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Real consumer reactions could spark massive marketing shift

News story

A mobile headset that captures consumers’ reactions to marketing could change the way marketers advertise, design and merchandise their stores.

From left to right: Michele Villa, Dr Billy Sung, Prof. Ian Phau, Dr Min Teah, Dr Issac Cheah, Dr Michael Lwin and Prof. Fran Ackerman

The new technology uses biometric sensors to measure human reactions such as heart rate, skin conductance, eye gaze and brainwaves, and tracks a consumer’s emotional state through facial recognition software.

“It’s a bit like a lie detector test for the retail industry,” says CBS Marketing Professor Ian Phau, who together with Dr Min Teah, Dr Isaac Cheah and Dr Billy Sung, has spent several years developing and refining the technology. “Consumers can’t cheat. By measuring and analysing an individual’s physiological reactions, a retailer can understand how a consumer really feels.”

Unlike traditional market research, data is collected in natural situations and in real time, providing reliable and objective information about what consumers think and feel when they see an advertisement or interact with a product. It’s versatility represents a marked move away from traditional marketing analytics in which consumer reaction to marketing content is measured through focus groups or interviews in a controlled environment.

“We provide measurement and analysis to determine a subject’s psychological reaction to any marketing content – whether it’s an advertisement, branding, shop display, or even a political speech,” explains Professor Phau. “By measuring physiological reactions, we can inform a client how a person truly responds to a marketing stimulus, rather than the traditional methods of surveys or interviews.”

The data will better equip marketers to attract, retain and satisfy consumers, and could become increasingly important as brands proliferate in global and fragmented markets. In October the product won the inaugural DuPont Sustainable Innovation Award, through demonstrating how the idea could become a valuable application to industry. A number of Australian and international businesses, from designer skin care producers to gourmet ice cream manufacturers have since expressed interest in the product’s commercial potential. “It will provide marketers and retailers with a valuable tool which could make a considerable difference to their approach to attracting consumers,” says head judge of the awards, Professor Fran Ackermann.

Curtin eventually plans to allow access to the technology to partners such as market research companies, under licensing arrangements. “Industry and university collaboration is critical to Australia’s productivity and competitiveness,” she says. “The DuPont Curtin University Innovation Awards is the first step to fostering a long-term sustainable relationship which will work towards industry-connected research.”

As winners of the award, Dr Phau and his team will visit the DuPont Innovation Hub in Singapore, which houses nearly 200 scientists, engineers and business leaders. “DuPont recognises the importance of collaboration to achieve true innovation that will address unmet needs,” says DuPont Sustainable Solutions’ regional director, Rodney Nelson. “We are privileged to support and partner with Curtin University, one of the top universities worldwide with a progressive approach and a strong research capability.”