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Neuromarketing: can science predict (and influence) our purchases?

23 May, 14 | by Claire Bower, Digital Comms Manager, @clairebower

In the 1950s, two scientists at McGill University accidentally discovered an area of the rodent brain now known as ‘the pleasure centre’. Given the opportunity to stimulate their own pleasure centres via a lever-activated electrical current, a group of rats pressed the lever over and over again, going without food and sleep, until many of them died from exhaustion.

Most humans are a little more complex than rats but we are still largely motivated by what makes us feel good, especially in relation to purchasing choices. In light of this, many major corporations are taking a special interest in understanding customers through the mechanics of the human brain. This is the emerging but fast-growing field of ‘neuromarketing’, which uses brain-tracking tools to determine why people prefer some products over others.

What is neuromarketing?

The concept of neuromarketing was developed by psychologists at Harvard University in 1990. For decades, marketers sought to understand what consumers were thinking but have relied on traditional techniques, such as focus groups and surveys. A major advantage of neuromarketing is that metrics are taken solely from brain imaging, removing the possibility of asking the wrong questions or participants not saying what they think.

In 2008, a team of scientists in Germany published a study showing how the brain unconsciously prepares our decisions: several seconds before we consciously decide what we’re going to do, its outcome can be predicted by looking at unconscious activity in our grey matter. “The researchers, from the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, told participants in the study that they could freely decide if they wanted to press a button with their left or right hands, whenever they wanted, but they had to remember at which time they felt they had made up their mind. They found that it was possible to predict from their brain signals which option they would choose seven seconds before they consciously made their decision.”

Although a nascent field, neuromarketing has been used by larger corporations for some time. In a study published in 2004 in Neuron, 67 people had their brains scanned while being given the “Pepsi Challenge”, a blind taste test of Coke and Pepsi. Half the subjects chose Pepsi, which produced a stronger response than Coke in the region of the brain thought to process feelings of reward. But when the subjects were made aware that they were drinking Coke, 75% said that Coke tasted better. Their brain activity also changed. The area of the brain that scientists say governs high-level cognitive powers, the lateral prefrontal cortex, and an area related to memory, the hippocampus, were now active, showing that the consumers were thinking about Coke and relating it to memories and other impressions. The results demonstrate that Pepsi should in theory have half the market share, but in reality consumers are influenced for reasons related to their experiences with the Coke brand rather than taste preferences.

Criticism

The field has generated a great deal of controversy, especially in the media. Critics warn of the threat of marketers finding the mythical ‘buy button in the brain’ and deem the field ‘creepy science’, ‘mindreading,’ and the ‘misuse of scientific knowledge’. Some consumer advocate organisations, such as the Center for Digital Democracy, have criticised neuromarketing’s potentially invasive technology. Jeff Chester, the executive director of the organization, claims that neuromarketing is “having an effect on individuals that individuals are not informed about.”

While the emerging field does provide valuable information about the consumer mind, it does not give marketers a “window into the subconscious” or access to a consumer “buy button.” Rather, it is a valuable new tool for market researchers, and definitely one to watch.

iBeacons: a step forward in location based marketing?

21 Mar, 14 | by Claire Bower, Digital Comms Manager, @clairebower

Brands including WHSmith, Macy’s and Eat are using a new technology to deliver targeted messages to their customers’ mobile phones. ‘iBeacons‘ allow retailers to send discounts and offers straight to users who are in a specific location, without the need to open an app, scan a code or browse a website.

iBeacon

iBeacons use a Bluetooth connection to send data to mobile devices from stationary beacons. They use Bluetooth 4.0; a new format of Bluetooth that is built into many modern smartphones. The easiest way to understand how they work is to imagine them in terms of a traditional beacon: an object that sends a signal to communicate its location to those around it. As such, iBeacons only transmit small amounts of information from distances of between two inches to 50 metres.

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Technology predictions for 2014: wearables, branded content and smartphones everywhere

6 Jan, 14 | by Claire Bower, Digital Comms Manager, @clairebower

Predicting the future, especially in the dynamic world of Technology, is a risky business. However, it’s that time of year when the great and good cast caution to the wind and suggest key areas to watch in 2014. Here’s a round-up of the main themes to look out for.

Wearables

This is the big one. A survey for software firm Citrix showed that 91% of Americans are excited about gadgets you can wear – be they glasses, wristbands or clothing. 2014 promises smart-watch launches from Google and Apple, as well as a host of other tech accessories.

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Innovative digital campaigns from the festive season

20 Dec, 13 | by Claire Bower, Digital Comms Manager, @clairebower

TV ads, with their emotive stories and soundtracks, tend to get the most attention in the run-up to Christmas. However, online sales figures show that digital now plays a significant part in seasonal campaigns. And not only in selling, but in promoting and monitoring a campaign too.

YouTube views and social buzz can be a good indicator of how a campaign is doing. With so many consumers now multi-screening (whether stacking or meshing), TV and online are more closely related than ever. The best seasonal advertising campaigns are therefore those that are cross-platform, with online, email marketing and social offering a brand experience that seamlessly blends with and compliments an offline campaign.

Here are some of the best performing and technically advanced campaigns from the past few years.

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“News = mobile. Mobile = Facebook”? The rise of social sharing news sites

16 Dec, 13 | by Claire Bower, Digital Comms Manager, @clairebower

In a previous post, I discussed the increasing importance of social media optimisation (SMO) at the expense of traditional SEO methods. This week, I’ll be looking at how traditional publishers are testing this theory with product launches that rely almost entirely on consumer behaviour on Twitter and Facebook.

Buzzfeed, a website that combines a platform for detecting viral content with an editorial process to provide a snapshot of “the viral web in realtime”, revealed that it had reached a record high of 130 million global unique users last month.

The company  credited a lot of the growth to an increase in traffic coming from Facebook. However, Twitter referral traffic has also surged, with 180% growth in the past year. The seven-year-old site is experiencing breakneck growth, with global unique user numbers up 350% year-on-year.

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Is social media changing traditional search engine optimisation?

22 Nov, 13 | by Claire Bower, Digital Comms Manager, @clairebower

Some argue that search engine optimisation (SEO) is a flawed concept. At its best, it means no more than following best practice in creating clear, accessible websites with intelligible content and meaningful titles. At its worst, it means compromising on engaging content in an effort to perform better within the mysterious algorithms that determine order rankings in Google search.

To add insult to injury, a striking post by Dan Graziano reveals that organic results may now only make up 13% of a Google search. Despite Google achieving search dominance by providing the best organic results, the company has begun to replace organic results with ‘revenue generating Google products.’ Google’s Adwords account for 29% of the page, while a Google Map takes up 7% and the navigation bar occupies 14% of the page (see image below).

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Going native: the right way forward for advertisers?

5 Nov, 13 | by Deji Sodipe, Digital Intern

Earlier this year we introduced the concept of native advertising, which in the context of the advertising world, is still a relatively new concept. In the space of a few years it has developed from a burgeoning and beneficial idea to what many believe will be the advertiser’s tool of the future. Initially picked up and tested by leading digital platforms, such as Google and Youtube, native ads are now a totally integrated part of online browsing.

Social networks in particular have assimilated native ads more than any other platforms, specifically with Facebook’s suggested posts and Twitter’s promoted tweets and users:

native1

native3

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Lightbeam for Firefox: find out who’s tracking you online

29 Oct, 13 | by Claire Bower, Digital Comms Manager, @clairebower

As the internet continues to evolve, issues surrounding privacy remain a common cause for concern. There is growing anxiety among internet users of how their online activities are tracked for commercial purposes. The business model behind this is generally to aggregate a large number of users in order to sell that audience’s aggregate attention, usually in the form of advertising.  After all, “If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.”

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Are brands the new publishers?

2 Aug, 13 | by Claire Bower, Digital Comms Manager, @clairebower

Traditionally, brands have interrupted consumers to talk about their product. Whether we’re reading a magazine, watching TV,  or browsing online, the advert that inevitably appears is an unsolicited marketing message from a brand that we may or may not care about.

Consumer research often highlights that most of these marketing messages are indeed irrelevant to our interests and needs. Coupled with the increasing control a consumer has over the marketing they receive (opting-out of telemarketing and direct-mail; unsubscribing from email; skipping TV ads) this has become a cause for concern for brands.

The Red Bulletin from Red Bull

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Flipboard: a help or hindrance to publishers?

17 May, 13 | by Claire Bower, Digital Comms Manager, @clairebower

In the past month, almost 1 million new magazines have appeared on Apple’s iPad. Rather than heralding a long-awaited comeback from traditional publishers, nearly all of these collections of articles, photos and social-media updates are the handiwork of ‘armchair editors’, using a new tool from the social magazine app, Flipboard.

photo2

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