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Consumer studies & neuroscience: using cutting-edge techniques, PART 2

consumer studies neuroscience

What neuroscience techniques can be used to improve the efficiency and reliability of consumer studies? In this article I describe two: the Implicit Association Test (IAT) and predictive validity.





In a previous post (see here), I explained how behavioural sciences can improve the efficiency of customer studies. For another one (see here), I introduced the eye-tracking technique and the use of moderating variables as means to reach that aim.





Today I introduce two other techniques: Implicit Association Tests and predictive validity





Implicit Association Tests (or IAT) is a psychological tool that assesses to which extent two concepts are unconsciously related in our brain.



The basic idea is that consumers’ brains very quickly associate two concepts that are closely related. And less rapidly associate concepts that are not. For instance, words from the concept ‘holidays’ (travel, airport, hotel, beach, restaurant, shopping, hiking) will be more automatically and quickly sorted with words from the concept ‘summer’ (sun, sea, shorts, dress, fruits, light) than from the concept ‘work’.



Implicit association tests assess the extent to which two concepts are unconsciously related within our brain Click To Tweet



On the contrary, words from the concept ‘work’ (taxi, meeting, costume, computer, office, colleagues) will be more automatically and quickly sorted with words from the concept ‘autumn’ (orange, pumpkin, chestnut, advent, cold, rain). Of course, some words from the concepts ‘holidays’ or ‘work’ could equally be sorted with the two concepts ‘summer’ and ‘autumn’.



consumer studies neuroscience

Ultimately, Implicit Association Tests consist of asking people to sort words between combinations of concepts. For instance ‘holidays/summer’ vs ‘work/autumn’, or ‘holidays/autumn’ vs ‘work/summer’. Let us consider that ‘holidays’ and ‘summer’ are more tightly linked in people’s brain than ‘holidays’ and ‘autumn’. We then expect people to sort the aforementioned words (sun, fruit, cold, rain…) more quickly with a combination of concepts (‘holidays/summer’) than with another (‘holidays/autumn’).




Implicit Association Tests are complex, but you can find out more about them on the dedicated Wikipedia page. The most important is to understand that IATs enable to reveal people’s unconscious conceptual associations.





consumer studies neuroscience

Implicit Association Tests can be used for customer studies. For instance, imagine that you would like to assess the opportunity to source coffee from a new Asian provider. Are your customers ready to buy coffee grown in Asia? What about Africa or South America like your current products? An Implicit Association Test will assess customers’ unconscious mental association between the concept ‘coffee’ and an Asian origin.






Two situations can be expected. On one hand, customers show a good association between the concept ‘coffee’ and African and South American origins. But a poor association with Asian origins. It would then be adventurous to try and sell Asian coffee to these customers. On the other hand, unconscious mental associations between the concept ‘coffee’ and African and South American origins are not as high as expected. Then there would exist an opportunity to sell a coffee with an alternative origin, such as Asian.




These results can further be confirmed by testing the predictive validity of alternative packaging.





Neuroscience- and psychology-based consumer studies can assess the predictive validity of packaging’s impact on perceptions. Here we want to understand whether perceptions generated by your packaging can affect people’s intentions and behaviours in real life. That is to say, beyond a simple subjective answer to a survey.



For instance, our last client wished to emphasize the British origin of its pasta. We tested whether new packets would affect the representation of the pasta as a British product in people’s daily behaviour. To this end we provided a list of 6 meals: 3 British ones and 3 Italian ones. Then we asked people to sort these meals as a function of the likelihood that they would use a given product to cook them.



If the results indicate that new packaging generates a powerful identification with British origins, we expect people to prefer to cook British over Italian meals with the product. And these are the results we have obtained. Conversely, old packages were preferentially selected to cook Italian meals.





consumer studies neuroscience


Let us return to our coffee example. We want to determine in which situations (work, restaurant, service area, coffee shop…) customers would like to drink a given type of coffee (Asian, African or South American). Each situation does not lead to the same expectations in terms of service quality or products served. Such a test could assess the relevance of Asian coffee and its appeal to your customers.



To conclude, neuroscience sets up reliable and powerful customer studies thanks to innovating tools. That way you can access relevant data and insights for your marketing strategy. All of this while avoiding the biases of traditional consumer studies.





Dr Morgan DAVID   

A former academic and behavioural sciences expert, Dr Morgan David is the founder and director of ANALYTICA, a consultancy agency based in the UK and in France. ANALYTICA uses the way our brain works to design better products and better services in the realm of neuromarketing, webmarketing, customer experience, sales strategy and pricing tactics. ANALYTICA created CogniSales, a neuromarketing sales service, CogniMenu, the first new-generation menu engineering service, Predicta Sports, a science-based talent identification tool for predictive recruitment in sports, and the neuromarketing service applied to packaging CogniPackaging.




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