Sales figures provide a broad indication of success but they will never tell you specifically what about that particular shop or product's marketing strategy made it stand out against the rest.
Whilst rigorous consumer research goes some way to filling these gaps, the method isn't foolproof because it fails to take account of people's unique ability to interpret their experiences, construct their own meanings and act on these.
For example, when you're asked if an advert has had an effect on your decision to purchase a particular product, the majority of people will give an outright 'no' as they don't want to admit they're susceptible to advertising. Thankfully, an array of new technology, which has long been talked about, is now on the verge of being made commercially available to help the above see their work through their customer's eyes.
Eye-tracking, galvanic skin response and facial recognition solutions are all on the cusp of hitting the mainstream. While all three technologies are very different, they all rely on the automatic and unconscious physical reactions/actions that people give out in response to stimuli.
Other solutions measure changes in the conductivity of the skin caused by sweating to register people's unconscious reactions – the more you sweat, the more aroused/stimulated you are. Elsewhere, there are solutions that use infrared sensors to track the movements of pupils to see what's caught the individual's attention; whilst others use cameras to read people's facial expressions and emotions.
While this approach isn't completely new, these solutions are the first which allow people without neuroscience training to tap into the benefits with minimal effort and cost. Previously this kind of rigorous testing required a science lab, a team of specialists and very pricey equipment. The data then took several weeks to be analysed before being passed back to the marketers in a vaguely digestible format. These days, all that's needed is access to the internet, a tablet or mobile phone, application log-in and a small handheld sensor.
Software has been created to automatically record and analyse the raw data to produce meaningful results, instantly. In just a few seconds, retailers and brands can say for certain which aspect of their proposition has what effect on their customers so they can better hone the customer experience to fulfil their needs and ultimately encourage footfall and, or sales. Or in the case of an experiment ran in conjunction with the much-loved Coca Cola Christmas advert, brands can calculate how much impact their advertising actually has. Results suggested that the average audience disengaged 28 seconds into the minute long advert. Had the brand known this and cut the commercial in half, they could have saved up to £10 million of Christmas airtime costs.
A handful of the big boys are making their first tentative steps into the neuromarketing journey, with companies like eBay, Heinz and O2 leading the way. However there's still a healthy amount of scepticism due to the lack of commercial investment – although 2014 will see this change. We're already deep in conversations with global agencies who've understood the value of this technology and are looking to implement it as soon as they can.
Those considering doing the same should do so with small steps, rather than giant leaps to ensure they get the ROI purse holders require. From what I've seen, it's mainly marketing teams and planners who are the most eager to explore this avenue, but have to work hard to make people comfortable with it as its own budget line. There needs to be an education and trial period, where companies will build their own base of data to see the patterns and value in it; before shaping policy to use it and then apportion budget lines accordingly.
All it needs is one brave brand to incorporate neuromarketing into a campaign from start to end to help push industry over the tipping point. With Microsoft filing a patent to serve adverts on its Kinect platform based on mood and body language, it's bound to happen soon.