Campaign data reaches an eye level

With the results of eye tracking studies now available almost immediately, direct marketers now face the challenge of developing a better understanding of the data and making good use of it.

It would be nice if you knew exactly which part of your painstakingly designed and planned marketing campaign appealed to consumers. Are people drawn in by the beautiful images, engaging copy or even the small print? This is exactly what the new era of eye tracking promises direct marketers, with results available almost immediately.

With 38% of marketers reporting declining budgets in the most recent IPA Bellwether report, brands are being forced to demonstrate returns on their investments in marketing. As such, the ability to measure consumer reactions and understand what this means commercially is growing in importance. Getting these results quickly is vital because many campaigns are likely to respond to circumstances or events, requiring a speedy creative solution.

Eye tracking records which parts of marketing material are unconsciously viewed by people looking at them (see page 23). The technique has been available to marketers for some years but it has traditionally taken days or even weeks for brands and agencies to receive the detailed results of any programmes.

Robert Stevens, chief executive at Think Eyetracking, a venture spun off from usability business Bunnyfoot, which provides eye tracking for agency Ogilvy, says his company is often required to turn around their studies in just a day. “We – and they – can’t afford to take a week or two to deliver that information,” he warns.

Stevens says quick results eye tracking is particularly important for marketers pre-testing direct mail campaigns. Sometimes the results that eye tracking provides seem to go against simple design logic, so brands wouldn’t necessarily have picked them up without months of trial and error.

Skip Fidura, digital director at dotAgency and a former Ogilvy executive, agrees that the ability to give speedy results on eye tracking “is going to radically change the eye tracking market”.

He says pre-testing techniques such as eye tracking can produce results that are contrary to aesthetic concerns. “It’s not uncommon for a creative director to react to eye tracking by saying ‘doing it this way won’t look as good’. But the quicker model helps because it makes the task so much more streamlined and makes it feel like a more natural part of the planning process.

“Previously, the results would have taken a couple of weeks, so the creative director would have moved onto something else. Going back to the campaign then felt onerous for them.”

Stevens explains how he and Fidura worked together on a direct marketing email campaign for British Gas where using the quick reactions of the eye tracking analysis helped save the company many months of trial and error.

British Gas was keen to send out a direct marketing email to its customers. The most attractive version of the email featured an image and a relatively short amount of copy, illustrated by helpful pictures. But testing the three versions using eye tracking showed that one with text in heavy paragraphs was the most attention-grabbing. Consumers were reading more of this email than the others.

Eye tracking is not only good for pre-testing which direct marketing layouts and formats appeal to consumers. Fidura cites another campaign he worked on for a large IT brand based in the US. The local division of the company felt its marketing materials from America wouldn’t suit British consumers so undertook eye tracking to see if this suspicion was correct. The eye tracking duly revealed that UK consumers felt the original US ad was not designed for them and a localised version received far better results.

Fidura points out that it was the combination of using eye tracking with follow-up interviews that made the exercise so valuable. The eye tracking alone did not reveal exactly why Brits had a problem with the initial ad. But the follow-up interviews showed that the imagery was putting off the UK consumers. The dress of the office worker shown in the ad was too corporately American. “Using both eye tracking and the interviews really gave us some clarity overall,” says Fidura.

For Rosemary Walton, client services director at agency Red C Marketing, fast eye tracking means clients can make changes to campaigns in real-time. In a world where people Twitter their thoughts to the world, brands expect to be able to find out insights immediately and communicate them back to base. Real-time analysis is vital.

“The best results are where clients can view live where the respondents look,” she reveals. “We have literally had clients on the phone to their creative departments. Obviously you can provide a mass of data later on but you can see the patterns immediately.”

The future of eye tracking, according to Walton, will be developing an understanding of how people view marketing materials online. She says that direct marketers are moving away from simply monitoring physical content such as catalogues, where eye tracking is well established, into the online environment.

The skill, however, she says is for brands to marry their understanding of how offline direct mail and online messages work in similar and different ways for consumers. While lots of web analytics firms have moved into online eye tracking, she argues that understanding both media is very important for a well-integrated marketing mix.

Google already uses eye tracking data whenever it redesigns its pages, in an attempt to maximise both consumer use and marketing opportunities. Its heatmap data, showing where people look on a page of search results, reveals that most of the activity is concentrated on the first two links.

Anthony House, who manages public affairs for Google UK, says the importance of speed in eye tracking makes perfect sense when the discipline becomes increasingly online focused. He reveals: “We are constantly experimenting with our layout for the search pages and we change them several hundred times a year. The tweaks are so small that most people don’t notice.”

But he warns that eye tracking must not simply be used by itself as a research tool because it often needs interpretation. For example, people read results differently, depending on whether they are researching something in general or looking for something specific. The eye tracking depends on what consumers hope to achieve; not just a standard eye movement.

While eye tracking may look futuristic and offers brands the chance to understand better what appeals to their potential consumers, it appears that understanding and interpreting the results – the hardest job for any marketer – ultimately remains the area that requires the greatest skill of all.

Eye tracking tips

Paul McKeever

Media Consultant at the Royal Mail, lays out guidance on how brands can get the best results from eye tracking studies

1. Eye tracking works best as part of an integrated research programme.

McKeever uses eye tracking with clients aiming to improve their direct mail capabilities in both the public and private sector. He says that he always tries to position eye tracking as part of a bigger programme rather than a discipline by itself.

He reports: “We build it into larger workshops, in combination with other techniques. Eye tracking has different levels of importance for different businesses, so it’s important to make sure it’s included among other areas of improving marketing expertise.”

2. Think about all the senses.

McKeever says brands should consider all the consumer’s senses when creating direct mail pieces. “We’ve been doing some bespoke pieces of work for a series of clients combining neuroscience techniques with eye tracking,” he explains.

Eye tracking only monitors the movement of where consumers gaze at a piece of marketing material. Seeing how triggers such as smell, touch and sound affect how the eye behaves and where people are driven to look can help brands work out a better direct mail strategy.

3. Get personal.

People are attracted to people. McKeever reveals: “People will spend time looking at a piece of direct mail featuring a face.” He says that groups of faces draw even more interest than individuals. Tightly cropped images of people also appear to work better than those depicted from a distance.

Andrew Wilson, founder of agency Catalogue Consultancy, agrees: “Women find babies attractive too. And yes, men like scantily-clad women. But it isn’t that simple – it also depends how you do it.”

For example, a group of faces with the product offset to the side and a horizontal box of text may prove more effective than a person holding a particular item. But don’t just use faces in mailings indiscriminately. “Remember to always take all of the information you have into account,” warns McKeever.

4. Content is vital.

Eye tracking can tell you where people look at a direct mailing but it can’t tell you what people think about the ideas or offers included. McKeever says: “After someone has looked at the item, to move to a deeper level of consideration, you need engaging content.”

Ultimately, he says, direct marketing needs to be about not only grabbing attention initially, which can be measured by eye tracking, but generating a response from the viewer. Only interesting and action-provoking content will ensure this. While the placement of ads and images is important, McKeever says that to find real success, marketers need to make sure the depth of content matches the potential of the layout.

Case study: Prudential

Financial services firm Prudential uses eye tracking as part of its online usability research to understand how consumers are using its services. It has been carrying out studies since 2004, whenever it updates or adds new features to its website.

Sandra Blair, head of content and editorial, online and ecommerce at Prudential, says: “If a particular offer is not getting as many calls as you would expect, for example, you can see why that might be the case. It is part of putting the customer at the centre of our development.”

The company has also done some offline studies. In 2006, it used eye tracking to test responses to two alternative covers for its customer magazine. Blair reveals: “When we tested it, the results turned our internal decision on its head.” She says that this is one of the most useful elements of eye tracking; it allows marketers to step outside their ingrained beliefs about what works and take on new perspectives.

Robert Stevens of Think Eyetracking says that financial institutions are at the forefront of using eye tracking effectively. He remembers an earlier Prudential campaign where a form asked people to return a document to progress with an endowment policy. Eye tracking showed that people were looking at the area of the form that mentioned a sum of money but not the document return instructions.

He claims that the resulting changes to the form saved the company as much as £130,000 in calls and follow-up mailings.

Prudential’s Blair says that while eye tracking will remain an important part of the company’s dealings, it is always going to be balanced out with other research to provide a more rounded picture. “We ask people questions before and after eye tracking to find out what they’re thinking,” she says. “What people see and what they say they see is very different, which can be revealing.”

Case study: News International

News International has been using eye tracking to understand how people view editorial content in print and ad placement. Stuart McDonald, head of advertising insight, business intelligence at News International, says: “TV ads often undergo heavy pre-testing but not so much print or direct mail. This can help.”

McDonald says the many studies he has done have illustrated some general pointers. For example, he argues that in ads, any logo and the core message needs to be near the top.

He explains: “If the message is about a sale at B&Q, all that information needs to be near the top. If you just put ‘Sale this weekend’, people might skip over it. If you have ‘50% off at B&Q’, then readers can assess if that is interesting to them.”

There are some issues with using eye tracking for research, admits McDonald, such as small sample sizes. Doug Edmonds, managing director at agency 2CV, who worked with News International on its eye tracking, agrees: “Industrialisation of this research is expensive because people need to be recruited and briefed – this has inhibited the broad uptake.”

This shouldn’t put brands off using eye tracking to assess direct mail, says McDonald. “You may not be able to use large samples but it really makes an impact when explaining the results to people. It’s great for showing the way unconscious thoughts affect how people absorb media.”

Eye tracking explained


Eye tracking can be carried out in a number of ways to produce different results.

One version uses a video camera or sensor to pick up light reflected from the eye. This is then analysed to extract information on eye rotation and judge how the gaze falls on the marketing material. As a non-invasive method, this is a relatively inexpensive way of eye tracking.

A second version involves participants wearing a special contact lens featuring an embedded mirror or magnetic field sensor. This is then tracked to build up a picture of eye rotations which can display even very sensitive movements.

The third type of eye tracking places electrodes around people’s eyes to measure the electric potentials. The eyes have a steady electric potential field and the signal deriving from placing electrodes on the nearby skin is called “electrooculogram” (EOG). As the eyes move from a central point outwards, the retina will approach one electrode while the cornea approaches the opposite. The change in EOG signal can be tracked to produce information on how eyes are moving horizontally and vertically.

Understanding the results

Following the gaze
This shows the viewing journey that an individual takes around a piece of direct mail. It reveals the intervals at which someone stopped to take in information and how long they spend doing this. Gaze plots are useful for understanding which elements of a direct mailing caught consumers’ eyes initially and how the information is digested.

Creating heatmaps
This amalgamates the whole sample’s eye tracking data to show how the group views a campaign, displaying which areas receive the highest visual interest. This is represented like a weather map with red spots showing “hot” (or lots of interest) and other colours showing lesser levels of interest.

Viewing order
This demonstrates in which order any areas of interest are looked at and can break down the percentages of people looking at them. For example, it may show that in an ad with a model, 75% look at the model’s stomach but only 12% look at the brand name.



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