Blauw can read minds

Suppose you could measure what people think and feel about your brand, without explicitly asking them? Without them even realising it’s about your brand? Blauw developed a method, the Brand Memory Assessor, which can do that, and ran a successful project with VodafoneZiggo about brand perception and the potential impact of TV campaigns.

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Mark Zoon and Ricardo van der Valk are experts in branding at Blauw and were intrigued by the question of what exactly happens between receiving a stimulus and the reaction of your brain. And then they’re not so interested in which part of the brain is physically active, but in what happens between the stimulus and response, in how the associative network in our heads works.

Lightning fast

Research has shown that we still register, process and use information that we do not consciously see. For example, Cristiano Ronaldo can score in the dark because he automatically processes the information about the stance and position of the player passing the ball to him, knows where to expect the ball and how to hit it in order to score between the goalposts that he can’t see but nonetheless knows where they are (Google ‘Cristiano Ronaldo lights off’ for the video). But we can all do it. Maybe we don’t score in the dark but we’ve all squeezed our eyes shut when cycling for a fly that we don’t consciously see but eventually feel. Or we do something based on intuition, feeling or experience without realising what information we have unconsciously processed.

How can you use this fact in brand research?

Ricardo van der Valk: “Apparently, ‘seeing’ an image for a few milliseconds (ms) has enough effect to be able to measure it. That’s faster than you can blink. We call it low attention processing - you process information without consciously paying attention to it.”

Mark Zoon: “A brand experience for a person consists of thoughts, feelings, experiences and expectations. We can now measure all this without the interviewee being aware of it. Our brains do not need much, and we are happy to take advantage of that. You show an image on a screen to the subject very briefly, for milliseconds. They do not consciously register it, but afterwards it does influence the choice of response. For example, if the picture is a chair, the test subject will then choose ‘table’ rather than ‘car’, because in terms of meaning it fits better with what has been unconsciously seen.”

“We use our Brand Memory Assessor to do this for brands and check whether the experience corresponds with what the company would like to see,” adds Ricardo van der Valk. “Do the test subjects indeed link the values you want to achieve to the brand? And what brand values still need to be worked on?”

Pilot in practice

Jan Zwang is senior manager market & customer insight at VodafoneZiggo. “When Blauw talked about this new way of researching brands, I was immediately enthusiastic and wanted to participate in the pilot. Innovation is in our company’s DNA and new forms of measurement are always a welcome addition.”

The pilot was set up carefully. “We worked with two groups of 30 people recruited via social media but who didn’t know the purpose of the study,” explains Mark Zoon. “Each person ‘saw’ the Vodafone brand or another control brand. The participants were customers of Vodafone or other providers. They were shown a compilation of commercials together beforehand and afterwards answered questions individually. Within 30 minutes they were finished and back outside again. And they still didn’t know what it was really about.”

5G and research

“It has provided us with additional ‘evidence’ about how our brand is actually held in the minds of consumers and it has demonstrated the subtle effect of advertising. By measuring so sensitively and without bias, it has made visible what was previously invisible,” says Jan Zwang. “This knowledge about the brand is worth its weight in gold. It’s a way of carrying out research that impresses with the innovation and new insights. The technology to allow things to be shown for an ultra-short moment is now available for fast monitors, but soon with our 5G network it might also be possible on smartphones. Although this is still advanced and controlled experimental research, the advancement of mobile technology could make it even simpler in the future.”

If only we could measure it

“At Blauw, we take the time to research, try out and adapt new research methods,” says Ricardo van der Valk. “Sometimes the inspiration comes from a book or, in this specific case, from a presentation. Mark Zoon and I met a few years ago at a lecture by Robert Heath, the author of ‘The Hidden Power of Advertising’. He saw what was happening with subtly influencing consumers, but could not substantiate it with research; he would have liked to be able to measure it. Ultimately, that question led to the Brand Memory Assessor. Maybe we should tell him that sometime.”

VodafoneZiggo also has the drive to systematically innovate. Jan Zwang: “We always have a marketing intelligence intern in the team, two a year. They bring new insights and knowledge and take a critical look at what is already there. We also work with various research bureaus and each year we tell them what we are doing and what we have achieved thanks to them. It is precisely the combination of different methods and bureaus that provides a very complete picture of customers and the market. As part of that palette, Blauw’s Brand Memory Assessor is a welcome innovation in our toolbox.”