What is EEG and what can it offer to market and consumer research?

Consultancy Scientific Board Psychology
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Cognition has partnered with Aston University to develop a neuromarketing toolkit, with the goal to understand and measure the effectiveness of marketing campaigns with the use of the electroencephalographic technique (EEG).

This cutting edge technological project is supported by leading scientists from Aston University with an expertise in Psychology, Technology and EEG science.

In this article we will introduce the electrophysiological process known as ‘’Electroencephalography’’(EEG), how it works and how the technique can be used to strengthen future marketing investments.

What is EEG and what does it measure?

EEG stands for electroencephalography. The word electroencephalogram stems from the ancient-Greek language:

  1. a) Electr (stems from electric)
  2. b) Encephalon (stems from the Greek word ‘’egkefalos’’) meaning brain.
  3. c) Gram (stems from the Greek word ‘’grafei’’) meaning to write.

EEG is an electrophysiological technique used to record (in-real time) the electrical activity of the brain. It measures the changes in electrical activity along the scalp which is produced by the firing of neurons within the brain.

Analyzing EEG is an exceptional way to study cognitive processes, providing researchers with the opportunity to understand the brain processes that underlie human behavior.

How does EEG work?

Within our brain we have billions of cells that produce very small electrical signals that form what we call brainwaves. The EEG measures the electrical activity of the cerebral cortex, which is the outer layer of the brain. Sensors/electrodes are placed on the individual’s head, and the sensors/electrodes non-invasively record the brainwaves.

The recorded brain waves are then sent to amplifiers, which in turn are sent to a tablet/laptop/computer for further processing. The amplified signals resemble wavy lines and through various analysis methods you can extract neural information regarding task-specific cognitive processes underlying human behavior.

Figure 1.1 provides a schematic representation of a mobile field EEG equipment. The EEG cap is worn by the participant, whilst performing a task of interest. The EEG cap contains circular silver electrodes that acquire the electrical activity. 

The signal is then sent to the amplifier which amplifies and digitises the signal which is then sent to the recording tablet/computer. When the recording session has been completed the data can be saved and stored on the tablet/computer and can then be accessed for further processing and analysis.


Figure 1.1. Schematic representation of EEG equipment.


Why is EEG being used in marketing?

Traditional marketing research has utilised interviews, focus groups, surveys and questionnaires. These techniques are usually used to study and understand consumer behavior, but a major disadvantage of these techniques is that the answers provided by participants are either biased (on a conscious or unconscious level) due to social influences, cognitive biases and emotions. Additionally, it could just simply be that participants are unable to express their feelings and thoughts and what motivates their purchasing decision.

Recently, researchers and marketing agencies have started using techniques to study the non-conscious processes of consumer behavior, in order to overcome the aforementioned limitation. This is viable by using techniques that can provide information on the behavior of consumers, their decision making and purchasing behavior.

As we discussed above, traditional techniques used within the marketing context/research might not really reflect the thoughts and emotions consumers might experience for a product. Applying the electroencephalographic technique within a marketing context can provide information regarding the stages of decision making and the unconscious drivers of consumer behavior.

Additionally, EEG can be used to identify preferences and willingness to pay for products/brands. Compared to other brain imaging techniques EEG is characterised by high temporal resolution (milliseconds), meaning that the technique captures changing patterns in the brain activity in the millisecond range. This characteristic is critical for marketing research as it allows researchers to identify in a millisecond time range the changes in the patterns of brain activity of individuals when they are exposed to different stimuli such as advertisements, brands, products.

The most commonly studied metric in marketing research is emotional engagement, resulting by examining the frontal asymmetry in the EEG output. The measure of frontal asymmetry results by computing the difference of neural activity between the left and right frontal regions of the brain.

Greater activation in the left frontal region is associated with positive feelings and an approach of motivation, however greater activation in the right frontal region would suggest more negative feelings and point towards avoidant behavior.

Improving the effectiveness of advertising 

Understanding the emotional engagement of consumers will help with the effectiveness of advertisement on a consumer behavior level. It can provide information on the emotional effects the advertisement can have on the consumer’s behavior. Additionally, it could also provide information on the pricing value of a product and how appealing it is for a customer.

Are individuals engaged and attentive towards an advertisement? Are there any signs of higher workload required by individuals due to an advertisement being complex? EEG would provide information regarding the levels of attention and workload required for advertisements. Understanding what consumers prefer will lead to higher returns and sales.  

EEG is one of the many neuroscientific research techniques and methods that can be used within a marketing context. We always need to keep in mind what the question is and choose a technique that is best suited for the purpose.

However, using the EEG technique within a marketing context will deepen your understanding on consumer’s behavior. We are not claiming that EEG should take over the traditional techniques, but we are suggesting that it should be used alongside traditional techniques, as it will provide possible answers beyond the ‘’what’’ and extend those answers to the ‘’why’’ – by examining the neural patterns/brain activity in the stages of interest. Combining EEG with traditional techniques will provide a richer and more informative picture of how consumers think, feel and decide.

To learn more about EEG and our unique marketing approach, get in touch with the team at hello@cognitionagency.co.uk.

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