A.K. Pradeep, the founder and chief executive officer of NeuroFocus Inc., the California-based consumer research firm, sold his company to Nielsen Holdings NV, the $5 billion (nearly Rs 25,000 crore) global information and measurement conglomerate, three months ago. However, Pradeep, who continues to spearhead the business based on neuroscience and brain mapping to unravel the buying habits of consumers, was in India to engage new clients. He spoke in an interview about the value of reaching consumers’ minds at the precognitive level. Edited excerpts:
What kind of client base have you managed to attract in India?
Don’t ask me to name them, but we are working with clients in the consumer products category, financial services, and health and beauty. When we started a year ago in India, we were a partner of Nielsen, and right now we are a part of Nielsen. This transformation will lead us to not just growing the business, but to adding extraordinary value to the client base in India.
How does neuroscience work in research and marketing?
Very simply put, we put a very fashionable cap on your head. It measures the brain at 2,000 times a second from every one of the other senses. There are 32 to 64 senses. At one click, 128,000 measurements are done from all across the brain. But what do we do with that?
Let us imagine you are eating a potato chip and you are going to dip it into tomato sauce before eating. I ask you a very simple question—what is the part of that experience that is exciting for the brain? It is dipping the chip in the salsa and seeing the luscious tomato juice running down just as you are about to put it in your mouth.
Nice fact, but what do you do with it? We took two stores. In one store, we placed the image of the chip with the salsa running down. In the other store, there were other images. In the store where this image was kept, sales for the entire category went up by 3%... For my client, they went up by 7%. It literally translates to hundreds and millions of dollars from a stupid picture.
But it’s not any stupid picture. It’s the most evocative moments of the experience for the brain. It has direct implications on commerce. There is a flip side as well. What if the packet is difficult to open? That’s the low point of the experience. Through neuroscience, we find what is broken and what is beautiful.
So research based on neuroscience fixes what’s broken and does not help in product creation?
We use this in product innovation as well. When you innovate a product, you have 60-80 ideas. You don’t know which one is going to work. Imagine you have written six different versions of a story and don’t know which one the consumers are going to like. If I take every version of your story, play it to the consumers and record their brain continuously, out of the six versions, I can tell you people are reacting very well to the first two sentences of paragraph one. Or, they liked the phrase you used in paragraph three… So you can create a masterpiece.
But do you know that 80% of product launches fail, as from the concept to when the product is actually born, numerous mistakes are made? But we can fix that and save money and human effort.
Cellphone manufacturers spend hundreds and millions of dollars in thinning the phones by one little bit. We found a very interesting neurological phenomena. When the cell phone is thin, the consumer brain goes—“wonderful, wonderful, wonderful...” Then suddenly, beyond a limit, it shifts to “breakable, breakable, breakable”. When the cellphone becomes thinner than a certain point, your brain says, “I don’t want it, it’s breakable.”
Congnitive bias: Pradeep says a person’s race, religion, ethnicity, socio-economic background, education—all colour how a person expresses onerself. Ramesh Pathania/Mint
The client would have spent a hundred million dollars to migrate the consumer from “wonderful” to “breakable”. We caught it and said, do not exceed that boundary.
In traditional research, the sample sizes are quite large. Here the responses are fewer and more individualistic.
It’s actually the reverse. When you do surveys in focus groups, you get into the domain of expression…people are expressing themselves. But there is a huge problem. The way you express is very different from how I express and felt. So, there is a large sample to get the variants. There are also cognitive biases. Your race, religion, ethnicity, socio-economic background, education—all colour how you express yourself.
However, in mapping the brain in milliseconds, you react as a human being. Cognitive biases of religion, race, socio-economic background have not had the time to colour how you react. Neuroscience measures it at that reaction stage.
But there are two fundamental differences—gender and age. Men and women are neurologically completely different. Yet, most ads are created by men for men even though the primary shopper is a woman. It’s ironic as most advertisements, advertisers and advertising agencies claim to create ads for women. It’s a giant global problem that needs to be fixed.
How do you explain brand recall or the lack of it when we remember the commercial but forget the brand.
I know exactly what happens. I said we measure second by second. I did not tell you what we measure. We measure attention, emotional engagement and memory. We measure emotion as it happens in your brain. We measure attention and retention. What part of what you watched or your experience have you moved to long-term memory…we measure it directly at the brain. From these three metrics, we compute the purchase intent. You watched the ad; are you motivated to buy it? Because it must result finally in a transaction.
Second, we compute novelty or newness—how new or different you find the product, ad, brand or price point to be.
Third is understanding a comprehension. Did you understand what I said?
As an ad rolls, we get the attention, emotion and memory…second by second. Then what we do? In every scene the brand shows up, we compute the amount of memory. If the amount of memory when the brand shows up is small, you will remember the beautiful ad and forget what brand it was. If your memory retention when the brand shows up was very high, you will remember both the ad and the brand.
Neuroscience should be used for treating diseases or solving crime. Is it okay to generate revenue?
It is application. Neuro marketing is more than (just) neuro design. We are designing devices and user interfaces. We have a wireless bluetooth headset invented to make consumer testing easy. The European brain machine consortium is using our headset to enable quadriplegics and paraplegics in wheelchairs be able to move the wheelchairs just by thinking about moving them. It is humbling for us. We took from science to create a business…we are giving back to science.