Neuromarketing Examples Series ep.1: The strange case of the mysterious photograph
Not so long ago I was in charge of managing the strategic Web Marketing for a well-known online beauty contest in Italy. One of the activities that I was tasked with was the collection of all the online votes assigned to the contestants from visitors to the site.
The portal that managed this activity was simply a reporting page which showed in a fairly informal way the photographs of the participants and a short biography profile for each one. In order to avoid any unfair bias or influencing we had decided not to show the number of votes collected to-date on each contestant’s profile nor the number of “likes” or shares accumulated across different social networks.
It was whilst I was monitoring this activity that I noticed something decidedly odd.
About halfway through the competition the file of a close-up shot of one of the contestants suddenly became corrupt on the servers. This meant that we had to react quickly to get it repaired as soon as possible as the competition rules prohibited any modifications to photographs during the course of the contest. The digital file was recovered and through the expert use of some graphical design techniques it was restored to its original state.
Even though the restored photograph appeared to be identical to the one that had been viewed before the file corruption, we immediately noticed that in comparison with the period before the incident, there was a significant surge in the number of votes and shares when the close-up shot was viewed.
What was intriguing to me was that firstly, I was convinced this was not a result of spam activity nor any kind of online fraud or deception to gain more votes and secondly, that the photo really did appear to be exactly the same as the one that was being viewed prior to the incident.
The key to unraveling this mystery lay with tools
In order to analyze the behind the scenes activity of our portal we were using classical monitoring tools plus some ad-hoc ones to prevent any fraudulent activity.
With these tools, however, I was only able to ascertain that effectively people had unequivocally voted for this contestant over others, and that the votes were in fact genuine and not much more than that really. Therefore at that point the mystery of the sudden surge in votes for Francesca (the name of the contestant in question) still remained unresolved.
However, through the application of different technologies and with the two photographs to-hand, as sanctioned by the contestant, I was able to replicate the scenario. The results were really quite astonishing.
Are you ready to explore the twisted and fascinating world of human behavior?
So here we go…the first thing that I would like to show you are the two images that we recovered and which I used for the experiment:
Great. At this point I recreated a website dedicated to beauty, covering both personal care and hygiene and expanding further into different beauty contests. Basically what I wanted to do was recreate the perfect online ambience for the target audience that had been identified during the online competition.
Once the first page was configured I then created a version B that was completely identical except for the fact that it showed the second photograph
At this stage I had configured a classic A/B test, I then proceeded to publish it all online.
In addition to the tests carried out using EEG and all other technologies related to neuromarketing analysis , in terms of the web analysis tools applied during the experiment I had used The Sloop1 neuroscan for the neuro-marketing data collection , analysis and visitor behavior, Google Analytics for the A/B test and access control and Moz Pro for SEO monitoring.
All that remained then was to create some online awareness and buzz around my pages. After some PPC campaigns and some activity targeting social marketing the results didn’t take long to roll in.
Even after just the first few page visits and thanks to the behavioral analysis using our neuroscan, we immediately began to see some interesting findings in the table. Here below we can see the activity around the photo that was uploaded to page A (the original photo) and to page B (the re-worked photo).
As you can see and as I noticed straight away, photo B attracts surprisingly much more movement and activity compared with photo A; significantly greater interest in fact, and by analyzing the movements and clicks made (there were no links or configurations related to clicking) I was struck by an interesting detail. Have you noticed it too?
Evolution provides the answer
The key revelation was that a mere millimeter of pupil difference actually triggered a clear, unconscious preference towards one photograph over the apparently “twin” one. This was the same for both male and female visitors to the site.
All of this is feasible and in fact occurs because the human brain performs unconscious primary processes based on its own neurological structure. On one hand this is partly the result of the continued evolution of our species and our environment. However, if we look more deeply into the subject it is often argued that the development of the morphological elements of human traits actually stems back to our early ancestors’ basic survival instincts.
By now I was quite intrigued, so I decided to carry out similar further experiments analyzing the most well-known evolutionary theories and applying them to web marketing.
After collecting and processing a large quantity of data I created a graph summarizing the results. This graph can be used an outline reference in the strategic marketing management of the most important part of our messaging, the images and in particular those images that I like to refer to as pretty “wild” from an emotionally empathetic perspective.
Basically I created reference pages for each type of trend shown in the graph attached. Again and as with the aforementioned A/B test, different images were shown, firstly attracting a predominantly male audience and then female. I repeated the tests for each morphological trait taken into consideration across various relevant categories in order to better understand where and for who the modifications appeared to be mainly having an influence. Here is a table summarizing the data collected:
But do search engines dig all this stuff?
At the beginning of this article I mentioned that we would be using three analysis tools to carry out the experiments. One of these is Moz Pro, undoubtedly one of the best platforms available to analyze results from a SEO perspective.
But what does SEO actually have to do with our neuromarketing-analysis.
Although it’s true that this is fundamentally a neuromarketing experiments, but because the Web Marketing component is so key this also in turn makes the content optimization for search engines equally very important. Without taking it into account would be like trying to evaluate the success of a party without having invited anyone.
Therefore and understandably so, the page showing the second photo was also able to generate greater interest from a SEO perspective.
This tendency was also reflected in the search engine results rankings, In fact when the searches were carried out using the keywords most relevant to the page, the only page that came up in the results was the one with the modified photo. (I used Google as it still is the flagship search engine of reference in the market today)
Fundamentally the best process to use when it comes to page ranking is tied to user activity and involvement, rather than user behavior around the image itself. In fact user interaction was shown to be far more active through content and link sharing all of which then favorably aid the ranking and positioning of the page.
Be careful! Don’t create a monster!
This does not work
Or better said, it does not work in terms of subconscious messaging if you are aiming to attract an online visitor through empathy or emotion. The modifications that I made and tested are miniscule. Here is an example to explain my point better: if we publish online an image of a man in suit and tie with his pupils dilated and a drug-crazed look about him or with vampire teeth or elephant eyes, it is unlikely that visitors to our site will associate our business with values such as reliability or leadership.
This can also be applied the other way around. We can in fact use inverse configurations if we want to associate an image with a sense of being far removed or not sympathetic to a situation that our service or product could avoid or solve.
So you are probably asking yourself right now: “To what extent can enlarging or reducing a detail or element be effective without going over the top in the whole process.” In effect there are some highly complicated tables and formulae available to calculate what is considered the mathematical approach to achieving harmony of the human face. This is based on factors such as dimensions and positioning of the different body features (eyes, nose, mouth, ears, etc) in proportion to the whole body.
The solution that I tend to recommend is based on practical testing and I fondly refer to it as “The Pain in the Ass Test.”
Basically it boils down to showing an original image to a group of people and a modified version of it to another group of people that are similar to the first group in terms of the make-up composition of the members. The question is then posed to the groups: “So, what do you think?”
All of the responses from the second group that are not replicated by the first group in relation to changes to anatomical or body details, probably point towards some kind of overly exaggerated modification. Here is an example:
If, as in our case, there had been comments from Group B along the lines of “Wow, what big eyes!” and some similar observations from Group A then most probably the modifications to a physical or anatomical element would not have been the cause. On the contrary, if there had been no comments from Group A along those lines and Group B had heard a comment like “He looks like he has drunk 10 cups of coffee!” then we would have probably gone over the top with the use of Photoshop.
It is vital that the images are shown separately and not together in a “spot the differences” scenario, because otherwise we would creating a situation in which the “attention paid to detail” would be totally different to the real experience of the actual visitors to the page. The result then would obviously not be useful nor relevant to our overall objective.
Alrighty then guys I will wind up here. I realize in fact that this subject matter requires further analysis and more in-depth investigation. My objective with this article was to initially highlight the crux of the matter without posting an entire encyclopedia of data and boring everyone to tears. If anyone is interested in expanding further on the subject or simply wants to share their opinion on it, please feel free to contact me via my twitter account @malzanini. Alternatively you are welcome to leave any comments here below.
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