Oct 04, 2010 From the CMO Comments Off on What Are You Looking At?
By Doug Lyon
I remember the first focus groups I ever attended. I had read and studied about them while in school at the University of Texas. I had seen the infamous “two-way mirror” in films and textbooks. Now this was actually the first time I was going to experience them one-on-one and be an observer.
It was the Fall of 1997. I had just finished some creative work on Coca-Cola’s Mr. Pibb account. I was a young Art Director at GSD&M Advertising in Austin. Our team had created the tag line “Put it in your head.” We had also created a great design based on splashed ink, which during the process stained and ruined about $10,000 worth of carpet at GSD&M, but that is another article.
Walking into the groups, I was a little nervous that night. I had some work that was about to be “judged” by a focus group. And, it was my first focus group. But, more than anything, I was very curious. What would they say? How would these consumers react when the work was shown? What is the client going to think if someone says something negative?
From that project until today, I have never underestimated the value of good consumer research and I have become a passionate researcher myself.
After calming some of my nerves by eating a pack of peanut M&Ms, I settled in a chair behind the mirror with all of the clients and our team to watch the proceedings begin. Our research team had done a great job of preparing the groups and we had a very good moderator.
We all sat and stared as a group of young teenage kids as they began looking at our campaign. The moderator explained the process to them and went through the different executions we were showing. “I am not sure I understand it” was one of the first comments I remember hearing. “What?” I thought to myself. How in the world can you not understand this creative? Put it in your head. It’s pretty simple.
The groups ended up going very well. A lot of positive comments were made about the creative work, but I never stopped hearing that first comment the whole night.
Our “Put it in your head” campaign was very successful and lasted for years. The campaign was chosen as one of the best company-wide outdoor campaigns by Coca-Cola in 1998. And, that splashed ink design actually ended up on the cans for many years after I left GSD&M.
It was during this process I became infatuated with consumer behavior. Even though I got caught up that night in one of the first comments made, after getting back to the office and reviewing all the footage, I was mesmerized by watching consumers talk about my work. It was like being a fisherman and hearing what the fish say when a lure comes spinning in front of them. I was learning how to become a better fisherman. I knew what the fish wanted to eat and I knew I could create the bait. I watched every second of that footage at least three times.
After 20 years in the marketing business, I have now been through more than 100 consumer focus groups, testing a wide array of products and services.
About 10 years ago, researchers really started taking consumer research out of the sterile focus group setting and into the “real world.” We started doing one-on-one groups in people’s homes. For one study we did for a video game developer a few years ago we went into gamers’ apartments and homes. Crawling over empty Dr. Pepper cartons and old pizza boxes to get into the dark crevices of a gamer’s real world. It was exciting. The information we got was extremely valuable to our client and my enthusiasm for getting relevant consumer data in new ways grew.
In 2005 I was working on a project for a very popular gaming computer company. It was here I saw a piece of paper that changed the way I saw consumer research. Literally.
The paper was a Heat Map. It is a type of output that is generated from eye-tracking technology. It shows you exactly where someone has been looking and is very similar in appearance to a weather map. The red areas were where focus was high and the green areas were where the focus was minimal. “Unreal” is what I told myself.
I work on so many projects in our marketing company that the uses for this type of research were running through my head at a faster rate than I could process. I simply couldn’t wait to tell my brother-in-law. His name is Dr. Robert Atkinson and he is a usability professor in the Department of Engineering at Arizona State University. I knew he was studying computer-aided design, but I had never gotten into deep discussions. So, at our annual New Year’s Eve Trip to Tempe, I pulled out the Heat Map.
“We are doing just this in my lab right now,” he said upon seeing the document. That whole day we did nothing but conceptualize how to turn this into a research company that could track not just eyes, but in the future we wanted to see how other senses affected consumer purchase decisions.
That company is known today as Sensory Track. We knew marketing executives and other key company officers would want to know exactly what their customers were looking at when interacting with their website, product or service.
Since our inception in 2007, we’ve seen some great projects. Our first call was from US Airways. We had done work for them previously and upon showing them our new eye-tracking technology, they got very excited. Three years later, we’re still working with US Airways, who’ve found tremendous value in the research.
Our company has two main types of eye tracking devices. One is a state-of-the-art LCD monitor that looks like a typical desktop computer monitor. However, in this monitor there are hidden cameras that calibrate to the users eye at start up. Once calibrated, this device will track exactly where users are looking when they browse the web or any other image placed on the monitor…down to the pixel.
The first time you watch a “gaze replay” of what you were looking at while surfing a website is fascinating. You think, “Wow, someone was watching my eyes!” It’s a simple process and users are even overwhelmed with the accuracy when they watch their own replays.
Our other newest technology is a mobile eye-tracker. This is the device we use when we need tetherless eye-tracking of a subject in an open environment. Just like our desktop technology, this device calibrates to the subjects’ eye and shows us exactly what they are looking at when shopping. The sport glasses the camera is affixed to are lightweight and unobtrusive and after a minute or so, the participants forget they’re wearing glasses.
Most recently we used this mobile technology with M&M Mars and Crayola, both of whom found us and called to ask about how we could help them achieve certain objectives. Convinced of our capabilities, we were in the field conducting studies in just a few weeks.
For M&M Mars, we conducted studies over the busy Halloween candy-buying season. The objective was to determine the influence of point-of-sale on purchase behavior. We were able to show this client exactly what types of point-of-sale shoppers looked at and how that translated to their purchase choice. They got the exact data they wanted and I am confident it has resulted in changes of how they market their products in store.
Crayola’s task was to determine where the best location is for product placement in top chains like Wal-Mart and Target. We were able to show them where customers’ eyes were looking when they were selecting items for back-to-school shopping. The great thing about this technology is this is not just a “point of view” camera. We calibrate the camera to each participant’s eye, allowing our clients to see cross hairs of exactly what customers are looking at. Crayola was able to put themselves into the minds of the consumers as they shopped. We have seen CEO’s come out of their office just to watch our replay videos. It feels like you are that shopper. It is fun to watch, and the data you’re able to gather is incredible.
This mobile eye tracking technology has led us to an array of potential projects and uses. US Airways has been using our desktop technology to enhance the usability of their web site for the past couple of years, so when we showed them our mobile device they immediately had us inside airports researching travelers and how they interact with their kiosks when checking in.
Needless to say, I’m very excited about where this technology and research is going and it turns out I’m a pretty good fisherman.
Doug Lyon is co-founder of SensoryTrack and Chief Idea Officer at What Will They Do Next? Doug can be reached in Austin at (512) 293-7091, or firstname.lastname@example.org
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