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September 1, 2009

Neuromarketing to Viewers
By James Alexander, VP, consumer & strategic research, The Weather Channel

[The following guest column is presented by CTAM]

James Alexander is VP of consumer & strategic research at The Weather Channel Companies. His background includes branding, advertising, programming, interactive/digital, and media research with Time Warner, CNN, and Leo Burnett. James has a BA in Telecommunications and a MBA in Marketing from the Eli Broad Graduate School of Management at Michigan State University. He has served on a variety of CTAM Research Committees since 1999
.

The television programming business confronts a universal set of questions:
·        What program components have the strongest appeal to viewers?
·        What’s the optimal mix of visual and aural elements in promos that will result in tune-in?
·        What can we do to increase “stopping power,” increase recall, intent to view, and actual tune-in?

Theories, and a host of case histories, abound. But solid scientific answers are few.
Neuroscience—the study of the brain and its functions—is helping us change that. The Weather Channel decided to use neuroscientific techniques to optimize a set of program advertising spots and build on our best practices.
 
One Second Spells the Difference
Neuroscience demonstrates that before the conscious mind even becomes aware of a stimulus, the subconscious mind has already registered it, processed it and begun a response to it. The whole process takes approximately one second. And that single second is the most critical time frame in television. Why? Because neuroscience research discovered that the subconscious level of the mind is where product purchase and viewing intent is formed.
 
The relatively new field of market research that embodies this knowledge, marrying neuroscience with marketing, is known as neuromarketing. It allows us to understand viewers’ perceptions and behavior with precision and clarity.
 
Weather Can Change History; But What Affects Viewing Behaviors?
One of TWC’s most popular series is “When Weather Changed History.” At TWC we know a great deal about that program’s audience. We have ratings data, as well as qualitative research results. By conventional standards, we’re well-equipped to promote the series. We wanted to optimize the effectiveness of the commercials given the importance of this program’s relaunch, and the media expense to promote it.
 
But as we contemplated the series’ next season, what we learned about neuromarketing offered an opportunity.
 
For some, a neurological approach seemed initially more science fiction than science. We, however, were convinced that we could better anticipate success and remove some subjectivity from our recommendations.

Specifically, TWC could gather information in three essential categories though a single study, rather than separate “day after recall” and “qualitative diagnostic studies.” We could learn:

·        How much attention our viewers pay to every element of a program or a promo, on a split-second by split-second basis;
·        How emotionally engaged they become; 
·        When they transfer information into memory.

We partnered with a neuromarketing company called NeuroFocus. They specialize in capturing and analyzing viewers’ actual brainwave activity, and combining those measurements with biometric data to gain the most comprehensive picture of viewers’ neurological and biophysical reactions to programming and promotions.
 
NeuroFocus’ approach employs three separate but complementary methodologies:

·        High-density arrays of EEG (electroencephalographic) sensors are deployed to capture test subjects’ brainwave activity at 2,000 times a second, across 64 separate locations of the brain.
·        Sophisticated eye-tracking technology is used to pinpoint, at the pixel level, where each test subject’s focus is located at any given split-second.
·        GSR (galvanic skin response) sensors are employed to measure test subject’s degree of electrical conductance across the surface of their skin, which serves as an additional biometric indicator of their emotional response.
 
Three Spots, Billions of Data Points
Another aspect of the results drew us to this research approach. The data does not require interpretation of respondents’ comments. By taking out opinions and providing subconscious data, the creative team is more comfortable that they aren’t changing approaches based on preferences or opinions. From the numerical results, NeuroFocus can draw implications, conclusions and specific recommendations.
 
Plus there is the precision. For a typical study, such as testing viewers’ neurological and biometric responses to a :30-second spot, some five billion data points are generated, and 40 billion floating data points of computational processing power are applied to refine and analyze the information streams.
 
We asked NeuroFocus to test three on-air promos for “When Weather Changed History” and we had four basic questions:

·        Are the spots effective?
·        What about each of them is more or less effective?
·        How well do they convey the intended messages?
·        How do we build the most effective final versions of the spots?
 
How “NeuroMetrics” Work
Once the data streams were analyzed, numerical scores on a 0-10 scale were developed in each of three primary “NeuroMetrics” for each of the three spots. These primary metrics are Attention, Emotional Engagement and Memory Retention.

·        The results in each of the three primary NeuroMetrics were then combined to arrive at an Overall Neurological Effectiveness score for each spot.
·        Each spot’s performance was measured relative to the category benchmarks in NeuroFocus’ normative database.
·        Gender differences in test subjects’ responses to each spot were evaluated.
·        The scores each spot achieved in the attention, emotional engagement, and memory retention categories were calibrated into four rankings representing NeuroFocus’ recommendations:
         o       Reconsider or jettison spot,
         o       Modify major message & executional elements,
         o       Selectively fine-tune elements of the spot,
         o       Air the spot with no modification.

·        The analysis of each spot was broken out further into three key Market Performance Indicator metrics. Derived from the three primary NeuroMetrics, these MPI metrics are Purchase/Viewing Intent, Novelty, and Awareness.
         o       Purchase/viewing intent is a function of emotion and memory, and is defined as the degree to which such intent is formed in the subconscious.
         o       Awareness is a function of attention and emotion, and is defined as the degree to which consumers’ mental focus is attracted.
         o       Novelty is a function of memory and attention, and is defined as the degree to which defenses are formed in consumers’ minds against competitive messages.
 
Numbers Leading To Actions, Leading To Results
We did not ask respondents what they thought of the spots or what they remembered (except in separate traditional research), because asking these questions requires the respondent to interpret, formulate a response and rationale after the fact. Revealing the object of the research also introduces opportunity for more bias (the Hawthorne effect). 
 
The brainwave-based research translated into specific, actionable results. Detailed recommendations were made on how specific elements of the spots could be modified to increase effectiveness. The recommendations ranged from the frequency of transitions from scene-to-scene, to different music selections, the use of the channel logo, leveraging key attributes of the content, and more. 
 
For example, in one of the spots, the human elements in the narration and the story telling were particularly effective, so those took a more prominent role in the final version. An execution of time/date using a “pop out” titled “all new season” increased the effectiveness for two of the three spots and was tweaked in the final version. Some fast-paced transitions and transparent overlays were also effective in getting attention and conveying a more dramatic message, but needed to be used sparingly in the final version to maximize their effectiveness.
 
Here are some of the metrics used to make the assessment:

·        The extent to which test subjects transferred stimuli to memory.
·        Effectiveness in conveying details about the program’s air date and time; grading each spot’s performance on a scale from no effectiveness through low, mild, moderate, strong, and high effectiveness.
·        The points within each spot where effectiveness peaked were calibrated into a range that extended from neutral through mild, medium, strong, and high. These results were used to create a compressed version of each of the three spots to achieve the most impactful shortened versions of the material. Then the versions were available to air as shorter on-air promos or on alternate video platforms, as well as for print ads, outdoor and Internet applications.
·        Evaluated the effectiveness of talent and subjects featured in the spots.
·        Generated “wear-out profiles” for each spot, measuring the ability to retain viewer interest and appeal through multiple screenings.
 
TWC’s marketing team welcomed this research, because the information was clear, intuitive, quantitative, and objective. It was also well received because it helped pinpoint how to we could improve the effectiveness of our promos—and that was our goal.
 
By the way, the icing on the cake is that TWC recently won a Promax/BDA Silver award for the “When Weather Changed History” promotion.


 
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