Interview with President & CEO, Nielsen NeuroFocus
At the end of the day, all brands seek that one insight or insights by which they can talk to consumers. Neuroscience can help them achieve that, A K Pradeep tells Viveat Susan Pinto
How can neuroscience help marketers in their study of consumer behaviour?
We don’t map the brain. We simply do brain measurements using electroencephalography or EEG, which refers to the recording of the brain’s spontaneous electrical activity over a short period of time. We do not, therefore, measure the pathway of the brain. We measure the instantaneous reactions or responses of the brain when exposed to a product or offering or even experience. Let me tell you that neuroscience can be applied to everything in the marketing realm — advertising, branding, product development, packaging and entertainment. This, I would say, is even more important when you want to refurbish a brand. I find many marketers simply redesigning the logo thinking their job is done when actually you have to look at all dimensions. Neuroscience helps you look at all aspects when you want to develop as well as refurbish a brand.
How does your work add a new dimension to the market research activities of Nielsen?
What Nielsen does is to understand what consumers watch, say and buy. What Nielsen does not do, however, is to understand what consumers think or feel. Through the addition of neuroscience, we get that aspect, which is critical because not only it helps in gauging what consumers say or buy, but also what they think and feel. This is a must in one’s understanding of consumer behaviour. At the moment, Nielsen is the only company in the world, which is doing work like this and adding this dimension to market research in a scientific and structured manner. The endeavour is clear: how do I understand the consumer a little better? So there we are helping them do so. And by virtue of being a Nielsen group company, we land up working with a number of clients who realise the need for information like this.
While the blue-chip companies realise the need for information that neuro-science provides on brands, are the second-rung firms equally receptive?
They are getting there. Actually neuroscience and its application to marketing and brand management is even more critical to small companies because unlike larger companies, who have a basket of brands that have size, the smaller firms don’t have that kind of luxury. They are also limited in terms of budgets. Therefore, it becomes important for them to accurately predict the requirements of consumers for their brands to be relevant to them. This has an implication on sales.
In your evaluation of brain activity, do you find consumers in different regions reacting differently to brands based on their unique cultures and tastes?
Every person belonging to a certain culture loves to believe that he or she is unique from the other. But we are humans at the end of the day and the study of the human brain helps understand the enormity of the commonality. Therefore, you are able to create principles that cut across humanity. Once these global principles are identified, it is easy then to create innovation or customisation at the local level. It is the goal of marketing that you have global principles and local customisation. In other words, your basic brand premise has to be universal in appeal that cuts across culture and race. At the same time to be appealing to consumers at the local level, you have to drive customisation. Most multinational companies are doing just that in their drive to be relevant to consumers in different markets.
What is your assessment of the Indian market and consumer?
What stands out about the Indian marketplace is the strength of the competition here. I don’t find Indian consumers different from their counterparts across the world because their needs, as I pointed out earlier, are the same. We are all humans at the end of the day. But yes, the market here is competitive so it compels companies to react in a certain manner because there is no dearth of choice here. You have to fight to win consumers. India is not the only market, which is intensely competitive.
There are other markets too, such as China, Brazil and Mexico, where competition levels are very high. In the end, all brands seek that one insight or insights by which they can talk to consumers. Neuroscience can help you achieve that. And the results are quick unlike mainline market research which takes time.
How do you do it? Can you throw light on the methodology?
If you have a product idea, you first write it down. Once that is done, we look at whether this idea will resonate with consumers. We do this by looking at the novelty, the purchase intent, and incomprehensible, if any, in the idea. We then tell the client, which parts will work and which parts will not won’t. Once that is done, a prototype of the product is prepared. We check the prototype to see if there are inconsistencies with what has been discussed. If there is, we tell the client to go back to the drawing board and redesign the prototype again. Basically, what we do is we measure the neurological reactions to the prototype and compare it with the concept that was discussed right at the beginning. If the matrix goes up, then the prototype is right. If not, we suggest the client go back to the drawing board and work on the prototype again.
You’d be surprised to note that 80 per cent of product launches in the world fail because they are simply not up to the mark. The brand does meet consumer needs and requirements and hence, bombs at the marketplace. Imagine if it could be corrected. Once the prototype is fixed, the next challenge is to work on the packaging of the product. Is it indeed clicking with consumers? We then proceed to check the retail experience of the product. That is the point of sale. So, how a product comes across is a must if a brand has to work in the marketplace.
Neuroscience can go a long way in gauging whether a product is connecting with the consumer at the retail end.
In your view, which is the brand that is complete?
Without doubt it is Apple. In every sense of the world, this brand has come up trumps. Look at brand essence — form, function, feelings, value, benefit, metaphor and extensions — this brand is perfect. If you look at the product, it has an iconic signature, pricing that is perfect, innovations, which are just right, and packaging, which is on the ball. Come to advertising: Apple’s advertising is brilliant.
All this goes a long way in making it appealing to consumers. And the results are terrific: People wait for Apple products to be launched. Add to this Apple’s retail experience, which is simply terrific. Walk into an Apple store and you will know. They do everything to make the environment as friendly as possible to consumers. Apple has taken care of every detail such such as the ease with which you can hold the box containing the product because there is a handle.
This is important if you want to etch yourself in the minds and hearts of consumers. This explains why consumers are filled with joy when they hear the word Apple or come across Apple products. I don’t think there is any other brand that comes as close to perfection as Apple does.
So if you ask me the one brand that has stood the test of time it has to be Apple and the best part about Apple is that it has done so consistently for many years now. Remember you can get lucky once, but not always. To retain that edge year after year implies that they are making some serious investments to retain their competitive advantage in the marketplace. The result is a company that is simply producing great products year after year.
|What Pradeep brings to the table
NeuroFocus is a California-based company that uses neuroscience to understand consumer behaviour
A Ph.D in engineering from the University of California at Berkeley, Pradeep founded NeuroFocus in 2005 after seeing marketers struggle to understand consumer responses to brands
His work caught the attention of market research giant Nielsen, which invested in his company in 2008, subsequently taking full control of it in 2011
Today NeuroFocus Inc is the market leader in bringing neuroscience expertise to advertising, branding, product development and packaging and entertainment
NeuroFocus Inc’s clients include Fortune 100 companies across categories, including automotive, consumer packaged goods, food and beverage, financial services, internet, retail, among others
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