How brands are taking advantage of innovations in market research

From neuro-research and behavioural economics to sensory insight and even programmatic, Marketing Week explores the latest techniques for market research.

Behavioural Economics

Researchers want to explore the cognitive theories that underpin how a brand’s target audience interprets the world around them and the marketing messages they are exposed to online and in-store.

These interpretations can explain why consumers act as they do and how this behaviour affects what they buy and when.

Behavioural economics technology can reveal, for instance, which marketing opportunities should be prioritised, whether more compelling incentives or offers are needed and what pain points that annoy consumers should be removed.

If this is done well, the right technology can nudge consumers towards a brand.

Behavioural economics often brings together tried and tested methodologies and amalgamates different research processes. It is heavily reliant on data collection and observation, while the quality of any results can be dependent on the skills of the person interpreting the data.

We can segment users into buckets such as ‘focused’ or ‘disorientated’ and assess how likely these users are to bounce or get lost on our website.

Philip Driver, Canon Europe

Philip Driver is head of ecommerce for Canon Europe and uses this and other technology in market research.

“You can see this tech being employed by most advanced ecommerce retailers to boost sales over the long term,” he says. “If you offer regular and predictable discounts you are training your customers to expect this activity and hold out for offers. This behaviour can also affect your relationships with manufacturers and suppliers.”

Canon is working with digital customer experience company Clicktale to assess the impact someone’s frame of mind has on their behaviour.

This technology watches complex online behavioural patterns based on millisecond-level actions, such as hovers and scrolls, to interpret someone’s digital body language and intent. The software combines cognitive computing, machine learning and psychological research.

“We can segment users into buckets such as ‘focused’ or ‘disorientated’ and assess how likely these users are to bounce or get lost on our website,” says Driver. “This knowledge means we can improve the user journey and the site’s design.”

READ MORE: The rise of automation in market research


Neuro technology analyses the second-by-second electrical responses of the brain. It is not cheap to use in research but interest in the science is growing.

In New York at the end of July media company Condé Nast unveiled the findings of an in-lab neuro-science study.

It wanted to discover what impact branded video featuring fashion, finance, beauty and automotive content had on Facebook and YouTube, and how connected people were.

It decided to monitor participants’ brainwaves for long-term memory encoding, engagement and emotional intensity.

Condé Nast’s chief experiences officer Josh Stinchcomb says the results revealed that branded content is 60% more effective for memory encoding than traditional YouTube pre-roll. On Facebook it was 17% more engaging. Stinchcomb adds that using the technology confirmed that custom content does create emotional connections among consumers that have a positive impact on brands.

By using neuro-research we can show that someone is feeling an emotion rather than just asking them about how they feel.

Andy Smith, The Hershey Company

Meanwhile, Andy Smith, director of consumer insights at The Hershey Company, which owns brands including Hershey, Kisses and Reese’s, says neuro-research provides knowledge on why and when people eat confectionery. He works closely with emotional intelligence company RealEyes.

“People are emotional creatures and by using neuro-research we can show that someone is feeling an emotion rather than just asking them about how they feel when they bite into one of our products,” says Smith, who is also a board member at the global Neuromarketing Science & Business Association.

“We have discovered that consumers will eat chocolate as a small indulgence, so we have to be careful in our advertising about playing on people’s guilt.”

Sensory research

Choosing the right images for online ads can double viewing time, particularly on desktop, according to picture library brand Shuttlestock.

The brand carried out eye-tracking research, which reveals that images work best if they mirror the target audience’s demographic profile.

For example, ads featuring children will be viewed longer by consumers who are parents. Also, using faces can grab people’s attention but ‘busy’ images can turn them off.

Eye-tracking is an impressive piece of sensory research technology, but it can be complex to set up and require a lot of user-testing.

Yet this and other emotional intelligence and biometrics technology is being used by brands to play on consumers’ senses. As well as eye-tracking there are skin responses, facial coding and heart rate monitoring.

We used the results the technology provided to re-write the ending [of an ad].

Nicolas Coat, Nissan

Automotive giant Nissan and its agency Foresight Factory have used the technology to assess how a person’s different senses are affected when they choose a new car.

An Interactive Response Technologies study carried out with biometrics company Sensum, discovered that Nissan is associated with the emotional attribute ‘playful’ so the brand can exploit this in its advertising to differentiate itself from its competitors.

Nissan’s customer market research specialist, Nicolas Coat, says the company is now testing the use of biometrics and sensory techniques in other pieces of research.

“We used biometrics to test a recent TV ad campaign,” says Coat. “We found that most of the ad was engaging but at the end we realised people’s interest was fading. It turned out they did not understand the story, so we used the results the technology provided to re-write the ending.”

READ MORE: How ‘real life’ ads impact on viewers’ emotions


Brands will adopt programmatic in market research if they are convinced the activity is relevant, fraud is minimised and consumers want to participate.

For example, online travel company has launched a customer insights arm called Travel Insights to share its first-party data programmatic ad stack with other brands.

Marketers can use game-based surveys to question and incentivise customer segments among’s 43 million users across Europe.

US destination marketing body Travel Portland is one of the first brands to pilot the product; it is using a survey to try and boost UK visitor numbers in Oregon each year, which currently stands at 2.5 million. group’s chief commercial officer, Alessandra Di Lorenzo, says programmatic opens the doors to a new era of market research.

“It is more affordable, accessible and scalable than traditional research,” she says. “By using data, we can be more targeted around who we talk to and what we find out, rather than simply targeting pre-existing sampled audiences that risk a cognitive bias.”

She accepts any research that relies on respondents to answer questions about themselves runs the risk of receiving some inaccurate responses though.

“We are using cookie technology to target the right people – at scale – with questions that are relevant to them,” she says. “For example, a 25-year-old who has previously shown an interest in Sicily will probably be more inclined to answer questions about how they prepare for an Italian break – and answer truthfully – than if they’re asked about a random topic they can’t identify with.”

But best practice rules still apply

Technology is undoubtedly enhancing market research, offering marketers new ways to understand there audience and glean more in-depth results.

But while technology is creating research opportunities for marketers, best practice rules of course still apply.

There must still be a good understanding of what a brand wants to achieve from any study. No-one wants to make the wrong decisions and assumptions based on bad data, whether this is generated by humans or machines.

Technology has removed some manual tasks, but the personal touch must not be lost completely.

Digital tools can often reaffirm what marketers thought already, and reveal uncomfortable findings about an audience or campaign that, in private, a brand will admit it should probably have already known .

Best practice also includes ensuring the right level of investment is made in any technology and then make sure it is used to full effect.

The Market Research Society’s CEO Jane Frost says brands should divide their use of technology between the hard science (such as neuro-research) and the art (such as behavioural economics).

“The industry can be quick to adopt the latest tech but slow to scale it up,” she says. “The kit can also be very expensive, so brands need to be very confident and clear about the benefits it will bring.”