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.

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.

 

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