Even in an era of infinite digital metrics, publishers and brands are still faced with an age-old problem: It’s hard to measure how your content affects people.
Mention ROI, and most brand marketers go white from memories of a budget meeting gone wrong. Impressions, page views, shares, scroll depth, time spent, brand lift: The best metrics the web has to offer still fall short and pale in comparison to the hard-dollar ROI of direct response marketing.
After all, it’s much easier to tie revenue to direct response programmatic ads, which trigger immediate transaction, than stories designed to change how people think. This has made good branded content a tough sell, even if our gut tells us those stories are making an impact. We lose out on budget to crappy ads that stalk customers around the internet.
But what if we could show with hard numbers how good brand advertising affects our target consumer’s emotional state and link that emotional engagement to purchase actions?
That’s the idea behind neuroscience tech companies like Immersion Neuroscience and Spark Neuro, which recently released products that help brands measure emotional engagement and can link that response to purchase consideration.
These companies have the strangest origins, having received significant funding from a semi-secret Darpa (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) initiative to study and counterattack insurgent propaganda using neuroscience techniques. But their consumer applications could prove even more revolutionary, transforming how brands measure content and earning great storytelling the respect it deserves.
Heading into 2019, marketers need neuroscience technology on their radar for three big reasons.
Changing how we measure engagement
Both Immersion Neuroscience and Spark Neuro have identified key signals from the nervous system that signal emotional engagement. Each company created an algorithm to measure those signals instantaneously, and Immersion Neuroscience has even built an intuitive and affordable tracker and platform.
However, the algorithms take different approaches. Immersion Neuroscience’s algorithm, inQ, focuses heavily on oxytocin, the neurochemical that helps people empathize with others. Conversely, Spark Neuro’s algorithm prioritizes electroencephalography (EEG), electric signals from the brain, and galvanic skin response (GSR), which measures changes in sweat to indicate our emotional state.
Even with different methods, the result is the same: an objective view of whether a piece of content resonates with an audience, viewed through a real-time dashboard.
Saving millions on TV ads
Focus groups are biased by factors like group pressure and the desire to please researchers. It’s a flawed method that hasn’t changed much in 60 years. Neuroscience technology offers an exciting alternative for ad optimization.
For instance, when Immersion Neuroscience’s CEO Paul Zak’s team studied immersion in last year’s Super Bowl ads, Mars’ M&M spot was the second-highest rated ad in the study but still had room for improvement. The last 15 seconds were a dud. If Mars had tested the M&M ad for neural immersion beforehand, it could have cut the spot in half and saved $2.5 million.
Similarly, in a soon-to-be-released study, Spark Neuro found that “holiday ads performed best in terms of engagement when they followed a strong storyline,” such as a 2017 Toyota ad that delivered consistent emotional spikes coinciding with the story.
The common element in all of their research is that really good stories drive emotional engagement. Soulless brand messaging and random celebrity cameos flop. Think of how many bad commercials could be stopped with this technology on hand.
Identifying hit shows and OTT opportunities
Brands are increasingly investing in sponsoring shows and other over-the-top programming. In some cases, they’re even creating their own shows. This is an area where neurodata has more exciting applications.
In a recent study with Dorsey Pictures, Immersion Neuroscience predicted hit TV shows with 84 percent accuracy. By contrast, self-reports by participants only predicted top-rated shows with 17 percent accuracy. In a separate study, the company was able to predict whether a movie would have high or low box office returns with 61.1 percent accuracy.
Change like this should be scary—and exciting. The ability to quantify the emotional impact content has on consumers and connect that to purchase actions is transformative and leads to deeper investment in great brand stories.
Over the next year, we’ll see brands increasingly use neurodata to bet on hits. And much like Darpa imagined, storytelling will earn its place as the ultimate secret weapon.