Jenny Chan 陳詠欣
Mar 16, 2012

Neuroscience to get inside the brains of Chinese consumers

BEIJING – Chinese marketers can now congregate not in focus group rooms conducting surveys but in neurological testing labs monitoring brainwaves, as neuromarketing, the new kid on the block in consumer research, kickstarts in the mainland.

NeuroFocus' EEG headset
NeuroFocus' EEG headset

The effects of neurological knowledge have been felt in fields as disparate as economics and mass entertainment. Now, in the marketing and branding fields, "guesswork" can be eliminated when it comes to getting answers to critical questions about whether advertising campaigns and product trials really drive purchase intent.

Nielsen NeuroFocus, the neurological testing unit of the market research company, was officially launched last week in Beijing. The launch is timely, said Yan Xuan, Nielsen's Greater China president: "Changing the structure of the economy from being export-driven to one focused on [domestic] consumer demand is China's top agenda, and presents huge opportunities for businesses to tap into consumers' unmet needs."

In July 2011, US neuroscience specialist Sands Research partnered with Chinese neuromarketing firm Brain Intelligence Neuro-Consultancy to provide their services in China and Hong Kong.

Also based in Beijing, Brain Intelligence specialises in using eye-tracking technology and brain imaging techniques - electroencephalography (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The partners’ first joint client last year was a major FMCG brand.

EEG sensors capture brainwave activity at 2,000 times a second across the full cerebral cortex. Eye-tracking technology identifies the location of the eyeball's visual focus at the pixel level.

NeuroFocus also tries to measure consumer attention, engagement and memory retention through similar scientific metrics in eye-tracking, brainwave and skin conductance with a wireless dry electrode headset that can be mobilised in-store, at home, and at outdoor venues.

Laboratories have already been set up in China on behalf of undisclosed clients. AK Pradeep, CEO of NeuroFocus, explained to Campaign Asia-Pacific how neuroscience can sell to the subconscious of the Chinese mind.

A human being's conscious mind can only process a tiny fraction of the millions bits of information one is exposed to every second - the rest is registered at the subconscious state. By scanning brains and making measurements at that level, neuromarketing takes a "deep dive into where stimuli are initially registered in consumers' minds".

The problem with consumers expressing themselves verbally to researchers is that their expressions are governed by religion, race, socio-economic background, education. "Long before these typical cultural biases come in, we gather their raw brain responses, which in a large country like China is more suitable", Pradeep commented.

"People in China and Asia do not generally share their feelings with strangers, so doing a qualitative survey is very hard. The most popular answer on a Likert scale question is a neutral three, because we don't want to offend anyone."

In word-based or facial-expression ad testing, how Chinese consumers from tier-one sophisticated urban cities express thsemselves differ from tier-six rural areas, even though their brain reactions are similar, he stated. 

"Even facial coding analysis works to a limited extent because it only gathers the extremes of an expression - extremely happy or extremely afraid, but most Chinese consumers do not express extremes; they are very nuanced."

In line with neurometrics of a advertising campaign's reach propensity, Joakim Kalvenes, senior vice president of NeuroFocus, recommends shortening adverts to 15 seconds for online and mobile executions, by using neurocompression to pinpoint the precise moments in an advert that grab a viewer's attention and are most likely to lead to a sale.

"The best media buy is to have an advert play continuously in the TV that is the consumer's subconscious mind", Pradeep quipped. "B2B should stand for business-to-brain".

Another application for marketers and brand owners is to understand how mirror neuron systems in the human brain cause consumers to emulate other people's actions, and therefore tailor their advertiisng visuals to get desired reactions - on the back of the 'shanzhai' copycat consumerial culture in China.


Campaign China

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