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Bypassing you, products to reach your brain

By Priyanka Singh & Viveat Susan Pinto in New Delhi/ Mumbai
January 06, 2011 12:46 IST
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Market research based on interviews or questionnaires to understand the consumer mind will soon become passe.

US-based NeuroFocus Inc has decided to set office in India and will soon be offering services to map the brain, for understanding consumer preferences and their attitude to brands and products.

The company has already roped in some key Indian clients they would prefer to keep under wraps, except to say they are major FMCG (fast moving consumer goods), health, beauty, automobile and retail companies.

India would be the third Asian country to have a NeuroFocus office, after Tokyo and Seoul. The Nielsen Company, the market research agency, is a strategic investor in NeuroFocus .

Caroline Winnett, chief marketing officer, NeuroFocus Inc, says, "Indians are very smart about new technologies and we expect clients to use it. In a market like India, where there are a lot of varieties of local languages and regional cultures, it is difficult for companies to understand the country-wide attitudes about a product through traditional market research."

What it is

Winnett says NeuroFocus' technology measures the brain response directly, without asking questions. "This allows us to bypass issues of language and regional culture, to get clients a clear measure of their brands in the consumers' minds, across all regions."

Neuroscience attempts to uncover what a consumer notices, likes and remembers about a brand. It measures brand preference in the subconscious mind and, say its proponents, effective brand concepts early in the development process.

Beside establishing the deep subconscious response to key brand attributes, studies unique aspects of the male and female brain and determines insights at the precognitive level, where 95 per cent of all decisions are made.

Through these methods, it is possible to track purchase intent, a consumer's awareness of the brand and gauge the novelty value of the product.

The company uses various technologies to map the brain. One is electroencephalographic (EEG) testing.  EEG sensors attached to the consumer capture brainwave activity at 2,000 times a second, which provides massive data points for evaluation.

It measures across the full brain, deep below the stage where external influences such as language, education and other factors can distort responses. EEG testing is non-invasive and an easy to apply technique.

Another method is pixel-level eye tracking, to correlate the data received from EEG sensors monitoring brainwave responses to stimuli, where the subject's visual focus is at any split-second. It allows identifying, with pinpoint precision, exactly which components of the visual image triggered specific neurological reactions.

A third technology is Galvanic Skin Response, where biometric measurements like heart rate, respiration, body movement and blood pressure are used as additional confirmation of brainwave-based measurements.

NeuroFocus prefers to reach out through individual communications and word of mouth referrals. They also plan to have a web presence and create awareness about the company through major trade shows. The company claims that products of everyday use, technological products like mobile phones and electronics, will be strong business verticals for them in India.

Claims & caution

Winnett adds: "The brain has well-developed neural programmes for connecting with the meaningful items in our lives. We can help Indian companies reach their target customer by helping them design marketing campaigns that appeal to the brain and crafting messages that clearly state the product attributes that resonate most strongly in the marketplace."

Adding: "Indian consumers will be surrounded with advertising, brands, products, and all sorts of messages. This deep understanding of subconscious preferences will help build brand passion for a lifetime."

However, Indian FMCG companies are cautious in their approach to the new technology and most of them are unsure of its effectiveness. Says a senior executive of ITC Ltd: "We would have to understand this before being able to use it. While we do a lot of research, it is important for us to understand how effective tools of research are."

Tarun Arora, executive vice-president, marketing, Godrej Consumer Products Ltd says: "We have been approached in the past by a consultancy to do brain-mapping. We are yet to utilise it." So, too, with Samsung Electronics India, whose spokesperson says: "Currently, we are using traditional market research methods. However, if new technologies like brain mapping come in, we are ready to look into it."

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Priyanka Singh & Viveat Susan Pinto in New Delhi/ Mumbai
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