What if you could understand how your audience is responding to an ad while they're still watching it? Or whether your packaging is turning people off in the supermarket aisle? It turns out, you can learn all that and much more.

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Nielsen has been synonymous with consumer data for decades, and the research it's conducting into consumer neuroscience holds great potential for marketers.

Dr. Carl Marci is chief neuroscientist at Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience. He's also on faculty at Harvard Medical School and he is the former director of Social Neuroscience at Massachusetts General Hospital.

He founded Innerscope Research in 2006 and Nielsen acquired the company in 2015. Innerscope's innovative research combines biometrics, neurometrics and psychometrics with self-reported data to measure and analyze moment-by-moment conscious and non-conscious responses to media and packaging.

Consumer neuroscience can provides marketers with unprecedented insight into consumers' decision-making. Here are some highlights from my conversation with Dr. Marci about that topic:

Our emotions help our brains to decide whether content relevant (04:13): "I encourage people to think about emotions not as an event (like 'oh, I was happy'), but as a continuous process. So, our emotional world, particularly on an unconscious level, is always on, and it's evaluating our environment, and allows us to filter information so that we can tell what's relevant and what's not. You can take our brains, 100 billion neurons, each one making between 10,000 and 20,000 connections. It's thought to be the most complex entity in the known universe...but it's constantly changing. How do our brains decide what to approach, what to avoid, and what to ignore? That's what our emotions have really evolved to do.

"From a process perspective, we take in information from our five sense, and then the first thing our emotion centers do is decide whether it's relevant. And if it's relevant, that's when the show begins. We direct intentional resources toward it, [prompting a] coordinated brain and body response that begins to process it."

Marketers can now capture data about our buyers' unconscious emotional reactions and use it to create communications that get the right reaction (05:19): "There are really four outputs or expressions of emotion that matter. One...is verbal. 'Wow, that was great' or 'man, I'm really happy right now.' The second one is nonverbal. We might smile or shrug our shoulders or change our body language. But the other two people often don't think about. The third one is a behavior. You might move toward something or away from something. The fourth one is one of the most subtle ones. We might store that information in our memory for future use.

"By taking a broader view of emotion and using technologies that can capture that process I just described at multiple points below our conscious awareness is really part of the power of consumer neuroscience."

Marketers can better understand the impact of their marketing by collecting data on consumer reactions in real time, but we have to do it without disrupting the experience (08:35): "By merely asking [a] question, you've changed the way people are typically making decisions, so that leads to another great advantage of [neuroscience data-collection] tools. We collect our data as customers are actually experiencing the communication, the package, or the product. So we're not waiting until after the fact...it's literally as they're experiencing it, and that's another powerful component of this. It doesn't interrupt the experience."

You can't read people's minds, but with modern technology, you can come close (15:57) "We have a variety of technologies that we employ... EEG [electroencephalogram] allows us to put electrodes on people's heads that measure 32 channels of brain wave information at subsecond levels. Then we can pull out of that whether their memories are being activated, whether they're emotionally approaching something, or whether their attention is shifting.

"We also use biometric devices like chest belts and wristbands that can measure heart rate fluctuations and electrical activity in the skin, so we can capture both the brain response and the embodiment of emotion. Then we also use eye trackers that allow us to tell within a fraction of a centimeter exactly where people are looking in their environment, whether it's looking at a package in a store or watching a television ad. Then we combine that with facial coding where we can tell the expressions. Are they smiling? Are they acting surprised, or having a negative response? We do actually, in many cases, talk to people, so we'll have a survey or a quick interview. It's not to say that people's conscious attitudes are always wrong—they're just limited."

When it comes to screens, size does matter (19:38): "People engage with the content they're engaging with. In other words, when you're really focused on content and you're giving it your full attention, and you're going on that emotional journey, it doesn't look that different regardless of what device you're on. That said, there are very important differences that marketers need to keep in mind. For example, on a television, when the ads come on, they tend to come on in a series, like a pod. They tend to be uninterrupted, and then you go back to the program content.

"But when you're online, you might have one ad as a pre-roll, or there might be one ad inserted along the way. Same thing with your phone. When you're on a PC or a tablet, There might be other things wrapped around that window where your content is that can be very distracting. Back on the phone, now it's taking over the whole screen again. In a way, the phone and the TV begins to look fairly similar in terms of screen takeover, however the device is smaller.... So if you have copy in your ad and it's on a phone, it may be very, very hard to read [compared with] when it's on a 42-inch screen in someone's living room.

"What we've seen with eye-tracking is that, when it's on a TV, you can literally see viewers go from left to right and read through...one phrase or sentence on a screen. When it's on a phone, they tend to just stare at the center and wait for it to pass by... Just 'zone out.'"

Dr. Marci and I talked about much more, including the incredibly effective "double box" advertising format and how facial coding can help you to gauge the emotional impact of your marketing, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

You can learn more about the Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience at InnerscopeResearch.com. You can also follow Dr. Marci on Twitter: @CMBiometrics.

This episode brought to you by Experian Marketing Services:

Re-think the traditional customer journey. Build a scalable framework that, like a "choose your adventure" novel, responds to each customer's decisions to deliver a unique path of experiences. Download our free guide to see how you can create intelligent interactions with your customers, every time.

Music credit: Noam Weinstein.

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