviews used to be enough to understand what consumers wanted. But as Steve Jobs famously proved, “A lot of times, customers don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” After all, examples abound of products created after intensive focus group sessions, then abandoned because they failed in the marketplace.
What if you didn’t have to ask consumers what they thought. What if you could measure how they felt?
Advances in technology and neuroscientific techniques are making it possible to measure consumers’ emotional and physical reactions to content, leading to improved ad effectiveness, site design, and content delivery. Where we once relied on interviews and questionnaires, we now receive real-time feedback without panelists having to even open their mouths.
Through emotional measurement, we have the capability to noninvasively monitor consumers to track subtle physical changes—many too small to see with the naked eye—that indicate an emotional reaction to a stimulus. A camera (even a smartphone’s lens) can monitor tiny shifts in facial expression or pupillary dilation, while biometric devices can monitor breathing, heart rate, and other biological changes. Together these factors can be used to build a picture of the subject’s emotional state—the person's interest, excitement, boredom, or dislike of what’s being presented.
Emotional measurement is a significantly more advanced science than, for example, an old-fashioned lie detector test, which relies on human expertise to seek cues in a recording of biophysical measurements. With emotional measurement, machine-learning tools are used to analyze this data, letting marketers get a real-time look at whether a mobile video ad, for example, is provoking the intended response.
Marketers are already using these technologies to make real-world decisions about their ad campaigns. Heineken, for example, has used emotional measurement to test whether 30-second ads or two-minute ads provoked more intense responses. Experiments showed the longer ads were more emotionally resonant; subsequently, Heineken shifted its ad strategy.
NBCU is using emotion detection for advertising run on its lifestyle networks. It believes quantifying emotional connections with viewers provides advertisers the knowledge to reach the right consumers and increase engagement.
The possibilities are truly endless. Through tracking where a user’s eye falls on a website, we can optimize ad placement and improve viewability while not negatively impacting the flow of organic content. Through measuring how long it takes for a user to recognize a logo, we can test the effectiveness of marketing material to better identify what pops and what flops.
Challenges still exist in the world of emotional measurement, in part because the science is nascent and, as such, no uniform standards apply industrywide. Emotional measurement is only one piece of the marketing puzzle. These tools can tell marketers whether a customer is engaged with an ad, but not whether they’ll remember it in a week—or even whether they’ll actually buy the product.
Expect new developments as the competition for eyeballs and attention continues to intensify. For agencies, technology providers, and brands, detecting physical and emotional responses might well become a differentiating component in understanding what consumers experience.