An AdWeek article (by Patrick
Kulp) recently discussed work by Spark Neuro in
which the firm sought to understand consumer feelings for a client’s beer by measuring physical attributes such as consumers’
brain activity, heart rate, and palm sweat. With test subjects viewing commercials in development, they established
that content including: game-day excitement, nightclub cachet, and good times with friends all stirred positive emotions.
However, disappointing for their client, they discovered that video of these social situations wasn’t, on its own, sufficient
to generate a demand/craving for beer.
As they tested various options
for driving consumers to the desired need-state, they added an exaggerated fizzing sound of a beer being poured into a glass
from a tap onto the sound track. (“Exaggerated” because, as any beer drinker would agree, any pour of a good beer
would hardly make a sound as loud as that added to the TV spot.)
And, It Worked!
According to Spark Neuro the pouring sound produced
a subconscious impact that resulted in a “massive emotional response” and the research subjects’ attention
was “snapped back to the product [-category]”.
Experience Measurement Appears to Forget All of This
While such discoveries are exciting steps forward in
communications research, these findings probably come as little surprise to most of us. We have five senses and yes
they each do have an impact on how we react to a product or service experience. But, having agreed to that logic, how
do we, as marketers, think we can somehow possibly understand a customer’s satisfaction and loyalty with only a simple
set of objective, cognitive (non-emotional) questions? How can we possibly hope to accurately identify why certain interactions
bring a customer back to buy again; cause them to recommend a given product or service; or score their satisfaction as ‘delighted’,
without assessing more of the multiple senses that comprise each of those interactions.
hotel satisfaction study, for example, probably asks for a rating of: the check-in experience, the guest room, the housekeeping
staff, the hotel restaurant, etc., but it never drills down to the “experiential components” of a guest’s
interactions and never considers the multi-sensory components of each. The check-in experience alone could involve: the lighting
of the front desk area, how the staff is dressed, the smell – a piped-in fragrance or the off-putting aroma of a staff
member snacking on their favorite Chinese takeout, the height of the counter on which the guest needs to sign-in, and much
more. Upon entry to their guest room the feeling can be welcoming and comfortable (lights on, temperature at a comfortable
level, no unpleasant smell of cleaning liquids) or the guest room can appear dark and be too hot or too
cold. The sheets on the bed could feel crisp to the touch and smell fresh, and so on. Yet the traditional customer
satisfaction research questionnaire that we all receive focuses on only the ‘high level ratings’.
Our Solution to the Multi-Sensory Challenge
Accepting the multi-sensory components of the products and services we all sell, our needs to accurately assess customers’
reactions become exceptionally challenging. We’re not in favor of excessively long questionnaires. But,
we’re even more opposed to superficial studies upon which critical decisions and costs are based. Our solution
has been to rely on the advantages of current technology. With the majority of today's research studies being conducted
online we have the option of using pre-programmed skips in a questionnaire to allow multi-sensory probes to be built into
a survey. We work it this way. The first time a customer gives a low score on one of the over-arching (driver)
questions, the appropriate multi-sensory battery of questions (what they saw, smelled, touched, tasted or heard) can be administered.
To avoid abusing the customer’s time with too many questions, a maximum questionnaire length can be established preventing
every customer from being asked every driver question. Of course, the programmed questionnaire can also rotate the order
in which the driver questions are presented to even out the number of responses to each.
Accepting that a full understanding of reactions to our products and services requires accepting the multitude of sensory
items surrounding each suggests that we must rethink and aggressively change the current overly-simplified way in which satisfaction
and experience questioning occurs.