The advent of mobile has changed the way we communicate and, as the world becomes smaller and ever more connected, the advertising environment has had to adapt accordingly. The question is, how do you best deliver advertising messages in a mobile context?
Over the last 20 years or so there have been huge advances in the understanding of basic brain function, and we now know that brain responses which take place at a subconscious level can nevertheless have a significant impact on decision-making and behaviour. Using neuroscience to identify which parts of the brain are active whilst someone is engaging with a piece of communication, we can get insights into what people are thinking and feeling at a subconscious level, and the likely effect that will have on their subsequent actions. This is important because it gives us a way of measuring and quantifying intangible responses.
Neuro-Insight have been operating in this consumer neuroscience space for almost twenty years, and based on those insights, I’ve highlighted below three key learnings about how to maximise the impact of mobile communication in an ever more connected world.
1. Mobile is about triggering, not brand-building
In our head we carry networks of associations for the things we encounter in our lives. As we gather new information about brands, our associative memory links it to our existing knowledge and our brand network grows. At Neuro-Insight, we call this the “brand room”, and in our heads we have one for each brand we come across.
Some of these rooms, for well-known and loved brands, will be furnished with lots of associations and the feeling of the room will reflect all our experiences of the brand. Rooms for the brands that we know less well will be more sparsely furnished. Advertising, along with other brand touchpoints, plays an important role in helping to furnish brand rooms.
However, as we don’t go around thinking about brands all the time, these ‘rooms’ are often in darkness. In order to switch the light on in the critical moments when purchasing decisions are being made, brands need to illuminate the room by identifying triggers that can act as a light switch.
Brand logos are the most obvious examples of these triggers, but any aspect of brand iconography, and key elements of specific pieces of brand communication, have the potential to act this way. These triggers are key to leveraging the impact of brand communication along the path to purchase.
The mobile channel, featuring relatively short exposures to advertising with no strong sense of immersion, isn’t particularly well-suited to furnishing the brand room in the brain. However, it is well-placed to act as a light switch. Brands that understand this are best-placed to use mobile effectively, furnishing the brand room using other media and then using mobile to illuminate it as close as possible to the path to purchase.
2. It’s not about shouting loudest
Successful brand communication on mobile devices is not about putting a big logo on screen for as long as possible. Our brains have built-in defences that prevent us from being susceptible to everything we see and hear. Overt selling messages can signal to the brain to switch off, so sometimes it’s best to deliver messages “under the radar”. Our brains are very good at picking up subtle brand cues. It’s not difficult to recognise the brands below even though the logos are incomplete:
Figure 1: Our brains can recognise brands with relatively small amounts of information
The implication for the mobile world is that a strongly and overtly branded ad might not be the best way of getting branding across online. A better approach for marketers is to understand the key triggers associated with their brand (think about the brand room and those light switches…) and feature those triggers as a way of evoking the brand associations that already exist in people’s heads.
3. Personal relevance is key
A sense of personal relevance is another way to ensure that messages get through in the mobile world. There’s a specific part of the brain that metaphorically lights up when we experience something that’s personally relevant to us and, like a strong emotional response, this tells the brain subconsciously that it’s something potentially important that would be worth encoding into memory. In our measures we call this sense of personal relevance “engagement”.
For example, we carried out a study for a media company, looking at how people responded to different types of content on different devices. We found that context was highly important – people responded more strongly in a context that was personally relevant to them; and the nature of the device also had an impact, with higher levels of response for more “personal” devices. The highest response level of all came when people were engaging with personal messages on their own phone (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Emotional response to different screen activities
The implication for mobile communications is clear – presenting messages in a personally relevant context is generally going to be effective, and platforms such as native advertising can play a key role in delivering this.