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Helping the right brain lead the way in research

For a creative person, research can be equally invigorating and frustrating.

Once, we would sit (relatively) powerless behind the glass as our target market merrily ripped our ideas to shreds. Or, rightly, praised them to the heavens. Or, worst of all, didn’t care either way.

Now we can watch from the comfort of home or office as the trial-by-focus-group unfolds.

And a trial it frequently is.

 

A clear winner? Or something everyone dislikes the least?

I’ve long-disliked traditional research for the same reasons that I’ve long-discouraged creative teams from relying solely on brainstorming to generate concepts.

Personalities, time constraints, lack of ownership and unnatural surroundings can encourage people to agree on something everyone just dislikes the least. Then they trot back to what they were doing before, pleased with a part well played and a deadline met.

 

Research needn’t be the preserve of the left brain

I understand why interviewees react the way they do in group research. Few people want to be the voice of dissent or look foolish for thinking differently.

Also, research tends to give the left brain, with all its conventions and rational expectations, a clear run-in on goal. This is odd, as it isn’t even this part of the brain that initially reacts to the finished product. But it helps explain why some good ideas bite the dust early.

The left brain, as we know, will over-rationalise information by deploying preconceptions and experiences which are familiar to it. So anything new risks being rejected.

However, there’s a lot that we (creative agencies, researchers and clients) can do to overcome this, and also to make research much more valuable.

 

Three steps to better research pay-back

 

Step 1: Give the right brain a voice in the room

The right side of the brain notices new stuff – such as fresh ideas and communications – then directs the narrow focus of the left brain toward it. So we must promote its involvement in research.

However, research environments tend to discourage ‘newness’. Their taupe walls and pastel prints create a palpable sense of sterility and falseness.

So why not research in different places? Perhaps somewhere that’s relevant to the topic being researched. Or at least create a more motivating and visual environment.

Get people out of their seats. Ask them to physically move between ideas they, personally, align to – not which ones they’re guessing they ought to like – discussing them as they go.

Finally, maximise this valuable time. Pick interviewees’ brains. Explore their hopes, fears and proclivities. Ask their thoughts. Suggest propositions. Talk to them about conceptual territories.

All of this will bring the empathetic, more understanding, right brain into play.

 

Step 2: Don’t expect people to be superheroes

I once attended research for a healthcare campaign where doctors were asked a Columbo-esque one last question: “if you could change the headline, what would you have it say?”. My mouthful of Earl Grey nearly shot out of my ears.

It’s like asking me how I would remove an appendix. Sure, I could have a look on YouTube before sharpening the scalpel but I’m certain it wouldn’t end well. The same applies to doctors and headlines.

It’s one thing to take people out of their comfort zones; it’s quite another to waste clients’ budget by asking them to perform a task they’re ill-equipped for.

 

Step 3: Bring research up in the mix

Let’s stop conducting creative research after the world and its dog has input their inputs and moved the logo a millimetre.

Get people in early. Mine their minds for thoughts. Suggest routes. People are happy to share insights if they believe we’re interested in what they think. As humans we’re all programmed to respond in kind to perceived empathy and understanding.

You’ll find it pays dividends in terms of the ideas we eventually create and the tactics which spin out of them. These can then go back into research for the right reasons – validation.

Oh, and make sure there are plenty biscuits for the creative teams. And a darkened room to lie down in afterwards just in case.

 


Patrick Norrie heads up Creative Direction at wethepeople. He started out as a copywriter, and has lead the creative line at leading agencies on a host of well-known brands.

Applying neuroscience to improve your marketing effectiveness – No.1 Gamification v Gaming

Gamification: are you making this fundamental error?

Confusing gamification with gaming is a classic marketing error. But recognising the differences between the two, and the neuroscience that underpins them, could be your first step to using gamification to your advantage.

It’s funny how often gamification and games are still mixed up. It happened in one of our client meetings recently. It’s particularly interesting as the definition of gamification is “the application of game principles in a non-game environment”.

It comes from the gaming industry’s expertise in the harnessing of principles that use the reward centres in the brain to make what is, in many cases, an extremely repetitive activity interesting enough that people will actually pay to continue doing it. By any measure, this is a high level of engagement.

This has been necessitated by the move away from highly immersive, high development cost games played by expert gamers on dedicated platforms to more or less repetitive games with limited immersive content played by non experts on mobile devices. Tellingly, many of the masters of the former are not the major players in the latter.
It should already be pretty clear why this should be an exciting area for the healthcare industry. What could be better than substituting immediate rewards for, what are often, repetitive activities whose actual rewards lie in some far off future? The principles are applicable in many situations from rewarding positive adherence behaviour to more interesting medical education approaches.

We’ve seen how these principles have already become well harnessed in many fitness apps. They’re starting to emerge in smoking cessation apps too. However, the truth remains that their adoption has been limited in mainstream pharma as they are often seen not to be serious enough. But that’s a classic example of people confusing games with gamification, which is where we started.

Digital disruption or a clever tweak?

I’ve been seeing this slide a lot recently. Each time it gets posted the list has got a bit longer. It rarely seems to get posted with any real message other than “oooh, digital disruption”. But what is its actual point? The ever growing list of facts, on the face of it, looks interesting. The facts appear paradoxical, but aren’t really. They are, in fact, statements of the obvious, but dressed in intrigue. Let’s take a closer look.

Taxis: Many of the world’s smaller taxi companies don’t own many taxis either. The drivers are self employed, owner drivers – same as Uber. The taxi company owns the booking infrastructure and controls how the customer books a ride. Same as Uber. It’s an intermediary model. The web is fantastic as an intermediary, it allows efficiency and vastly increased scale. It means that Uber can offer the same cheap fares as (or even cheaper than) your local taxi company on a massive scale. Ignore that fact and your intermediary business is dead.

Accommodation: The world’s largest providers of business accommodation and travel own no hotels or airplanes. Amex Corporate travel has been doing it for years. It’s an intermediary model. AirBnB have brought new providers onto the market place who can offer accommodation way below the price of the existing providers.

Inventory: Alibaba don’t have inventory. Neither does ebay. For that matter the largest “retailer” of fine art doesn’t own the paintings it sells. Sotheby’s have been at it for a long time. It’s an intermediary model. They connect buyers and sellers.

Telco infra structure. Why would a company based on web comms own telco infrastructure? The web is great at transmitting data, although an awful lot of it gets transmitted on other “Telcos” infrastructure. If it weren’t for them, Skype wouldn’t have a business. The lesson here is that if your business is about transporting large quantities of data in any form for your customers, and you are too wedded to the way you’ve always done it, someone will use technology to walk around you.

Content: Most popular bookshops didn’t write any books. Most record shops didn’t make music. People have been providing content produced by other people forever. Sheet music sellers were doing it in the 19th century. The way it is done has changed beyond recognition. One of the big differences is that much of the ‘content’ provided by Facebook used to be provided directly from one person to another for free, when they met. Or talked. It was free then and it still is. The means of delivery means that we can give away our free ‘content’ on a colossal scale. The internet is good at that.

Money. Most banks don’t have much money either. It’s their customers’ money. People deposit cash which the bank then lends to others. SocietyOne is interesting. It finds people who want to lend money and puts them in touch with people who want to borrow it. They call themselves a peer-to-peer lending company, not a bank. People have been lending people money for as long as there has been money. Digital makes it easier to do on a massive scale.

Movies: Blockbuster Video were the largest supplier of movies back in the day. They didn’t own cinemas either, because they provided movies for people to watch at home. Just like Netflix do now.

Software: The biggest sellers of software don’t write the apps. Supermarkets are the biggest suppliers of milk but they don’t dairy farm. Of course they don’t, they’re a store. They sell stuff made by other people. So do Google and Apple. Maybe that’s why they call their points of sale “Stores”.

There is, of course, a lesson here. All the businesses above existed in another form previously. They carried on happily doing what they’d always done until either (a): new competitors used the incredible ability of the web to facilitate their intermediary business and bypassed more traditional models of customer acquisition or (b): in a data provision business, books, films, conversations, xrays etc., they used the web’s incredible capacity for data transport to deliver that differently. I want it now. On demand. The web allows Uber, Netflix and the rest to deliver like that. On demand. Usually cheaper than the existing providers. Not surprisingly, customers like it.

The really interesting part is that the businesses who were in the game before aren’t the ones who made the leap. All of which tells us that we need to keep our eyes open, to look at our businesses dispassionately and think about the leap that would kill them (if there is one), then to make that leap before someone else does.

How much can digital & social alone really grow your business?

This is a brilliantly well written article in the FT by freelance strategist Ian Leslie about the increasingly common heresy questioning the actual effectiveness of digital and social media as total replacements for conventional approaches.

As with many uprisings this one was triggered by a book: How Brands Grow (OUP, 2010) by Professor Byron Sharp, of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute at the University of South Australia. It asks penetrating questions on how effective digital and social media are in actually growing a brand. The basic tenets are:

1 these media are great at reaching loyal customers

2 you will get little growth out of these customers as most of your business comes from customers of other brands who occasionally buy your brand

As a case in point he uses Pepsi’s ill fated cessation of TV advertising in order to focus entirely on digital and social efforts in 2010. They lost 5% market share –  a colossal amount. They rapidly came back to TV.

The book is devoid of “airy assertations” but is packed with examples and evidence. I’m definitely buying it.

The fundamental mantra is get noticed, be memorable. The key is to understand what it is that triggers us to notice particular things around us, and how that is recalled at particular points.

 

Escaping the Prison of the Over-Rational

The latest findings in neuro-science have profound implications for business as, in many cases, they overturn long-accepted truths… Truths which can hamper us by limiting our creativity and innovation.

One of the key findings shows how focusing on over rationalised thinking and taking an over processed approach to strategy can trap us in a ‘hall of mirrors’ where we see only the familiar, leading us to explore more about what we know about what we know…

The solution lies in utilising this developing knowledge and its attendant deeper human understanding. We need to understand the place of intuition, particularly in creativity and innovation, and its role in breaking us out of the hall of mirrors. We also need to recognise where a highly rationalised approach is indeed correct, depending on how we want to engage with our audiences, or on what we want or need to create. This approach can provide exciting new answers to business challenges.

Here are a few examples of the practical applications of this approach:

  1. Why this matters to market leaders, and how it can be totally  different for challengers
  2. Why is it vital to have time away from a problem or task if we wish to intuit a solution – get the “aha!” effect
  3. What are the implications for testing and researching experience and how to do that without destroying them
  4. Why communications ‘burn out’ and when can that be a positive advantage
  5. Why audiences notice information, how they process it and what persuades them to act on and communicate new information

Clearly from a business perspective, we are often more comfortable with approaches that appear more neatly stepwise and extremely rationale. Indeed, it is common that we discount intuition as “guessing” or “gut feel”, but in many cases it can be the only way to break out of the cliched and over familiar and end up somewhere really different.

 

Great Lewis Carroll Quote for the Day…

“Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said. ‘One can’t believe impossible things’. ‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast”.

Many of the huge advances in human knowledge or abilities came from people who believed in something that their peers considered impossible or even absurd.

The Brand Frying Pan and the Motorbike Helmet

Imagine a land where marketers wandered around town centres armed with frying pans, embossed with their brand names, with which they smashed in the face anyone they met going about their business. Not surprisingly, the denizens of this land went and bought motorcycle helmets.

Immediately the marketers launched a campaign to have the helmet shop closed down.

Welcome to the “through the looking glass” world of ad blocking. As consumers (..people?) we are exposed to a lot of truly awful mobile ads. Ah, the cry goes up but it is advertising that pays for much of the lovely content that you ingrates consume. And this is true. 

But, it is not the great content or even good ads that has got us here. If they were all we were exposed to, no one would ever need or want  an ad blocker. 

One of the biggest drivers of this behaviour is our obsession with quantity and measurability and our neglect of what quality of experience do we wish our audience to have. There are few things in the world that you can annoy people into buying – except maybe an ad blocker.

Using hyper-rationalised approaches to marketing is very enticing. We have what we feel is predictability and control, which becomes self-reinforcing and comforting. We can base our actions on what the numbers say and, when things don’t go as expected why, we can explain that too with the numbers  – there is a self-referential certainty to it all.  It’s all under our control and we get real time feedback so that each little achievement releases a bit of dopamine in our left brain. Which makes us feel very good. For a short time. So we go back for more. Sound familiar? It should, it’s the basis for addiction.

This is not to say that measurability and scale aren’t good things, they are. In the right proportion and as part of a holistic view of what is going on they are incredibly powerful. One of the simplest things we can try is the use of empathy (not sympathy – although that may well be appropriate in some cases) – how do we really think they are feeling about their overall experience of us and our brand.

If they are over-relied upon or used alone however, well… Welcome to brand frying pan land where the helmet shop is the most successful business.

RSA Animates: Iain McGilchrist – The Divided Brain

Brilliantly put together by the RSA from a talk given by Dr Iain McGilchrist, this excellent animation shows why everyone who’s business involves communicating with other human beings should have a little knowledge about how we notice, process, decide on and act on new, or familiar,  information that we come across in our lives.

RSA animates: The Divided Brain

For those of you who want more, Iain’s book “The Master and his Emissary” is a masterpiece, although probably not a beach read. It’s available here:

Amazon: The Master and his Emissary

More information on Iain and his work is available here:

Iain McGilchrist

Einstein on Intellectual Humility

“As a human being one has been endowed with just enough intelligence to be able to see clearly how utterly inadequate that intelligence is when confronted with what exists. If such humility could be conveyed to everybody, the world of human activities would be more appealing”.

Unlike many Einstein quotes, this one is attributable, he wrote it in correspondence to Queen Elizabeth of Belgium in 1932. It gently warns of the dangers of intellectual arrogance and the desperate drive of mankind to be able to explain everything. If such an intellectual colossus felt such humility in the face of what is, there is surely an example for the rest of us.