Brain Teaser: Why PHD Believes in Neuroscience

NEW YORK Mediaweek‘s Michael Burgi talks to PHD North America CEO and president Matt Seiler.

Q: Your company’s job is to seek out the appropriate vehicles for your clients amid an explosion of media choices. How do you begin to stay on top of it?

A: If you’re really good at knowing who you’re talking to, then the almost infinite number of ways that you can talk to that person is much less daunting. Too frequently, clients and agencies think, “OK, there’s this cool new way that we can talk to people, so let’s rush out and just do that!” Why? How about, who are we talking to? What’s going on in her life? Where is she most receptive to a message from us? What’s stressing her out? Once you know that, it’s not that hard to find the places where she’s consuming media, and available to a message. It just has to start with who the person is.

We unapologetically talk about taking on the reinvention of what marketing communications can be, not because we see our opportunity as being the best media agency. We don’t really look at our competitive set as media agencies. That’s not to be arrogant nor is it meant to be pejorative at all. That’s just not really what we think we’re here to do.

So what makes PHD different?

We actually have a new measurement tool, icontact, that we will be launching sometime in the very near future. It’s a tracking study that measures how involved our target audience is in the telling of a brand’s story. We do a pre- and post- on the telling of the brand’s story. Then we measure what the feeling is once we begin telling the brand story and what result that solicits. It’s an on- and offline tracking that we will do for all of our “engagements” to get a sense of whether we are doing what we said we’re going to do. If we do a great job of deciding who we’re talking to and we are clear on what the objective is, and then agree to what kind of emotion and/or action we want to have taken, we can see how it’s working. Then we can dial it up or dial it down based on whether that person that we defined initially is actually doing what we wanted her/him to do. It allows you to do real-time adjustment through a process called ETNA.

What does that stand for?

Exploration, Thought Leader, Neuro Planning and Action Planning. Neuro Planning is collected by scanning brains of a statistically significant audience that was exposed to different forms of media to see where the blood flows. So, if you’re exposed to a print ad, what part of your brain reacts? It doesn’t measure the difference in brain function around a terrible ad versus a great ad. It will just say, I’m stimulated because of the medium.

We married up the portions of the brain that were stimulated with what the brain function of that portion is, and developed six kinds of media plans around it. Based on what part of the brain is stimulated by what media, you can determine which of these six kinds of plans is going to be most effective in accomplishing your goal. We’re the only ones in the world that do it or have it.

Maybe the best thing about ETNA is it invites all of the constituents to the table—sales, distribution, R&D, marketing, advertising, direct, agencies, clients, whatever. We talk about accomplishing the business objective. And if the story is fully there, great, we don’t have to do anymore. If there’s need to do more, we have our own account planning group, which leads us to Thought Leader.

Thought Leader is a single sheet of paper that has our objective and the target audience and what we are trying to do. It’s more about what will the communications be and how will we do the communications, but doesn’t yet have specifically what we’ll say. How do you inspire the kind of action/reaction from your target audience that we all agreed on during the exploration phase? That then gets fed into Neuro Planning.

The genius of Neuro Planning is it’s kind of Nickelodeon simple in its graphics and it’s a dashboard. On one side of the screen there are bars that have levers on them, saying things like “How interested in a message from you is the target?” The client will go, “They’re completely interested!” And if you’re an agency you go, “No, you’re toilet paper, they don’t really care.” So, we work the lever. Then the next one is, “Is the need short term or long term? Is it new news? Is it an update to an existing product or a new product?” All of these things require you to move the lever. As you’re moving these levers, these bars are going up and down on the other side. These are the six media planning types.

So, you’re calibrating the ideal blend of plans.

Exactly. And we’re doing it together. So all of us are seeing it happen in real time; we’re talking it out, we’re arguing. And we’re figuring out, here’s the part of the brain that has to be stimulated in order to do this, and here are the best media vehicles in order to be able to do it. Now we apply the filter of your actual cost per points and your production costs. Then we’ll run through it again. With management in the room you can go through your media options. We can think about the marketing plan differently instead of, “Do we find a way to get more direct communication in there?”

We have real science and Neuro Planning coupled with really user-friendly graphics that make you go, “Yeah, that makes sense.” So, it’s kind of a yin-yang thing.

Does the media get involved?

A lot of media are building in-house agencies all over the place. They’re getting good at that because these agencies that exist within them are idea repositories. Now think about ETNA and imagine if there were a media owner involved in that. Let’s say we’re launching this new product next fall and it’s going to be very appealing to younger female baby boomers who are menopausal. Then you can go to your media company owner-partners and say, “So next fall, what properties do you have? What could you combine to come up with a plan that would be really great at reaching the menopausal baby-boom woman?” Then we can really walk through ETNA before it gets to, “I’m willing to spend X amount of money with you. What can you throw us?” So, we’re doing that and I’m really excited. We’re in discussions now with several media owners to experiment on how much better the ideas are for our clients if we get involved much earlier in the process.