Audience Branding Insights Strategy & Positioning

How to define product marketing 

How do marketers define product marketing? That looks like an easy question about a standard job. Still, many people will offer different answers, and few can provide a succinct definition. For example, many descriptions center on activities before the product launch, but the job of product marketing lasts through the entire lifecycle. 

In as few words as possible, product marketing refers to all activities involved in bringing a product to market and supporting it throughout its lifecycle. These activities include every step from initial conception and design to customer service and in the end, phasing out the product to make room for the next new thing. 

Product marketers need to understand their company, the product, and their audience of consumers very well. The job involves product design, packaging, product launches, customer service, and support. These tasks may require cooperation between multiple departments in large enterprises. In smaller companies and startups, product marketing teams could wear many hats. 

Successfully marketing products starts with understanding customers

Like all good marketing, product marketing centers around customers. After all, developing the world’s best product won’t do much good unless consumers learn it exists, what it does, how it’s used, and why it can satisfy their needs. Thus, marketers should differentiate their product from potential competitors, define their audience, develop buyer personas, and find out where these consumers gather information to inform purchase decisions. 

Using audience knowledge to develop a brand identity for the product 

Understanding the audience’s values and perceptions can help marketers develop a successful strategy for engaging the market. For instance, Wordstream discussed Apple’s Mac. Vs. Windows PC TV ads from a few years ago. Apple needed to tell a story to convince consumers to spend more on an Apple computer than they would need to spend on many Windows computers. 

Many competing companies offer Windows PCs, but only Apple makes Mac computers. Thus, Apple needed to quickly differentiate its products from the entire ecosystem of Windows PCs. That way, the company could engage customers and develop brand loyalty. If Apple could successfully differentiate their products, they could encourage brand loyalty that most Windows PC manufacturers don’t enjoy. Windows users might choose Windows computers, but they may not differentiate much between such manufacturers as Lenovo, Dell, or HP. 

Apple made dozens of humorous ads featuring a cool Mac guy and a stodgy PC guy. The ads differentiated Apple’s products with such benefits as being easy to use, free from malware bloat, and connected with popular software like iTunes. Primarily, the company understood its buyers. It wanted its target market to view Apple as the choice of sophisticated computer users and Windows PCs as the option for the dreary and conventional. 

Marketing steps for successful product launches 

Consider these essential steps to ensure a successful product launch. A solid understanding of and focus on customers will lead to successful product launches during all phases. 

Research the product: Before anybody considers a launch, the developers, marketers, and hopefully, some outside beta testers will thoroughly test the product to ensure it’s bug-free, works as advertised, and solves the problem as promised. At this time, feedback from various user groups can still yield improvements. 

Craft the product’s story: Document who will want to purchase this product and why consumers will feel satisfied with their purchase. This overview should explain why people should buy this product instead of taking a competitor’s offer. 

Create a launch plan: Successful product launches involve several steps and cooperation from different groups. A detailed launch plan gives the managers a way to solicit feedback, keeps various stakeholders in the loop, and assigns responsibility for each process. 

Conduct launch meetings: Most businesses will invite representatives from various groups to a meeting on launch day. Proactive product marketing managers will probably schedule regular meetings for progress reports, brainstorming, and input throughout the preparation stage. 

Develop content around the products and purchasers: Before the launch, the brand will need sales pages, advertising content, product advertising, and other marketing collateral. A solid understanding of the product’s story and the audience will enable the development of compelling content. 

Align and engage sales, marketing, and support: Various teams have specific jobs, but they still need to work towards the same goals. Accept input from all stakeholders involved in marketing, support, and sales, and make sure they all have the information to handle a successful launch. 

Engage the community: Plan how to develop and react to the buzz around the new release. Take the opportunity to reach out to previous customers, likely influencers, and other stakeholders for feedback. Incorporate any new information into the launch. Track mentions in the news or on social media and prepare to respond when appropriate. 

What responsibilities do product marketers have?

Primarily, product marketers ensure consumers positively recognize the brand. They must combine deep knowledge of the products with a solid understanding of their market. Because product managers must often work with other marketers, sales, support, development, customer service, and customers, it helps if they can also act as ambassadors to represent the overall goals for the product’s marketing. 

Some specific tasks of product marketers include: 

  • Research the market: Deliverables can include buyer personas, feedback from testers or surveys, a marketing story, and suggestions for advertising platforms. 
  • Develop a marketing plan: This plan could include details about the types of assets and platforms the company will need for marketing, including market research, content, ads, and support. 
  • Work on pricing and packaging: Product marketers may help set pricing and sales models. Plus, they help work on packaging that will help the brand stand out online or on physical shelves. 
  • Work on marketing budgets: Product managers should develop budgets they will need to market the product. 
  • Work with the talent to develop marketing collateral: These professionals develop briefs that creatives use to create various marketing assets, like web pages, videos, articles, and social posts. 
  • Develop and manage a marketing calendar: The marketers need to develop a schedule, assign responsibilities, and chart progress. 
  • Interface with other departments: The product marketers should keep other groups informed, accept feedback, and ensure every team stays updated and on track. 

This job requires a multi-disciplinary approach. Beyond market research and developing typical marketing plans, they must work with various stakeholders. For instance: 

  • During product development: Focus groups can offer feedback on the product’s designs, so the marketer might interface with the product’s engineers and designers to consider improvements. 
  • Before launch: The product marketers should work with sales to ensure the salespeople understand the product’s story, view the product advertising, and align with overall business goals. 
  • After sales: Some marketing content might support customer service by offering a FAQ page or how-to articles and videos to ensure customers know how to use the product or can connect with customer service to handle any concerns after sales. 

Thus, experienced product marketing managers generally command relatively high salaries. When they do their jobs well, these professionals start by helping their company grow sales and revenue. They can also help reduce workloads and save money by assisting other departments in running efficiently and staying aligned with overall goals. 

The importance of product marketing 

Product marketers function as product ambassadors for various departments, executives, partners, affiliates, and most of all, the company’s customers. Some marketers describe product marketers as positioned at the intersection between development, marketing, sales, customer support, and the brand’s audience. 

This task requires at least a good understanding of the other team’s functions and a deep knowledge of the product and the audience. Thus, the job requires both hard marketing and soft skills to empathize with and serve various stakeholders. Most importantly, effective marketers will strive to present customers with a positive view of the company, brand, and product. 

Audience Branding Insights Strategy & Positioning

Sometimes, authors do a fabulous job of developing characters, and readers feel like they understand a fictional person’s attitudes, motivations, and actions. If they could encounter this person in real life, avid readers believe they know what the character would do or how they’d react in any situation. These lifelike characters engage readers with stories even after they’ve finished reading. Similarly, our marketing research company strives to develop buyer personas that accurately represent target markets to give us a clear picture of potential buyers. This practice keeps us engaged with the audience. In turn, it gives us the tools to ensure buyers stay engaged with a business. 

Why are buyer personas important for marketing?

Even though the buyers profiled don’t exactly exist, consumers with similar essential characteristics are out there shopping for products. Instead of developing these characters purely from our imaginations, we gather and analyze information about real people to uncover common traits. 

Thus, a description of a semi-fictional character in a buyer persona helps marketers understand real-life consumers’ motivations, preferences, and potential actions. This important brief will provide an essential tool for developing marketing materials, segmenting audiences, choosing advertising platforms, and setting goals for testing and tuning. 

Developing useful buyer personas for marketing 

Our customer-focused process involves science, craft, and considerable testing, similar to developing a compelling story. To better understand our process, step through the methods we use to help clients understand their markets. 

Step 1: Define the anticipated target market 

Inc. Magazine observed that all marketers should define target markets to build a solid foundation for marketing. Understanding the market matters if the business intends to produce buyer personas or not. Primarily, most companies don’t have the budget to target everybody, and that’s probably a wasteful exercise anyway. Targeting general subsections of the population, like seniors, stay-at-home parents, or busy professionals, might prove too broad. 

Instead of casting a wide net, we prefer to select two or three tightly defined audiences to start. For example: 

  • Our research for a natural skincare company might uncover that the products appeal to women with concerns about dry skin and women who want to support natural, sustainable products and packaging. 
  • After digging deeper, our research could reveal that members of this population between ages 35 to 50 who live in dry or cold climates appear receptive to the products and the online subscription sales model the business employs. 
  • Just as valuable, surveys and interviews found that almost half of the women concerned about dry skin follow beauty bloggers and content producers on Instagram or YouTube. Members of the other market tend to consume news about ways to run a more eco-friendly household.

Sometimes, an existing company’s customer base provides plenty of information. Other times, startups don’t have a large pool of current customers. We may need to conduct surveys, interviews, and focus groups or rely on market research from other sources. Sometimes, the angles potential competitors use in their ads offer inspiration. In any case, we make data-based choices to fill in the details.

Step 2: Craft buyer personas to represent the audience 

How do marketers take the information they gather about their potential audience and turn it into one of these semi-fictional descriptions? According to HubSpot, marketers should begin by looking for common traits shared by many people in the audience. 

The basic helpful traits could include: 

  • Such demographic information as age ranges, ZIP codes, incomes, family status, education level, or professions 
  • Communication and entertainment preferences, like social networks, texting vs. email, favorite sports, or publications 
  • Challenges the individual might face that hinder meeting personal or career goals 

More in-depth information should prove helpful in developing a complete picture of the person. Examples of psychographics, more personal than simple demographics, include personality traits and motivations. For instance: 

  • Might the individual belong to organizations for networking, charitable causes, or fitness? 
  • Do they subscribe to blogs, publications, or Youtube channels that provide information about social matters, finance, health, the environment, or cooking? 
  • Would this person prefer to spend time off riding a bike, reading, or going to a club or concert? Do they view themselves as outgoing or reserved? How would the individual prefer to shop and gather information about shopping choices?

The better the persona describes things this semi-fictional person already does and cares about, the more it can help predict how they’ll react and what they’ll do in the future. The details can also provide important clues about media consumed and messages or even tones that would make the audience receptive. 

The information can help businesses avoid missteps that might offend audience segments. For instance, an Audi commercial from a few years ago attempted to use humor to attract attention. At the same time, the advertisement compared buying a car to choosing a wife by having the mother-in-law at a wedding “inspect” the bride. 

Unsurprisingly, this advertisement made many viewers uncomfortable. Indeed, the ad failed to attract female car buyers. Meanwhile, surveys in the US find that women play a role in 85 percent of auto buying decisions. 

Step 3: Find marketing platforms the audience already consumes

No matter how well a market research company narrows down audiences and crafts buyer personas, they won’t help their clients if the audience isn’t listening to the message they want to broadcast. That’s why we seek information about how audiences consume media and communicate. 

The better job we do of finding out where our audience “listens,” the greater chance we can ensure they will hear us. These days, businesses have plenty of platforms to choose from, including the internet, smartphones, radio, TV, print, and physical spaces. Each of these media types consists of countless outlets and platforms. Few businesses have the resources to test all of them, so we must use our research to choose the best candidates. 

Ideally, customers or prospects will fill out surveys, directly communicating their preferences. Without direct information, marketers can look for trends regarding the typical habits of the general population. For instance: 

  • Typical Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram users tend to be older than typical TikTok and Twitter viewers. 
  • Twitter attracts more men, but TikTok appeals to more women. In contrast, LinkedIn, the social site for business, draws a roughly equal percentage of men and women. 
  • Beyond the basic demographics of these social sites, savvy marketers will look for specific content, influencers, or tags that can attract the right sets of eyeballs. 

Step 4: Set goals, test, and optimize 

Despite their best efforts, few marketers have ever developed a perfectly optimized marketing plan on their first try. Businesses should look at testing and tuning as a way to improve as they learn more about their market. Sometimes, companies get lucky, and a well-considered but untested marketing campaign might succeed, but nobody will ever know if the lack of testing led to missed opportunities to improve. Sometimes, slight improvements in engagement and conversion rates can differentiate between profits and losses or growth and stagnation. 

Productive testing should begin with a theory to prove or disprove, measurable goals to measure success, and a test plan. Tests with narrow scopes may take more patients but can often yield valuable information for a low cost. 

The essential components of a test plan can include: 

  • Audience: Use one of the audiences used to develop buyer personas. 
  • Theory: A stated hypothesis about a change to marketing that could improve some aspects of marketing, like post engagement, website visitors, brand recognition, conversion rates, or sales. 
  • Goals: Include measurable goals for improvement based upon the theory. 
  • Metrics: KPIs, like post reactions, website visitors, filled shopping carts, conversion rates, and revenue, can measure results at various points of the sales funnel. 
  • Test type: A/B testing against the current advertising or another test ad that supports a competing theory. 

These tests will do more than prove or disprove theories if done correctly. Marketers can find weak spots in their overall plan. For instance, the current advertisement might do an excellent job of engaging the audience and attracting visitors to a website. Still, a problem with an online shopping cart or the sales page could hinder sales. Thus, these tests can help identify additional weak spots that need further testing. 

Consider market research and testing an ongoing process 

As a marketing research company, we don’t consider research, developing buyer personas, ad platform selection, or testing a one-and-done deal. Besides believing that we can constantly improve, we know that our client’s businesses can change quickly. Economic or political changes, new technology, and competitors can transform or even disrupt markets at any time. Thus, we may cycle through the four steps described above multiple times. 

We don’t just strive to help our clients keep up but to thrive by constantly seeking to add new audiences and expand their markets. Our efforts center on getting to know the audience very well, as if they’re our family, acquaintances, and friends. Since these people support our clients, we value them like friends, even if they’re semi-fictional representations developed into buyer personas. 

Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

Our guest this week is Devora Rogers, the co-author of Influencing Shopper Decisions, this month’s Bigeye Book Club selection. Devora discusses how retail and brand marketers can use agile neuroscience and two new metrics – usage and influence – to provide fresh insights into shoppers’ needs, priorities, and context. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can claim a 20 percent discount on Influencing Shopper Decisions at by using the promo code BIGEYE20 at checkout.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Devora Rogers: Shoppers want to be informed and the process of understanding how shoppers do that is through usage and influence – and information is now a kind of value.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. Today’s podcast marks the fifth episode of the Bigeye Book Club in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page Publishing. Our featured Book Club selection for May is Influencing Shopper Decisions: Unleash The Power Of Your Brand To Win Customers by Rebecca Brooks and Devora Rogers. The book makes a case for approaching shopping behavior research in an entirely new way: focusing on shopper needs, priorities, and context. I’m delighted that we’re joined today by co-author Devora Rogers, who is Chief Strategy Officer with the consumer insights research agency, Alter Agents. Devora works with global brands across multiple industries, including Snapchat, Activision, Nespresso, and Google. Her TEDx talk, The Science Of Shopping And Future Of Retail has been viewed over a quarter of a million times. To discuss some of the key ideas in Influencing Shopper Decisions, Devora is joining us today from her office in Los Angeles. Devora, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Devora Rogers: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

Adrian Tennant: What prompted you and your co-author Rebecca Brooks to write Influencing Shopper Decisions?

Devora Rogers: I mean everything. This has been our area of focus for over a decade. And we got to a place where it was like, the book was bubbling out of us. And a publisher saw me speak in New York right before, the whole world changed with COVID and, she was like, “You need to have already written a book. You need to have already written five books. You have a viewpoint here.” And once we started writing it, it was clear that everything prompted us to write it because so much of our focus has been on what drives people to behave the way they do. And how does that impact their decisions.

Adrian Tennant: So, what did the writing process look like for you and Rebecca?

Devora Rogers: Yeah. So this was a lot of fun for me. I mean, I’m a writer, right? So I’m a researcher during the day, but I’m a writer kind of always – for life, right? That’s just who I am. I’ve been scribbling in journals since I was 10 and realized that that was a thing. Rebecca’s a very good writer, but she didn’t necessarily view herself that way. And so we each approach this kind of differently. And what we decided to do was trade off on chapters. And so the chapters that I felt like I really had a handle on, I would write. And those that were very close to her, she would write. It was a nine month process and one would take a chapter a month and then the other one would take the next sometimes, maybe two or three weeks, but every two or three weeks, we would switch off. She would go get a hotel room where she could be safe from her children and stay up all night writing. And I was afraid of like taking myself too seriously and so I would just invite children over to my house and have chaos and write.

Adrian Tennant: Two very different writing styles from the sounds of things. 

Devora Rogers: We both had something similar, which is that we would like to write the first pass and then hand it off to somebody and let them review it. And so the other person could come in and say, “Oh, we think we missed this.” Or, “Oh, you petered out here, let me help you here.” So it was a really great, natural process.

Adrian Tennant: The first chapter of Influencing Shopper Decisions illustrates the impact of digital technologies and how they’ve transformed how many people approach shopping. You also introduce a new framework based on two immutable truths. So Devora, can you explain what led you to determine that usage and influence are key metrics for tracking and revealing today’s shopper journey?

Devora Rogers: Usage and influence became our North Stars, our key metrics, because we began to see that there were so many things that shoppers were doing. They were becoming prolific researchers and literally going everywhere all the time, sometimes for weeks or months on end. And in that process, they’re encountering such a large amount of information, that we felt like it was important that brands know where people were going for information. That’s the usage. And then what of those sources – and our list is about 45 sources plus – actually drive influence, actually cause people to purchase? And you have to separate them, you know, it’s “Did you do it? Did you use it?” And “Was it helpful?” and that today, as a marketer, with brand as a driver of shopper interest and purchase decreasing, what we see is that in place of that is really information. Shoppers want to be informed. And the process of understanding how shoppers do that is through usage and influence. And information is now a kind of value. It’s not enough for a product to be good. It’s not enough for it to be a decent price. When you used to ask shoppers, what made them make the decision that they did, it used to almost always be brand and value, you know, kind of what you paid for the price of the item and was that worth it? And today, both of those are increasingly being replaced by “Did I have the information that made me confident to make a decision?” And so usage and influence capture that shift to what Daniel Pink calls information parity.

Adrian Tennant: The third chapter of your book is The Age Of Shopper Promiscuity, in which you discuss how your research reveals a fundamental change in the way that people shop today, compared to a decade and a half ago. So Devora, what is shopper promiscuity?

Devora Rogers: It almost sounds naughty, right? And in fact, we had originally proposed to our very British publisher that we call the book Shopper Promiscuity and they were very concerned about that as, as a potential name for a book. But what it is is openness. Promiscuity, you know, often we think about it in terms of relationships and sex. But what it has to do with is an openness to things. So a promiscuous reader is somebody that reads everything, they’ll read anything and everything. And that is how it applies to shoppers. Shoppers will consider all kinds of things and they’re not held down by brand. They’re not held down by what they purchased a week ago. They’re willing and able to buy anything that works for them. And today, they have so many choices. Innovation has grown so rapidly. We cite numbers in the book about the rate of innovations and the number of new SKUs that have come out in the past five to 10 years. So they have more choices. There’s more innovation. There’s more accessibility. So yeah, in the same way, if you walked out of your house every day and there were 10 stunning looking people standing outside, waving at you saying, “Hello, would you love me?” it might be hard to stay loyal to your partner! And it’s sort of the same kind of thing. Every time we go and buy, we have so many choices that are all amazing. And so it has brought shoppers to a place where they are open to anything and everything, and it makes it a much more challenging environment for brands to operate in.

Adrian Tennant: In 2021, your research agency, Alter Agents, undertook a study with over 6,000 recent purchasers examining shopping behaviors in six different categories, designed to reveal how shoppers are making decisions. One of the findings that you share in your book is that shoppers are using more sources of information than ever before when making a purchase decision. So Devora, how is source usage important in understanding the shopper’s path to purchase?

Devora Rogers: It’s incredibly important to understand source usage because the new currency is information. And if information is the currency – and we all are becoming researchers, which over a decade of research has shown us – shoppers are all becoming researchers. You might not do it on everything that you buy, but you’ll do it on a lot more things than our parents were able to do simply because the information wasn’t there and the internet wasn’t there and the mobile phone wasn’t there. So today, information is how people make decisions and they have a lot of information at their fingertips, but for brands it’s really tricky because nobody has infinite marketing budgets. Even the biggest media spender in the world has limits and they have to know where to put their efforts. And so what source usage tells us is where do people go for information? And when do they go for each of those types of information? Are they going online first and then eventually going to the store? Are they going to the store first and then going online? Are they never going to the store or are they listening to a podcast? Are they reading reviews? Are they using TikTok? There’s just so many different places brands could be. And there’s so many places that shoppers are researching. Sometimes when I talk to brands about this, they think, “Oh, this is like marketing mix modeling”. No, it’s about where you’re going to tell your stories and how you’re going to do that in each of these radically different environments. And which of those are going to reach the most people and be most likely to influence them so that they don’t end up going with a competitor who just happens to have more information in a place that that person was looking.

Adrian Tennant: Another new metric you introduce us to in the sixth chapter of Influencing Shopper Decisions is net influence. Could you explain its origins and how it works alongside source usage?

Devora Rogers: Sure. So net influence was the brainchild of John Ross who had been my boss and was my partner when we were developing this work with Rebecca originally. He had been the CMO at The Home Depot, a prolific retail marketer. Today, he’s the CEO of IGA, a large grocery store alliance. And he had had one of the largest media budgets in the world. And he had all kinds of consultants constantly coming and looking at his data and he had data analysts. And so, in theory, he should have had every single possible choice available to him to reach and influence shoppers. And when he came to us, he said, “You know, I still don’t understand why people do what they do. We need a way to unpack that.” And so we began looking at source usage and realize it’s not enough to just say, “What do people do?” because you could have heard a recommendation for a book on a podcast. Or you could have been on Amazon and seen a recommended algorithmic suggestion. But which of those actually made a difference for you? And as a brand where to really put your efforts, what do you value? And if you have different categories that you work in, how does that change? And so net influence gave us a way to make sense of what people were doing by really revealing, did this actually drive your purchase decision? How influential was it? And net influence was the metric that we landed on and in many ways, I mean, make a case for this in the book, we think it ought to replace that concept of ROI: return on investment, which looks at what did you spend. Oh, you spent all this money on all these things. Well, here’s what you got for that. But what about the things that were never on your list? How do you measure ROI for that? If you’ve never invested in podcasts, how do you know you don’t have a return on investment because it’s not even on your list? And so net influence allows us to see where influence is taking place. And what’s cool is that even if a brand isn’t investing in a particular source, maybe social media in the past, or maybe today it’s certain types of events or certain types of direct response advertising. Net influence allows us to say it appears that your competitors are investing in these things and it kind of lays bare where influence is taking place, regardless of whether that brand was invested in it or not.

Adrian Tennant: Chapter nine of your book is Unlocking Hidden Shopper Insights Through Agile Neuroscience. In it, you describe your own traumatic experiences with traditional electroencephalography or EEG headsets as a child, but this is not the type of consumer neuroscience equipment you’re talking about. Could you explain what you mean by agile neuroscience?

Devora Rogers: So this is one of my favorite topics. I was 10 years old and I had epilepsy. I had a form of epilepsy called petite mal, which isn’t the worst as epilepsy goes, but it was having an impact on my life and so they would put EEGs on me and lay me down in dark room with bright lights shining. And I swear at 10 years old, I said, “I’m never going to do this to anyone.” Rebecca, my co-writer and partner said, “There’s no way at 10, you said that you weren’t going to do this to anyone.” And I said, “No, I did. I really did.” Now, of course, I didn’t know I was going to become a marketer and a researcher and that, as one of those things, I might be able to use neuroscience to answer questions, but I did. And early on when we began looking at different ways to understand shopper decision-making – quant, qual, neuro – I was clear that I didn’t think that it was appropriate to put EEGs on shoppers and call that good research. It’s also not realistic to put people through MRIs. In most cases, brands just cannot afford that at scale and also it doesn’t really replicate the experience because you’re not usually an MRI when you make decisions. And so we looked for a long time at different ways of incorporating neuroscience. For a while, we looked at facial coding, we then looked at galvanic skin response, which is essentially sweat conductance. And, we finally landed on a solution that came out of the Claremont Graduate University and Dr. Paul Zak and a number of his collaborators had developed a product we really liked called Immersion. And Immersion has about 20 years of testing and experience behind it. But what they did is they evaluated what were the best, most scalable and consistent, and also predictive measures that emerge from the body and the brain that could be captured. And they did that through blood draws initially, they did it through heart rate, they did it through all kinds of techniques. And ultimately, what they landed on is something called variable heart rate, which is the distance between the beats. And that, that can actually be picked up by fairly inexpensive sensors. They’re called Scosche devices, or today, the thing that many people have – about 40% in this country – which are Apple or smartwatches, and they produce very consistent and predictive measures of future intent. so future buying behaviors. And so agile neuroscience is a term that we’re really fond of because it speaks to how this works. It’s flexible. It’s scalable. You can recruit people easily for it. You don’t have to be in a lab. You can be in a lab if you want to be. But today, a lot of the agile neuroscience that we’re doing happens with users at home in front of their computer and they are wearing a Scosche device or a smartwatch, and we expose them to different experiences, or we bring them into a store and have them walk around. But in either case, it’s a very easy way to capture what’s happening inside people’s brains that’s far more scalable and cheaper than traditional neuroscience.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, the Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in specific areas of marketing and consumer research. Our featured book for May is Influencing Shopper Decisions: Unleash the Power of Your Brand to Win Customers by Rebecca Brooks and Devora Rogers. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with exclusive promo code BIGEYE20. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free e-book offer. To order your copy of Influencing Shopper Decisions, go to – that’s K O G A N P A G E dot com.

Adrian Tennant: Last October, Bigeye published a market research report, entitled Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. We surveyed consumers across America to find out how their shopping behaviors had changed as a result of the pandemic. In a special Bigeye video event, we’re joined by four experts who reflect on the study’s findings and explore the implications for retailers and brand marketers in 2022.

Doug Stephens: It’s logical to assume that as we see this metaverse construct, as we as individuals spend more and more time in these virtual worlds, that the adoption of things like virtual apparel might start to make more and more sense.

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: I think being channel agnostic and just making sure that you are you know meeting your consumer, where they are is important. to not think about channels as competitive to each other, thinking about them as complementary.

Andy Sheldon: When you’re watching something as a live stream, that’s linear, there’s no choice, but to watch what’s going on at that moment on the shopping teller.

Syama Meagher: I see NFTs as an invitation for consumers to join brands on a digital journey and for brands to invite consumers to spend their cryptocurrencies and their time into building a relationship with the brand. 

Adrian Tennant: For a lively discussion about the future of retail and marketing watch Bigeye’s Envision 2022. For details, go to

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Devorah Rogers, the co-author of this month’s Bigeye Book Club selection, Influencing Shopper Decisions: Unleash The Power Of Your Brand To Win Customers. The tenth chapter explores the evolution of shopper values. You include a quotation from anthropologist, Michael Donovan, illustrating how successful retailers provide cues, symbols, and spaces designed to engage our – quote – “cultural imagination.” He goes on to define shopping as a central creative activity of American life, a kind of popular Performance Art. So Devora, in what kinds of ways do shoppers’ values influence their purchase decisions?

Devora Rogers: Of all the questions we’ve talked about up until now, I think that in some ways, this is the one that is my next book. I have a lot of thoughts on this and I don’t know that I, or anyone really, has all the language to speak to what we mean by shoppers’ values. Right? So we use terms like “storytelling” or terms like “corporate social responsibility”, “values”, “sustainability”, and none of those fully encapsulate how shoppers are thinking about things that matter to them. So their values have a huge part in their purchase decisions. And we looked at it from a lot of different perspectives. We looked at it from fair labor practices, ethical, sustainable manufacturing, whether,the brand is authentic and does what they say they do, whether they give their employees healthcare, in the United States, that’s not a given. And so we looked at this from a lot of different perspectives and of course, any generation, any group of shoppers, any number of people, values mean different things. But generally, if we were to limit it to like, just help our minds wrap around it, it would be you know, in what ways do good brand behavior influence shoppers’ decisions? And what we see is that a pretty sizable portion of the consumer audience – maybe a little bit less as they get older, so Boomers are maybe a little bit less likely to have values play as central of a role – but pretty much for everyone else, it’s really this good brand behavior is playing a role and has shoppers able to look for brands that align with things that matter to them. Whether that’s that you are authentic and that you do what you say you’re going to do, or whether that’s that you are speaking to me in a way that feels aligned with things I care about. I mean, I could go on and on, but the quick answer to the question is shopper values influence their decisions quite a bit. And we think that this is going to continue to evolve and that brands have to be really thoughtful about how to understand what matters to shoppers at any given point in their servicing of those consumers.

Adrian Tennant: Okay. In practical terms, how should brand marketers adapt to meet shoppers’ evolving values?

Devora Rogers: I think the critical piece is more transparency and more information. That’s at the top of the list: share what you know, be honest, tell the truth, and give people as much information as possible. You know, people will ask me, “Do people really research nail polish?” Oh, yes, they do. Oh, yes, they watch hours of videos on nail polish. So no brand should think that they are exempt from this, however big or small. And, at the highest level, most critically, it’s providing as much information as possible. And then I think being in the places where people are going for information is really important. So understanding that, and that varies for every category. There’s categories where YouTube plays an insane role in terms of the amount of content people are watching before buying. In others, it’s Snapchat, in others, it’s not social media at all, but a promoted item from a retailer on their website. So, I think information, and then understanding where they’re going is really the most critical step for brand marketers.

Adrian Tennant: Devora, thinking about all of the data you collected to inform the book content, was there one data point or insight that really surprised you or stood out? And if so, what was it?

Devora Rogers: One key piece that we saw is that we identified a new cohort of shoppers that we had not anticipated, not been looking for. In hindsight, we should have, but it wasn’t clear to us that this was like a whole new group of shoppers. And that is the remote worker. And so what we found is that remote workers present a sort of hyper shopper. We have seen for years that shoppers do more and more research, that’s been growing steadily and they’ve become savvier and pickier as their research has increased. But over the last couple of years, with a portion of the working population able to work from home – you know, primarily white collar workers – that has meant that they don’t have somebody looking over their back, they can kind of manage their own time, and they use that time between calls to sometimes research and then come back to something and they have, you know, the privilege of being able to spend time looking for vacuums, or blow dryers, or whatever it might be, or a new type of milkthat doesn’t hurt their stomach. And so I think one thing that really surprises is the uncovering of that cohort and how different they are. And then also the fact that among that group, they are the most likely to say that they found something during their discovery and research process that caused them to stray from the original brand they had intended to buy. So these are like the ultimate promiscuous shoppers, these remote workers, and I think that brands who have a large percentage of their buyers who arepotentially these white collar remote workers, they’re going to have to do even more to keep them engaged and to give them the content that they need to feel comfortable, because you can bet that they’re doing huge amounts of research.

Adrian Tennant: Well, the trend towards remote working of course, was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The 11th chapter of your book is The COVID Inflection Point. What do you believe are some of the most significant lasting impacts of COVID on shoppers’ behaviors?

Devora Rogers: Yeah. Great question. I mean, the obvious thing is, is that going into stores in person, or buying online, those are obvious things that shifted. And some of those has those have, come back a little bit to pre-pandemic levels. But, that’s kind of obvious, but I think a less obvious findingis, in our book, we talk about the share of shoppers that say a particular issue is important to them cut by whether they were impacted by COVID. Did they have a job loss? Did they get sick or did they experience a death in their family due to COVID 19? And COVID-impacted shoppers are significantly more likely than non-impacted shoppers to say that treating employees well is important to them. That brands should make a positive difference in the world, by 18 percentage points. That equality, gender, sexual orientation, race, equal justice is important to them, by just really significant margins. And so I think that one thing that we may want to keep our eye on is not just where people buy or, you know, moving more to digital, but how COVID is impacting shoppers’ values, which we spent some time talking about. Because our research indicates it’s having quite a big impact. Now that will decline, in the coming years a bit. But I think that for people that were truly impacted by COVID in meaningful ways, there may be a quite long-lasting impact on how they make decisions and what kinds of brands they trust and what values they expect from the brands that they buy.

Adrian Tennant: Well, the book’s only been out for a couple of weeks, but what kinds of reactions have you had to Influencing Shopper Decisions from brand marketers and other consumer research professionals?

Devora Rogers: Sure. Well, there’s a whole chapter that we didn’t talk about in this podcast, but it’s basically on brand narcissism and it’s where my partner Rebecca lays down her Jerry Maguire letter and says brand tracking is broken for the world we live in. And that certainly has been an area of intense conversation among brands, and marketers, and, you know, really asking themselves what does it mean to be a narcissistic brand and what would be the alternative to that? And why does it matter? And what do shoppers actually need? And that’s really the answer, right, is find out what shopper needs are and deliver against that. And automatically, you will become less narcissistic. So I think that that is one that’s been very interesting to people and certainly the promiscuous shopping is of great interest. Like a lot of questions have come around you know, what’s the role of brand in this day and age, and we see it declining and that the way that brands can provide value is by informing people. It’s a very different, framework if you’re somebody that’s been in marketing and advertising for 30 years where it was all about awareness and my brand and my logo and my matching luggage, all my different sites. It’s a very different orientation. So those have been areas that we’ve gotten a lot of interest from and we also get a lot right now about these values. I think a lot of brands are asking themselves, like, what does it mean to be a good brand partner? What does that encompass? So we’re getting a lot of questions about that..

Adrian Tennant: Devora, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about you and your work at Alter Agents, or Influencing Shopper Decisions, where can they find you?

Devora Rogers: Yes. Influencing Shopper Decisions is available everywhere books are sold! And that is true, and kind of amazing to me, having published books on my own before versus this time through a publisher. And we are at and you can find more about the type of research we do, the types of clients we work with, and that kind of thing.

Adrian Tennant: And if you’d like to obtain a copy of Devora’s book, Influencing Shopper Decisions, as an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you’ll receive a 20% discount when you purchase online at Just enter the promo code BIGEYE20 at the checkout. Devora, thank you very much indeed for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Devora Rogers: It was my pleasure, thank you for having me.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guest this week, Devora Rogers, the co-author of this month’s Bigeye Book Club selection: Influencing Shopper Decisions. As always, you’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights”, just select “Podcast”. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us wherever you listen to podcasts and contributing a rating or a review. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Audience Branding Insights Strategy & Positioning

Many of today’s hottest brands began by marketing directly to customers instead of seeking retail intermediaries. Fast-growing brands like Misfits Market, Smile Direct Club, and Allbirds have benefited from DTC marketing advantages, including lower overhead, strong customer relationships, and a growing base of consumers who enjoy the convenience of online shopping. 

The increasing importance of developing a winning DTC strategy 

Even the increasing popularity of DTC businesses with consumers does not mean that it’s time to neglect the basics. Some market factors that sparked the DTC boom also threaten to impede it. Thus, DTC marketers have observed that they’re now operating in a less forgiving marketplace than they enjoyed last year. 

For instance:

  • According to a CNBC report, even the most prominent examples of DTC successes during the past few years need to cope with ongoing issues with supply chains and perhaps even worse, consumers worried about their economic futures and less willing to buy impulsively. 
  • Also, social distancing during the pandemic encouraged online shopping, and DTC companies benefited from this boom. Still, increased competition from internet retailers crowded the market and made advertising more expensive. At the same time, technological changes, such as Apple’s new privacy features, have worked to diminish the supply of available ads.

Five essential components of a DTC marketing strategy 

Rather than resting on their laurels and accepting slower growth, today’s market leaders have responded to market changes. For many realistic and budget-constrained marketers, adapting in the next few years won’t mean making dramatic changes. Instead, it’s time to revisit an effective DTC strategy’s basic and most essential parts. 

Targeted branding

Direct marketing gives businesses a chance to understand their customers. Even before a DTC business attracts its first sale, it should develop comprehensive buyer profiles and understand its intended audience’s potential pain points and values to develop an appealing brand. 

Billie projects itself as a source of affordable, convenient products for women, a solid social voice, and an element of fun and relatability. For example, Billie markets women’s razors. Right from the start, this brand associated itself with the goal of eliminating the “pink tax” that occurs when women pay more for seemingly similar items than men do. 

Unique messaging and packaging

Successful DTC businesses avoid having their products considered commodities through unique, appealing messaging and packaging. Some brands can even use DTC packaging to express their voice, notably since the package generally offers customers their first physical contact with the company. 

DTC package design doesn’t have to be extra flashy to help brands stand out on virtual shelves. For instance, the Big Eye blog highlighted Misfit Market’s mission to reduce food waste by selling produce that’s not shaped uniformly enough for grocery stores. The company furthers this socially responsible business goal by using recyclable cartons for shipping. 

Other DTC brands use packaging to make their brands memorable and not just another product on a virtual shelf. Examples include using reusable packaging to ensure the customer sees their brand long after the product’s used up and making packaging more useful, like businesses that print instructions on the inside of the box. 

Customer experience

DTC businesses thrive by adopting a customer-first business model. The attention to their customer’s needs gives these companies an advantage over non-direct competitors that consumers perceive as commodities. 

As an example, Casper practically reinvented the customer experience for mattress buyers. Before this company debuted, almost everybody went to a furniture or mattress store to let a salesperson guide them to products that fit budgets and requirements. 

Casper grew from nothing to $750 million in just four years by delivering quality mattresses in a box, offering easy returns, and helping their customers understand the importance of replacing outdated mattresses and getting a good night’s sleep. 

Conversion optimization

Seasoned marketers understand that optimizing conversions can make the difference between profits and losses. The best advice for improving conversions involves setting goals, determining metrics to measure progress, and then tracking and testing. However, this advice doesn’t offer any suggestions for how to improve. The importance of tracking and improving conversion rates always rises with the cost of advertising and market competition. 

Take some inspiration from a DTC business called Crossrope that offers premium jump ropes, accessories, and a fitness app. 

  • First, the company moved from other hosting to Shopify to use the vast ecosystem of apps they could use to streamline and enhance the shopping experience. 
  • The product pages incorporate high-quality videos of people using the products. 
  • An app combines ratings, pictures, and reviews to make it easy for prospective customers to learn how current customers like the products. 
  • User-generated content, like personal stories and before and after photos, engages website visitors. 

Crossrope began to develop a global reach. The company turned to an app that could display local payment options and prices. This change alone produced a 20-percent improvement in conversions. Crossrope also relies on an app to track conversions and automatically adjust checkout-page messaging, resulting in a one-percent conversion improvement. The app also offers personalized suggestions for additional items based on the initial selection. 

Full funnel marketing 

Many marketers think of a customer’s journey as linear, like a trek across a map. Today’s shoppers gather information about purchases from multiple channels simultaneously. Full funnel marketing acknowledges these shopping habits and simultaneously provides information about a brand on multiple channels. 

For instance, the Amazon Marketing blog reported that almost 70-percent of in-store customers would check products on their smartphones as they browse the shelves. About the same proportion of people will pull out a second screen to research something they’ve viewed on TV. 

To conform to today’s consumer shopping habits, a consumer package goods agency might analyze various platforms for the way consumers might use them to interact. For instance, TV commercials might focus on developing brand awareness, a social page could help develop a community, and a product page can deliver in-depth information while focusing on closing the sale. The shopping cart page should offer a good user experience and might provide a chance to suggest other purchases to complement the selected product.

How the best DTC brands succeed 

Marketing directly to customers offers plenty of advantages. At the same time, even prominent DTC unicorns have struggled to maintain growth during the past few months. Startups will face steeper challenges as they lack a large, loyal customer base to provide some support. Marketers need to ensure their DTC strategy excels at branding, user experience, and conversion optimization to make sure they can survive and thrive.

Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

Melina Palmer is a Behavioral Economics consultant whose podcast, The Brainy Business: Understanding the Psychology of Why People Buy, is listened to in over 160 countries. We discuss Melina’s book, What Your Customer Wants and Can’t Tell You, and how advertising professionals can benefit from understanding framing, priming, and herding. Melina provides practical applications of Behavioral Economics that maximize the impact of advertising and marketing.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Melina Palmer: The brain doesn’t work the way we think it should. In reality, the subconscious is making 99 percent of the decisions at any given time. Because we are a herding species, we look to others for making decisions. So when we see testimonials and star reviews we feel more comfortable making a decision.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. Last week, guest Kevin Perlmutter of Limbic Brand Evolution discussed how neuromarketing research and an understanding of behavioral economics can guide the development of brand strategy. Continuing the theme, this week’s episode provides another opportunity to hear an interview with behavioral economics consultant and CEO of The Brainy Business, Melina Palmer – which we first published last June. [MUSIC] Over the past couple of decades, our knowledge about the relationships between neuroscience, psychology, and real-world consumer behavior has grown considerably. Notable contributions to the literature include Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking: Fast and Slow, Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, and Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely. These works and others collectively provide insight into how social and psychological factors influence us every day and reveal that personal decisions are made at a subconscious level more often than not. With implications for advertising, marketing, product design, and customer experience, the principles and techniques that influence consumers to change their behaviors through non-conscious persuasion are categorized as Behavioral Economics. Our guest today is an expert and practitioner in this fascinating field. Melina Palmer is the founder and CEO of The Brainy Business, which provides Behavioral Economics consulting to businesses of all sizes around the world. With a Bachelor’s degree in business, Melina worked in corporate marketing and brand strategy for over a decade before earning her Master’s in Behavioral Economics. Melina’s excellent podcast, The Brainy Business: Understanding the Psychology of Why People Buy, is listened to in over 160 countries and used as a resource by many universities. And her first book, What Your Customer Wants and Can’t Tell You was published just last month. To talk about the book and how brand marketers and advertising professionals can leverage Behavioral Economics, Melina is joining us from her home office in Tumwater, Washington state. Melina, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Melina Palmer: Well, thanks so much for having me.

Adrian Tennant: Well, I attempted an introduction. Melina, how do you define Behavioral Economics?

Melina Palmer: I think you did a wonderful job with your introduction. And I typically just say that, you know, if traditional economics and psychology had a baby, we would end up with Behavioral Economics. The field really came about because traditional economics assumes logical people making rational choices in everything that they do. And because we’re all human and we know that’s not the world we live in, you end up with a bunch of models that don’t accurately predict behavior. So over time, you had economists and psychologists and neuroscientists entering into one another’s fields or working together on projects to see if there were these themes within the brain that could be used to more accurately predict behavior and what people will actually do instead of what we all think they should do. And Behavioral Economics was born.

Adrian Tennant: Now, prior to establishing your business, you had a decade of experience in corporate marketing and brand strategy. When were you bitten by the Behavioral Economics bug and realized it was something you wanted to go all-in on?

Melina Palmer: Well, it’s actually when I got my undergraduate degree in business administration and marketing, there was just one section of one book and one class had this like little tidbit that was about buyer psychology. And I remember reading it and thinking, “Oh, this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. This is so awesome!” And saying, “I’m going to go back and get a Master’s in this someday.” Like at that moment, I knew it wasn’t going to be an MBA, this is what I was going to do. And I spent the better part of ten years calling universities and seeing what schools and options they had available and was continually told, “That’s not a thing, that doesn’t exist, sorry!” And I was a little bit discouraged, but just working in my marketing space and loving what I did and doing some research and innovation and things like that. And I was part of an innovation program for credit union professionals. It’s kind of like a fellowship program and they brought in some people from The Center for Advanced Hindsight to talk about what they were doing in their work.

Adrian Tennant: What is The Center for Advanced Hindsight?

Melina Palmer: Yeah. The Center for Advanced Hindsight is the group out of Duke University. So that’s led by Dan Ariely, and I remember seeing the studies and had that epiphany moment of, “Oh, this is what I’ve been looking for.” And so I like cornered them, like “Tell me everything! What is this?” And so found that it was called Behavioral Economics and got myself into a Master’s program and here we are.

Adrian Tennant: Consistent themes of IN CLEAR FOCUS are developing customer intimacy and using consumer insights to inform strategy. What are some of the ways that a knowledge of Behavioral Economics can help us improve the ways we design and conduct marketing research?

Melina Palmer: The biggest thing to note across Behavioral Economics, and just anything that you’re doing in life is, is that the brain doesn’t work the way that we think it does or the way we think it should. Like to say that “should” is a four-letter word here at The Brainy Business. And in that way, we like to think again, that we’re logical conscious creatures and we’re using these computers in our brains very strategically in everything that we do. And in reality, the subconscious is making 99 percent of the decisions at any given time using rules of thumb, things that have worked in the past that help us to survive as a species: we need to operate in this way. But if you don’t understand those rules that are being triggered and your logical brain is trying to communicate with what you think is your buyer’s logical brain, that’s not what’s doing most of the actual buying and leading people through a grocery store or on a website or whatever it is. So understanding that 99 percent is done using these rules and then having some awareness of some of the most common ones can help you to just be much more effective and efficient in your communications, both internally working with team members as well as when you’re creating marketing materials, presenting prices, putting things on a website, whatever it is to be built out so that it works with the 99 percent instead of only that little bit of logic when you are able to trigger it.

Adrian Tennant: Reflecting on your past experience as a corporate marketer and the need for brands to develop creative messages that really resonate with consumers, which three principles drawn from Behavioral Economics would you say are the most important for advertising and marketing professionals to know about?

Melina Palmer: Well it’s hard to narrow to three, but I shall rise to the task. So the first one that I would say is most critical would be understanding the concept of framing. So the way you say something matters much more than what it is, you’re actually saying. One of my favorite examples of this would be: imagine you’re going to the grocery store and you need to buy some ground beef and you see two stacks. One is labeled as “90% Fat-Free” and those next to it labeled as “10% Fat.” Which one would you rather buy? And most everybody says “90% Fat-Free”. It just sounds and feels better, you know, “10% Fat,” you think, “Ooh, I haven’t been to the gym in like 18 months. Where’s that going to go? I don’t like this at all.” And “90% Fat-Free,” you think, “Oh, I’m making such a great choice for myself and my family.” It’s exactly the same thing. And we know that logically, but the subconscious hears it differently. So looking for places within your business or where your competitors may be are all talking about 10% fat, you know, where can you be the 90% fat-free message that’s going to just easily resonate? Even if the packaging looks exactly the same or the pricing is different, it’s just not about that. The way the subconscious hears it will trigger the behavior in that way. So framing, I would say is number one – there’s a reason it’s the first of the concept chapters. So I think that one is easy enough. The next would be looking, I think, at herding and social proof, they go super hand-in-hand. So it’s one thing there, but because we are a herding species, like cows and sheep and guppies, we look to others for making decisions and especially people who are like us. And when there are many people who are like us. So when we see testimonials and star reviews and long lines at a particular restaurant or whatever it is, When we see others have been there and have done something, we feel more comfortable making a decision. So that has a lot of power. or even being able to say that this particular product is the most popular can increase the likelihood that it’s going to buy it and it will become even more popular when you put that moniker on it. So be truthful, but if you have something that is popular or the best value or whatever, may feel like you don’t have to say it, but when you do it can increase the likelihood that more people will pick it. So that is one more. And I would say a third, we’ll go with priming, which is whether it’s imagery or word choice, something that happens just before the action can be very influential on a choice that someone is going to make. One example being: people were asked to work together on a project, put into a room and in one instance, there happened to be a briefcase that was in sight. The other half, there was a backpack in sight. Nobody said they even saw or noticed it. But those in the briefcase room were a lot more combative and keeping information to themselves on these cooperative tasks they were supposed to be working on. Whereas those in the backpack room were more cooperative. Because when we think about the associations that our brain has with a backpack is when we were, you know, in elementary school or high school and working on team projects. And briefcases are for boardrooms and battling it out over money or whatever it is. So again, everybody said they didn’t see it just like people may say they never notice Facebook ads or “Commercials don’t work on me.” That’s just wrong. Even if they don’t realize it, these things are happening in our brains all the time.

Adrian Tennant: What are some of the most common mistakes that are made in marketing communications, which could be avoided if Behavioral Economics principles were applied?

Melina Palmer: So I do have… and this was the second episode of my podcast. And at the time of recording, we’re coming up on three years, so there are many episodes there! But number two was the top five wording mistakes businesses make. So I would recommend checking that one out as it’s the second most downloaded podcast episode, still three years later. So one of the biggest things there is too much. And we like to think that people want tons of choices and they need all this additional information to be able to make a decision, when presented with too many options or features or whatnot, our brain just sort of gets overwhelmed, and the status quo, in that case, is to do nothing. And so “I’m going to think about that later” sort of a deal. So you can always say it in fewer words, whatever it is, if you boil it down,  how can I say this in the least possible amount of words? What’s the fewest bits, I can put here to help someone take a next step? And I do have a chapter in the book that’s dedicated to thinking about things in a series of small steps. We tend to think when we’re building out a marketing plan or whatever it is to say, “Well, you know, we’re going to mail the postcard or we send that email and people either buy or they don’t and we’ll track it.” and in reality, there are a lot of little micro-decisions in that process that are being ignored. That is what we would call a “nudge-able” moment. You mentioned the book Nudge. and so if you think actually with the email, as an example, you have to get through a spam filter. You have to then make sure that the subject line is enticing enough that someone doesn’t immediately hit delete, but they’re actually going to open it that then when they see what’s in there, they don’t go, “Oh, this is spam” and delete it. They keep reading and then they go to the next step of maybe going to click to learn more. And then they’re on your website and you have to not get distracted, especially if they’re on their phone and maybe they decide to open up Instagram and you want them to read something else and fill out a form, like lots of stuff happening. So, the least steps as possible, but think about how do you get them just to the next tiny little moment in each of those points and using behavioral tactics along the way to really just kind of keep them moving through that process.

Adrian Tennant: Pricing is an area that product and brand development professionals often have to consider. While there are quantitative research and statistical analysis tools that can help us find optimal price ranges for new products, as you describe in your book, Behavioral Economics can also be our friend here. Melina, can you tell us about the one word that increased sales by 38 percent, and the concept that’s at play there?

Melina Palmer: Yeah, absolutely. And pricing strategy is one of the biggest things that I do. I teach a course on it at Texas A&M, I also have a DIY course that’s available for anyone to go in and get. And so check those out. There’s lots of stuff for where Behavioral Economics applies to pricing. In the case of the 38 percent, that is another of my favorite stories and one that had a study. So they used grocery store end cap displays. And so one said, “Snickers bars – buy them for your freezer.” And the other says, “Snickers bars – buy 18 for your freezer”. Of which most of us can agree eighteen’s a lot and not really what we would buy in our logical brains. If you were the marketer setting up this ad, you would probably say, “I don’t know that I want to put out 18. It’s a big number and it’s arbitrary. And I don’t want to have to justify why I picked it and them is unlimited and people get a hundred snickers, if they want blah, blah, blah”. All your conscious brain trained to logic, why your subconscious feels uncomfortable and it maybe feels like it’s not that big of a difference. But when the number 18 was used instead of the word “them”, you had an increase of 38% in sales. And so there are actually a couple of things at play here. One is the concept of anchoring and adjustment. So the number that’s presented sets an anchor in the brain via priming, like we’re primed by the number to make a decision here. And in that case, “them” is like a fancy word for zero when we’re logic-ing about it, we’re talking about how it’s like unlimited, but someone going to buy, like “Maybe I’ll pick up two or something.” When we have the number 18, it’s more likely to get through that subconscious filter and your brain is going to then say, “Oh, 18. I’m so much better than everybody else. I don’t need 18. I’ll just get 6.” And you don’t even realize that you adjusted down from the high number instead of up from zero. And you still feel good about yourself and the decision and you move along with your day. The other really critical piece to this is underneath and kind of like behind the statements, there’s an implied question happening with the brain of the customer. So in the case of the word “them”, the question being asked, it’s being framed as “Would you like to buy some Snickers?” In the case where you swap that out for the number 18, the question is now “How many do you want to buy?” So there is this implied sale that’s in that framing of that kind of like subtext underneath the message that can make buying that much easier.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, the Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in specific areas of marketing and consumer research. Our featured book for May is Influencing Shopper Decisions: Unleash the Power of Your Brand to Win Customers by Rebecca Brooks and Devora Rogers. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with exclusive promo code BIGEYE20. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free e-book offer. To order your copy of Influencing Shopper Decisions, go to – that’s K O G A N P A G E dot com.

Adrian Tennant: Last October, Bigeye published a market research report, entitled Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. We surveyed consumers across America to find out how their shopping behaviors had changed as a result of the pandemic. In a special Bigeye video event, we’re joined by four experts who reflect on the study’s findings and explore the implications for retailers and brand marketers in 2022.

Doug Stephens: It’s logical to assume that as we see this metaverse construct, as we as individuals spend more and more time in these virtual worlds, that the adoption of things like virtual apparel might start to make more and more sense.

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: I think being channel agnostic and just making sure that you are you know meeting your consumer, where they are is important. to not think about channels as competitive to each other, thinking about them as complementary.

Andy Sheldon: When you’re watching something as a live stream, that’s linear, there’s no choice, but to watch what’s going on at that moment on the shopping teller.

Syama Meagher: I see NFTs as an invitation for consumers to join brands on a digital journey and for brands to invite consumers to spend their cryptocurrencies and their time into building a relationship with the brand. 

Adrian Tennant: For a lively discussion about the future of retail and marketing watch Bigeye’s Envision 2022. For details, go to

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Melina Palmer, CEO of The Brainy Business and author of What Your Customer Wants and Can’t Tell You: Unlocking Consumer Decisions and the Science of Behavioral Economics. Melina, what led you to write the book?

Melina Palmer: So I started my podcast while I was actually still in my Master’s program, because when I started, you know, I knew I was sort of early because I had been calling for years trying to find a program like this. And you know, on the academic side of Behavioral Economics, the field is built on decades’ worth of research. But in the applied space, it was surprisingly little that existed in the materials that my teachers were providing for me, just in what you could find. And so, things that were really clear to me as far as how this applies to brand strategy and pricing and communications and all of that, you just didn’t really see anywhere. And so I had gotten some advice to start a podcast and mine, as far as I still know, is the first real Behavioral Economics podcast that existed. Which is why there were so many people finding it from around the world. And in that way to make it really this applied space of being able to say, “This is what it is, and this is how you can do something with it.” And it really resonated with the audience to be able to get what you need without all the extra stuff and not having to go read oodles of academic journals and research papers. I can do that, so other people don’t have to. In the same way with the book, finding from the podcast was still having people reach out from around the world with this kind of common question of like, “You talk about it and it makes total sense. Like I get it, I hear what you’re saying. But where do I start?” And really, it just became clear that being able to put some of the boiled down to the most important, applicable stuff for people in business, to be able to go use without having to go get a doctorate and become an academic researcher because they have some interest in Behavioral Economics. So that’s I guess where the book kind of came from.

Adrian Tennant: Certainly one of the things that I really enjoyed about the book is the use of practical examples throughout the text. So, after introducing each concept, you present the reader with ways in which it can be applied in a business context to solve real-world problems. What prompted you to take this more action-oriented approach?

Melina Palmer: I would say it’s just my style more than anything. It’s – while I’ve only begun teaching professionally recently, I would say I’m a teacher at heart. And I think the podcast – for anyone that listens – knows that. And so, so many episodes of my podcast I have a worksheet, that’s a freebie that goes along with it. And just for me, I really wanted to do anything possible to make it so this book wasn’t something that would just sit on a shelf proverbial or otherwise collecting dust. I really want people to understand and get some comfort in using Behavioral Economics in their business in a way that it can, it just can change so much with really simple tips and tidbits.

Adrian Tennant: Purchasers of What Your Customer Wants and Can’t Tell You also receive access to a companion workbook. Could you tell us more about that?

Melina Palmer: Yeah. So I just can’t help myself when it comes to making everything as applicable as possible for listeners or readers. And so while the book does have a thing to try at the end of each chapter to start applying, there are additional worksheets and things to go about trying yourself in that companion workbook, which is 111 pages long. So lots of great content there for anyone who wants to continue to apply Behavioral Economics from the book and make it just really usable.

Adrian Tennant: You offer an example of how the temperature of coffee can make a difference in how people perceive each other. Can you tell us more about how Behavioral Economics concepts can be applied to our personal lives?

Melina Palmer: Yeah. So that is priming again, and in that study where someone unrelated held a coffee for just a few seconds before doing a study, those who held an iced coffee were more likely to rate people’s personalities as being cold and distant and difficult, compared to those who held the hot coffee and something they had no idea was related to what they were working on. So, you know, I kind of joke in the book of like, “Don’t deliver bad news to someone holding an iced coffee.” But I would say I do a lot of work with people and I have episodes dedicated to mindset and goal-setting. And so if you take this too, this is the same as the backpack and briefcase, there was another study that was just for a tiny fraction of a second people where they were watching a video. And there was a flash of a logo that you consciously couldn’t even pick up on. Half the people were shown an Apple logo, the other half an IBM logo. And then they were working on a project. And those who were shown the Apple logo were much more creative and innovative in what they came up with even though they didn’t notice that they saw the logo. And those who saw a Disney logo were more honest than those who saw the E Entertainment logo, you know, going on. And if you think about the power of a brand for one thing, that where people don’t even recognize that they saw it, but Apple is so impactful on the future decisions and actions that someone is making, if you want to be more innovative and creative in the work that you are doing and the way that you interact with others, you want to be more friendly. Yeah. Think about what’s around you in your office space. And if you have a bunch of, notebooks that say “TGIF” or like, “Ugh, another case of the Mondays, can’t wait for the weekend”, I’m a big fan of sarcasm, but I don’t have a lot of little sarcastic quotes around me when I’m working, because I know that they will impact everything that I’m doing. So if you want to be more innovative, put a big Apple logo on your wall and it’ll be constantly reminding you throughout your day. And if you want to be more friendly, I guess maybe have some Disney characters for when you’re talking with coworkers or other people in your life. But those priming things we don’t realize our eyes are scanning the world around us constantly two to three times per second. And it’s picking up on all of that, even if you don’t consciously recognize it and it impacts your behavior.

Adrian Tennant: In the final pages of your book, you offer advice for readers to help internalize Behavioral Economics concepts. You suggest that we all become curious questioners in the context of reading advertisements, so can you walk us through that?

Melina Palmer: Absolutely. It’s one of my favorite things. I love asking lots of questions and I think just approaching the entire world around you with curiosity is a great way to get started in thinking about things differently. So when you have a postcard in your mailbox. If you just go to throw it away or you go “Nah!” take a moment and go, “Why didn’t I care about this? Like, what does this look like? And how is that different from what I’m sending out to people?” Or if there’s an article that you want to click on a link, or when you’re walking through the grocery store, if your eye is drawn to a particular product, why is that the one you looked at? Why do you think they put it on that shelf instead of somewhere else? Going back to some of the priming, you know, there’s prime real estate in the cereal aisle, where and you’ll notice potentially now that the ones that are targeted for children, the mascots’ eyes are looking down. And there’ll be closer down on the shelf. And those targeted at adults, the eyes are looking straight on to try to have that relationship with the ultimate buying person who wants that particular product. So being able to look and just ask, “I wonder if they did that on purpose and if I was doing it, why would I have done that? Or why might I do something else?” Getting to question what others are doing can help you be more thoughtful about your own products and services and approaches as well.

Adrian Tennant: Another of the things that I really like about What Your Customer Wants and Can’t Tell You is the inclusion of links to episodes of your podcast that offer additional examples and further discussion of the principles you introduce. How many podcast episodes have you recorded to date?

Melina Palmer: 155 is the most recent and within the book, you know, there were a few less, I think we were in the one twenties or one thirties or something. But there are many links to episodes and some I knew were coming and conversations that have been recorded and things. So, really again, it is about being that additional resource. I know from my podcast, I have people constantly say that my show notes are some of the gold standard just very extensive with timestamps and tons of links to articles that I was reading, or the book that this quote came from, or where you can get more information in past episodes. So there’s just tons of stuff in those show notes. And people really value those who do want to dig deeper. It’s nice to have a reference that you can go to and know that that’s where that fact came from or whatnot. So the book itself outside of my podcast episodes, even there are over 200 citations within the book, so there’s lots and lots of past content and additional information for people to go find if they want to dig deeper.

Adrian Tennant: Melina, how does your company, The Brainy Business, typically work with clients?

Melina Palmer: You know, there’s a bit of a mix to make sure that there is kind of something for everyone. We have everything from for entrepreneurs and small business owners, some DIY courses and the books and the podcasts and things that people are able to get. And then also we have for corporate consulting, so that’s more like I would be going in and working with a team on a project if there’s a specific goal. I teach at Texas A&M University through the Human Behavior Lab there. And so having a tie-in, if we were wanting or needing to build out a project, that’s using the research lab to where we’re able to bring in the eye-tracking, and EEG scanning, and facial recognition, and all of that, we have the human behavior lab to lean on for those types of projects. So it’s a bit of a mix, which I enjoy. I like to say I’m kind of like a chameleon that would work best for the business instead of saying, “This is how you work with us and you have to fit within our box” I like to see what is the best fit for a company and what would work well for them in their team. And, we usually just sort of make it work.

Adrian Tennant: Do you foresee a greater adoption of Behavioral Economics in marcomms over the next few years?

Melina Palmer: Yes, and I really, really hope so. There’s so much more buzz and interest in questions and where I’ve been speaking at market research conferences. There’s a huge awareness of the field now. A lot of books have been coming out that are more mainstream. Bloomberg named Behavioral Scientists the top job of this decade back at the end of 2019, and there are programs in universities. I hope that every business school, honestly, Behavioral Economics should be a part of every single business curriculum. So hopefully, resources like my book, What Your Customer Wants, and Can’t Tell You, and those from others will be making their way in to help people to really use the information and have it be adopted across the industry.

Adrian Tennant: Melina if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about you, your consulting with The Brainy Business, your podcast, your online community, or your book, where can they find you?

Melina Palmer: Well, the best thing is everything is, easily found at and you can find the book, the podcast, social links, things like that. I am on all the socials pretty much as TheBrainyBiz, or you can find me as Melina Palmer on LinkedIn. And, yeah, if you want to even send an email –, you can find me that way too.

Adrian Tennant: Melina, thank you very much for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Melina Palmer: Thanks for having me.

Adrian Tennant: You’ve been listening to an encore edition of IN CLEAR FOCUS with guest Melina Palmer, behavioral economics consultant and CEO of The Brainy Business. Since we first published this episode last June, Melina has announced that she has a new book coming out later this year, entitled What Your Employees Need and Can’t Tell You: Adapting to Change with the Science of Behavioral Economics. Her new book is available for pre-order. As always, you’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights”. Just click on the button marked “Podcast”. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

A conversation with Kevin Perlmutter, Founder and Chief Strategist of Limbic Brand Evolution. Kevin explains how he established his brand strategy and neuromarketing consultancy, and shares some of the ways he helps brands increase consumer desire, engagement, and loyalty with emotional insights. We discuss the use of agile consumer neuroscience research tools to evaluate creative, and Kevin recommends three books that can help apply neuromarketing concepts to brand strategy.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Kevin Perlmutter: I’ve created a Limbic Sparks approach to brand strategy. And that is all about finding the intersection of emotional motivation between a brand and the people that brand is trying to reach.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us today. If you listen to IN CLEAR FOCUS regularly, you’ll know that throughout this season we’ve been discussing brand strategy. We’ve looked at what brands are, how to audit existing brand assets, using semiotics to decode brands’ signs and symbols, and how consumers attend to brand messages. As we’ve learned, contemporary branding practice is influenced by psychology and behavioral economics. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink published in 2007, and Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, published in 2011, resulted in a broader awareness among marketers of how non-conscious thought processes shape our experiences and the role that emotion plays in how we respond to brands. Our guest today is a brand strategy, customer experience, and a research innovator. Kevin Perlmutter is the Founder and Chief Strategist at Limbic Brand Evolution, a brand strategy and neuromarketing consultancy, helping clients increase consumer desire, engagement, and loyalty with emotional insights. He’s created the Limbic Sparks approach to brand strategy. Prior to founding Limbic, Kevin led strategy, innovation, and research for Made Music, a sonic branding studio, where he created their award-winning consumer neuroscience research capability. Prior to that, Kevin was a strategy leader at Interbrand where he created their first global customer experience offering. He’s also a regular contributor to Branding Mag, where he writes on the science of emotion and how it can impact brands. To discuss how emotional insights can be turned into a competitive advantage for brands, Kevin is joining us today from his office near New York City. Kevin, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Kevin Perlmutter: Thank you so much for having me. It’s wonderful to be part of this.

Adrian Tennant: Limbic is a brand strategy and neuromarketing consultancy. Could you start by defining the term neuromarketing for us in the context of brand strategy?

Kevin Perlmutter: Certainly, I mean, neuromarketing is such an important field and of course its origins are in the study, from a research perspective, of how the brain is operating: people going into labs, FMRI studies, and truly monitoring brain activity at an individual respondent level. But as it relates to brand strategy, it’s really about understanding relevant human emotions. It’s about understanding what causes people to think certain ways, how stimulus affects their understanding and context of a situation, and how they go about making decisions as it relates to products and experiences and interactions that they’re having in daily life.

Adrian Tennant: What kinds of brand strategy challenges do your clients bring to you at Limbic?

Kevin Perlmutter: Well, the primary focus of my business at Limbic Brand Evolution is brand strategy through the lens of emotional insight. So I’m doing the same kind of strategy work that most brand strategy consultants do. But my practice is exclusively focused on making decisions about a brand strategy through the lens of emotional insight. So I’m all about creating stronger connections between brands and people. And I’m tapping into the limbic part of our brain, the system one part of our brain, that operates at the subconscious level to control emotion, motivation, behavior, and memory to guide people toward decisions about brands based on how they want to feel in life in general. So the challenges that I’m helping my clients deal with? I’m helping them focus. I’m helping them connect. I’m helping them evolve. I’m helping them have deeper consumer insights that lead to more differentiated and relevant brand positioning, helping them have better customer experiences, messaging that actually connects with people. I’m helping them create those stronger connections between themselves and the people they want to reach.

Adrian Tennant: You just referred to system one thinking. I did mention in the introduction, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman who introduces this metaphor of system one and system two. So Kevin, what does an engagement with Limbic typically look like for a client?

Kevin Perlmutter: Well, the primary work I’m doing is foundational brand strategy at the brand level. And, that leads of course, to all kinds of activations. So it’s not just a brief for advertising. It’s a brief for how the brand presents itself through experiences, through messaging, through any kinds of marketing communications. So the typical work that I’m doing is: First, there’s a lot of insights discovery involved to create that strategy development. So the first phase of work is getting to understand more about the brand that I’m working with, their challenges, and all the things you would typically expect in a strategy engagement. I’m going very deep in the time that is allotted, given the project size, on understanding the customer and truly helping my clients understand what makes people tick. What is it that they need to know about people and how they’re going about life so that they could understand the relevant ways that their brand could play a valuable role? So once the project is set up and defined, I’m able to come in and out as a project-based strategist or in some cases I’m a retainer-based or a fractional Chief Strategy Officer for a brand over a longer period of time where I’m not helping them with just one project, I’m helping them with a variety of rolling challenges that they’re trying to solve.

Adrian Tennant: Do you typically engage with agencies’ or clients’ in-house creative teams? And if so, what are the dynamics like in those relationships?

Kevin Perlmutter: Yes. I mean, that’s some of the greatest work I get to do is the collaborations I have with other agencies, creative agencies, or in-house client creative teams. I love to collaborate and the work that I do requires collaboration at some level, because I’m not doing all of the activation work. I’m doing the strategy, I’m setting the brief. I’m setting up the creative activations for greater success and effectiveness. So sometimes that results in a handoff of my work to other teams. Sometimes I bring in the creative resources to do that work with my clients. And sometimes my work is extended to be a seat at the table with those teams, and help them through the activation process. Sometimes I’m doing projects independently with my clients, and sometimes I’m being brought in by creative agencies to fill a void in their roster and actually create the Limbic Sparks strategy that is going to help their work be more successful. 

Adrian Tennant: As someone who worked agency-side yourself for many years, do you think you’re viewed with less suspicion than other types of consultants?

Kevin Perlmutter: Yeah, it’s an interesting territory. And it kind of says a bit about our industry, that the question has to be asked that I might be brought in with suspicion. But the true answer is that my best relationships in the business are with agencies and creative teams. And I understand how to work with creative teams. I’ve worked in many creative environments as a strategist and what I bring to the table starts with a trusting relationship between me and my creative partners. They trust that I understand their job and their stresses and what they are on the hook to deliver. And they know, through the work we do together, that I’m going to help their work be more successful as a partner in the process. I’m not there to trip up their work. I’m not there to just represent what the client wants, which is the last thing that they want to hear. I’m there to actually help uncover insights that will make valuable contributions to the creative process. In fact, you prepped me a little bit and I knew this topic was going to come up. And interestingly, just the other day, I got a note from a partner of mine at a creative agency. We just finished a project together. And I was brought in as a strategist on the project and the creative team is continuing to do their work. And she actually wrote to me, and this is worth noting. She says, “it’s been an absolute joy to collaborate with you on this work, your ability to insert emotional resonance, and translate it to focused outputs for the team has been simply outstanding.” I mean, and that’s the best kind of compliment I can get from a creative partner when my work is part of their work.

Adrian Tennant: Oh, absolutely. Well, as I mentioned in the introduction, you’ve held senior positions in the industry. I’m curious, Kevin, what led you to an interest in emotion-based consumer insights?

Kevin Perlmutter: Well, thank you for that. And yes, I’ve worked on the agency side for many years, ad agencies in the beginning of my career, seven years, as you mentioned at Interbrand, where I launched the customer experience practice. And then four and a half years at a music studio where I led strategy, innovation and research. And when I was at Interbrand, I went there because that was the stage two of my career, where I was looking to get out of advertising and stop making promises that brands weren’t keeping and focusing more on delivering great experiences. So the ability to focus on a customer experience practice and launching that was an amazing moment for me in my career because I was able to innovate something new. When I went to the music studio, I learned a lot about the science of emotion, and I learned about neuroscience when creating that research capability with my outside partners. And I have neuroscience friends right now that continue to help me to understand how the brain works and how to apply that insight to brand strategy. So after years of working in customer experience, years of learning about how the brain works, I recognized there was an opportunity, a void in the market, to create a brand strategy consultancy that brings those worlds together to focus exclusively on emotional insight, how the brain works, and apply that to strategy. So that was really the inspiration to create the business that I’ve created, is my interest in bringing emotion-based insight into brand strategy, not as a side note, but as the epicenter of how I think.

Adrian Tennant: Well, before we get to your work with Limbic Brand Evolution, I would like to talk about that experience with music. Traditional market research of course relies on self-reported data, which means survey respondents or focus group participants consciously consider a question before making a selection or answering the moderator. The pioneering work you did with Made Music Studio focused more on non-conscious or implicit responses. Kevin, could you tell us what you learned about the subconscious impact of emotion on consumer desire as it relates to sonic branding?

Kevin Perlmutter: Yeah. Well, the biggest thing that I learned is that if our job as marketers is to motivate people to take action, to learn about a brand, to desire that brand, to move in that direction. If our job is to motivate them, then we need to be operating in a way that has the greatest impact on what motivates human beings. And when we were working in the music studio and wanting to understand how the sound that we were creating was impacting people, we recognized that sound affects people at a subconscious level before it affects them consciously. So trying to evaluate the work at a conscious level, how does that sound make you feel? Well, it made them feel something. You’ve asked the question, and now they’re thinking about their answer and telling you a story that may not be what they originally instinctively felt. So the biggest takeaway from working at the music studio for me, was that our brains have a lot going on that we are not consciously aware of. And it’s informing a lot of our feelings, our associations, and our behaviors. And as marketers, as brand people, if we’re not tapping into those instincts that people are having, and we’re only focused on their conscious responses, then we’re not getting the full story and we’re not doing our jobs most effectively.

Adrian Tennant: Kevin at Limbic Brand Evolution, you offer clients a process you call Limbic Sparks. Could you explain what it is?

Kevin Perlmutter: Yeah, well, my company is named Limbic Brand Evolution. That was very deliberate because my practice is focused on the limbic part of our brain. So I had to think, “Well, what am I actually doing for my clients?” So I came up with this term, Limbic Sparks. It’s my trademark, it’s my IP. And, I’ve created a Limbic Sparks approach to brand strategy. And that is all about finding the intersection of emotional motivation between a brand and the people that brand is trying to reach. You see, the thing we have to understand is that brands should exist to make people’s lives better. All of them are in the world, but not all of them are dedicated to making people’s lives better. And people on the other side of that equation are not walking around, looking for brands. They’re trying to have a good life. So my job as a strategist is to do what I call: create Limbic Sparks and Limbic Sparks happen when people intersect with a brand and they feel like, “Wow, this brand gets me. They are there for me, their experience, their offering, their products, their messaging was designed with me in mind and it just feels like a perfect fit.” Sparks fly and the instinctive part of our brain and all of a sudden we desire that brand. That’s what my process is designed to achieve.

Adrian Tennant: So in what kinds of ways does the Limbic Sparks process impact outcomes or deliverables for your clients?

Kevin Perlmutter: So what my process does first and foremost is it focuses very efficiently on what matters most. It’s focused on how we want people to feel and it leads to differentiated brand positioning that is proven to be more effective simply because it’s focused on the things that matter most to people and the things that will inspire the greatest action that’s compelling.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, the Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in specific areas of marketing and consumer research. Our featured book for May is Influencing Shopper Decisions: Unleash the Power of Your Brand to Win Customers by Rebecca Brooks and Devora Rogers. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with exclusive promo code BIGEYE20. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free e-book offer. To order your copy of Influencing Shopper Decisions, go to – that’s K O G A N P A G E dot com.

Adrian Tennant: Last October, Bigeye published a market research report, entitled Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. We surveyed consumers across America to find out how their shopping behaviors had changed as a result of the pandemic. In a special Bigeye video event, we’re joined by four experts who reflect on the study’s findings and explore the implications for retailers and brand marketers in 2022.

Doug Stephens: It’s logical to assume that as we see this metaverse construct, as we as individuals spend more and more time in these virtual worlds, that the adoption of things like virtual apparel might start to make more and more sense.

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: I think being channel agnostic and just making sure that you are you know meeting your consumer, where they are is important. to not think about channels as competitive to each other, thinking about them as complementary.

Andy Sheldon: When you’re watching something as a live stream, that’s linear, there’s no choice, but to watch what’s going on at that moment on the shopping teller.

Syama Meagher: I see NFTs as an invitation for consumers to join brands on a digital journey and for brands to invite consumers to spend their cryptocurrencies and their time into building a relationship with the brand. 

Adrian Tennant: For a lively discussion about the future of retail and marketing watch Bigeye’s Envision 2022. For details, go to

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Kevin Perlmutter, Founder and Chief Strategist of Limbic Brand Evolution, a brand strategy and neuromarketing consultancy. During a recent webinar for Branding Mag, you said that bringing neuromarketing insight into the creative process has to start with an understanding of people and what they want to accomplish in their lives. In what kinds of ways do you translate those insights and use them to inform creative or strategic briefs?

Kevin Perlmutter: Yeah. So as I’ve been saying, you know, I’m focused on the things that matter most, and the single most important question that I help my clients answer is why should people care about your brand? With an emphasis on the word care. I mean, honestly, most people are indifferent. They’re not walking around looking for brands. They’re just looking to have a good life. So, by focusing on that question, why should people care? I’m constantly seeking to understand through questions, through research, through conversations, through observation, I’m trying to understand what is it that this brand is doing that is so wonderful that more people should know about? And what is it that people that this brand wants to reach are actually trying to achieve in life? And how can I create a strategy that leads to messaging and experiences that bring those two worlds together? So really, that’s how it affects the creative process and how it informs the briefs that are more powerful than briefs that don’t focus on that question.

Adrian Tennant: Once creative has been developed, do you typically test to evaluate the work?

Kevin Perlmutter: I’m a big fan of testing and evaluating work. And you know, that question really has more to do with a client’s budget and their ambition for understanding more reliably that the work is solid and will achieve their goals. So, when there’s an opportunity to test the work, I’m certainly all for that, I’m a proponent of testing. Sometimes the gap between where you started and where you’re going is so large that testing may not even seem necessary because you’ve clearly solved the challenge in a new and interesting way that everyone on the team feels is definitely taking it to a new level. And the investment in research is not necessarily there. Sometimes you’re working on such a big stage with such a big brand, where the investment that comes after the strategy is so large that spending a little extra money on research is definitely worthwhile. And you want to just have that extra bit of validation before you move forward. So, I am a big fan of testing the work, but I don’t always feel it’s necessary. But I’ll never shy away from it if it’s something that the client wants to do.

Adrian Tennant: So Kevin, what are some of the most interesting projects that Limbic has undertaken recently?

Kevin Perlmutter: So, yes, I love that question because there’s some really awesome projects that I’ve been doing. I’ve had my company now for about three years. And in that time, you know, there have been a handful of projects related to brand creation, actually launching a brand new offering that has not been put out into the market yet. So I’ve worked with several new brands to determine how they should be positioned, what their value is to the world, originating and helping them define their personality, and their messaging, and guiding how they come to life. As I said, I collaborate with creative agencies on visual identity and website designers. Oftentimes my role is both strategy and copywriting for the website. So that’s brand creation has been one category of really interesting projects. Another one is portfolio architecture. Oftentimes I’m working with a client on their offering architecture or sometimes working with a very large brand that has multiple offerings and emerging offerings that are becoming broader than their original core and they’re trying to figure out how they can make the entirety of their offering clear and compelling, and making sure that each offering that they put out there is distinctively adding value to the overall brand promise. So that’s a very interesting type of project that I get to do. Sometimes it’s an individual project. Sometimes it’s an ongoing relationship where I’m rolling through their different offerings and helping them figure out how to make them distinct and valuable. And then the last one is typically repositioning. I do a lot of work with service-based businesses. Sometimes they’re a commodity in their space. You know, you have one company in this field, it’s offering the same exact services as five others in their field and geographic territory. But my job is to help make them distinct in that competitive set and, oftentimes the answer lies in their style of service and what customers love about them and what makes their style of service distinct from their competitors. And, oh yeah, “Of course we offer all of these things that are the same as our competitors, but when you’re working with us, this is how you will feel differently, how you will be treated differently as a customer.”

Adrian Tennant: What are the most common misconceptions that you find clients or agencies have about consumer neuroscience and neuromarketing?

Kevin Perlmutter: Well, I think first of all, they hear those words and it’s new. So a lot of times people shy away from the new. It’s an instinct that we have. It’s a cognitive bias that we go down the path of least resistance and avoid things that are new and complicated and require a lot of investigation. So, first of all, I think that the fact that it’s new causes people to not understand or overestimate how complicated it is. I think the second thing is that, the perception is that it’s expensive because neuromarketing is often associated with pulling people into a lab and doing FMRIs and very expensive research and it’s not like that anymore. There are research methodologies out there that are much more efficient, can be done at a quantitative level, can be done online. And if you find the right partner, then you will be working with a research methodology that is reliable, validated scientifically, and has high degrees of proven reliability and it’s not that expensive to bring that into the work. And I think the biggest misconception is that it’s not that important. I’ve bet my career on the fact that that is not true, uh, that it is incredibly important, that there is research and data that proves it’s incredibly important. And I think it’s a misconception that ignoring this is OK.

Adrian Tennant: So Kevin, how do you keep up to date with the ever-expanding universe of research platforms and possibilities?

Kevin Perlmutter: You know, I have a lot of friends in the business. I have a lot of friends at research companies. I read a lot. But the most important thing is to recognize that technology is allowing us to get better and better at understanding people’s instincts and motivations and giving us more of an ability to predict their behavior. There’s evidence out there that this is an important thing that’s happening. There are a lot of research companies out there claiming that they do this kind of work. I would caution that not all of them have gone through the rigor of validating that their methodologies will get you reliable results. So you really need to vet the companies that are out there, because this is a bit of a movement and people are jumping on and finding ways to do research that imitates those that have been pioneers in validating their methodologies. But, I keep up with these conversations and it’s important to me to know where this is going, because it’s very important for our industry.

Adrian Tennant: Well, when you and I first spoke about how we might structure this podcast conversation, I noticed that you and I have many of the same books on our office shelves. So are there any particular titles that you found especially helpful or insightful that you’d recommend to IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners interested in learning more about the topics we’ve been discussing?

Kevin Perlmutter: Yeah, certainly there are. You know, one of the most informative books on the topic that you mentioned earlier is Daniel kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, which is an incredibly in-depth read that I would work hard to get through or at least, you know, understand the highlights of, because that’s the foundation of a lot of the things that we’re talking about. There’s a book called How Emotions Are Made that I think is a very insightful book that recognizes a lot of the principles that I believe in, regarding emotions and context of experiences and how that affects people’s emotions. And slightly off the topic of emotion in the way that we’ve been talking about it, is a book that I’m a huge fan of called Nine Lies About Work. And what Nine Lies About Work does, is it busts nine myths about corporations and policies and how things typically happen. And one of the biggest conversations in that book is around leadership. And I think this does apply to what branding is all about. It asks the question, what are the common traits of leaders, the biggest leaders in the world? And the answer to that question is that, in fact, you know, while there are many articles that have said, well, “leaders are this, this, this, and this and this,” that the common traits of the most famous leaders of the world, there are no specific common traits. In fact the biggest leaders in the world, the biggest innovators in the world are such usually because they’re very good at one or two things. And then they surround themselves with people who could fill in the gaps of what they’re not as good at. So the common traits of leaders aren’t necessarily about how they lead. It’s actually about how they inspire. The biggest leaders in the world are leaders because they’ve inspired the most followers. And being inspirational and understanding how to inspire people is the most important thing that we need to be thinking about, not only as leaders, but as leading brands.

Adrian Tennant: Kevin, how do you see the role of brand strategy evolving over the next five years or so?

Kevin Perlmutter: Well, I certainly see it moving more in the direction of the way that Limbic Brand Evolution and the Limbic Sparks approach to brand strategy is set up to help customers. I recognize that people are going to catch on, that the research methodologies are out there, that the data on the power of emotion is becoming more well-known. That me being out there as a writer for Branding Mag, and as a podcast speaker and a podcast host, I’m putting information out there that I’m hoping people catch onto. I think that, in general, strategy and the creative brief that people have been using for the last many, many, many years, is in need of a major revision. I think it focuses too much on the brand and the client. It focuses on what they do as opposed to why people should care. So it’s sending creatives down the wrong path by focusing them on reasons to believe and proof points. And I think those briefs and strategy will spend more time focusing on the people that that brand is trying to reach and what makes them tick. And why they should care. And that should actually become the most important question that brand strategists answer going forward. And, if that happens, I think we’re going to find that brands who take that road will become more engaging. They’ll become more desirable. They’ll inspire more loyal customers. And there’ll be bigger parts of people’s lives.

Adrian Tennant: Kevin, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about your work at Limbic Brand Evolution, or check out your podcast, Let’s Talk Limbic Sparks, where can they find you?

Kevin Perlmutter: People can find me on LinkedIn, of course, Kevin Perlmutter is my name and I’m easily found there. But the best place to learn about my business, my practice is the Limbic Brand Evolution website. And on that website, there’s a lot of information about how I approach strategy. There’s also the Limbic Sparks podcast page where I do interviews with brand leaders who are turning emotional insight into a competitive advantage and driving business growth for the brands that they serve. And I’m hearing their stories about how they’re using the types of strategy and research and insights, develop insights techniques, that I use in my practice. And I’m hearing how they’re actually achieving that business growth in these ways. There’s also an emotional intelligence blog on my website, where articles that I’ve written and podcasts that I’ve been on are posted. So that is the best way. And if anybody wants to speak with me, there’s a Meet with Kevin link on my website where people can book time and I would be happy to talk with anyone who wants to have a conversation.

Adrian Tennant: Kevin, thank you very much for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Kevin Perlmutter: Thank you so much for having me.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guest this week. Kevin Perlmutter, Founder and Chief Strategist of Limbic Brand Evolution. As always, you’ll find a full transcript and links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under insights, just click on the button marked podcast. And if you haven’t already please consider subscribing to IN CLEAR FOCUS wherever you listen to podcasts or add us to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

In October, Bigeye published an exclusive report, Retail Disrupted, and recently released ENVISION 2022, a video exploring key findings. This week’s pod is an extended interview with ENVISION guest Syama Meagher, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Scaling Retail, an innovative business consultancy. During our interview, Syama shared new insights about traditional and digital fashion – and why she believes the metaverse and Web3 offer retailers exciting opportunities. 

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Syama Meagher: I consider myself a consumer futurist. I’m always following the money, right? I’m going, “Where is new wealth being created? How are customer values shifting? And how are we looking at being able to take some of that market share, take some of those dollars and be able to create value?”

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us today. Last October, Bigeye published a market research report entitled Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. We surveyed over 1,500 consumers aged 18 to 55 across America to find out how their shopping behaviors have changed as a result of the pandemic. Now, we’ve recently released a video, ENVISION 2022, in which four experts discuss key findings from the retail disrupted study and explore some of the potential implications for retailers and brand marketers. A consistent theme of our conversations was the metaverse. Decentraland, a virtual world, hosted the first Metaverse Fashion Week last month, featuring dozens of global brands. Visitors were able to virtually experience fashion shows, attend live music sessions at branded after parties, and buy and wear digital clothing directly from catwalk avatars. Our podcast today is an extended interview with one of our guests for ENVISION 2022, who joined me to discuss the new world of digital fashion. With a background in traditional retail and e-commerce, Syama Meagher has held senior positions with Macy’s, Barney’s, and Gucci among others, and today is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Scaling Retail, an innovative business consultancy, specializing in launching and scaling successful fashion retail companies. She’s also an in-demand keynote speaker, a regular contributor to Forbes, and a sought-after fashion industry commentator. Syama joined us from her home in San Francisco. Syama, welcome!

Syama Meagher: Thank you, Adrian. I’m so happy to be here. 

Adrian Tennant: When did you first develop an interest in fashion?

Syama Meagher: When I was nine years old, I was that girl who went into Macy’s and went, “Oh my gosh, why are things on sale?” And wrote one of my first papers on it. So I think from a retail interest point of view, sadly, I think I’ve been curious about the retail industry since about the age of nine. And what I think has been so interesting is to kind of see how that very first inclination on why things go on sale has led me towards a whole new world of building and growing business.

Adrian Tennant: So, was there a particular time or an event that prompted you to pursue a career focused on fashion?

Syama Meagher: You know, what was so interesting is I realized that I had developed a very strong love of economics, and I always was very passionate about how systems worked. But I was also very much in love with fashion and style. And what I’d realized was the best way to execute these macro principles, these ideas around behavioral economics, but to do so in a way that was very tangible, is really what got me to fall in love with fashion because fashion is so personal. It is our identity. It is how we engage with others. So I would say, you know, it actually came out shortly after college. In university, I studied economics and philosophy, and I said, “You know what? I don’t know if I want to apply these things that I know how to do to the finance world. I think I want to be able to apply all of these great principles and ideas to the fashion world.”

Adrian Tennant: Are there particular fashion houses, designers, or entrepreneurs whom you particularly admire, or who have had a significant influence on your own approach to the business of fashion?

Syama Meagher: That’s a fantastic question. You know, I find that when I’m looking to the innovators of tomorrow, I try to look at very cross-disciplinary types of folks. So for example, thought leaders like Tom Goodwin is someone who I very much look up to. I love the ideas and thought leadership that he’s brought to tech companies. And as we look to see how fashion is growing and what happens and what moves in it, I find that actually, people from other arenas are able to provide some very interesting insight. So specifically, in terms of fashion designers, I mean, look, core to my heart, I would say I’ll always be a Phoebe Philo fan from Celine. She’s always been someone who I just admired: tastes, aesthetic, strong points of view, and commitment I think to community. And so what I think is so fascinating is when we think about the early luxury and advanced contemporary fashion brands, like, you know, Comme de Garçons and some of these brands that were so niche early on. They really garnered the love and attention of fashion fanatics, and they stayed so true and core to their identities that they’ve really been able to stand the test of time. Like Rick Owens, for example. And now you have all of these direct to consumer brands who are trying to build community, but what we’ve seen through designers like Rick Owens is the ones who stayed true to their core, their core aesthetic, their core consumers, those are the ones who continue to stay forever.

Adrian Tennant: Syama, could you tell us a bit more about your company, Scaling Retail, and the types of clients you typically work with?

Syama Meagher: Absolutely. So the thing that I love the most about Scaling Retail is we take a very 360-degree approach to business building, which I think is very different for most consultants who will come in with a very particular lens. What we’ve been able to do working with first time founders, and those who are interested in getting into spaces for the first time, is hold their hands across five main pillars. And that’s understanding your finances, your operations, looking at your product, your sales, and your marketing. And those are really five integral pillars. You cannot have siloed business models anymore, right? We need to be able to work integratively. So that is a very unique approach that we take to business. Now, in conjunction with that, we’ve also been able to attract an assortment of very interesting and exciting brands. Everything from working with the United Nations on product launches, to working with cities like the City of Coral Gables to help them with their city revitalization of their small businesses, to cannabis, fashion, lifestyle, you name it. It’s been an incredible gamut of companies and the impact that I think that’s been so incredible to see is when you see a business go from $250,000 in revenue to 10 million in revenue. That takes a moment to pause and say, “Oh my gosh, how do we actually start to create the secret sauce and to do so with every client in their own unique way?”

Adrian Tennant: Now of course, Syama, you’re also an investor and advisor. What elements typically need to be in place for you to consider investing in a startup?

Syama Meagher: That’s a really great question. So when it comes to the types of businesses, I invest across multiple verticals. And what I’m looking to do is get in on that pre-seed or seed stage round. So that’s either on the cusp of having product or good product market fit, very early stages to be able to see great accelerated growth. I am looking for companies that are on the forefront of innovation, whether that is sustainability, supply chain innovation, business model innovation. And predominantly these days I’ve been really focusing and doubling down on female-owned businesses and really starting to support the ecosystem of female entrepreneurs.

Adrian Tennant: What kinds of companies have you invested in?

Syama Meagher: So one of my favorites so far is a company called Rebundle and what they’re doing that’s fascinating is they’re the first product to innovate in the hair-braiding beauty space. Traditionally, when women get their hair braided, they’re pulling hair, either it’s synthetic hair that’s been produced for the purposes of being braided, or they’re getting hair that’s coming from other countries. And so what’s so important here is that beauty is obviously a tremendous market. And what I love so much about the thesis of Rebundle is they’re actually sourcing natural fibers that are recyclable in order to create this product that traditionally contributed to so much waste. And so this kind of innovation and product development in the supply chain, I think is so incredible. So that’s one. Another one that I’m so excited about is called The House of Wise and that is a CBD brand that’s really geared towards women. And what I love about the thesis around this business is it’s empowering women to create their own communities, to have conversations around sex, sports, wellbeing, sleep. And to be able to talk about these things very candidly while building these friendship networks and connections. So again, another female-driven business across different sorts of verticals, but focused on innovation and community.

Adrian Tennant: Now, you mentioned Rebundle as one of the companies you’ve invested in. In our retail disrupted report, we saw a greater level of interest among Gen Z consumers in recycling and reselling clothing and accessories. How are you seeing fashion brands adapt to younger consumers’ social and environmental concerns?

Syama Meagher: One of the things that I love so much about contemporary new businesses, and small businesses in particular, are the ability to be agile. You know, over the last 10 years, the ability to shift and change whether that’s supply chain, sustainability focuses, that has been really to the benefit of many young brands today. Some interesting innovations that I’ve seen are really building in the end of life of the product into the onset of the business model. So therefore right, when a Gen Z consumer is purchasing that product for the first time, there is already a resellable or recyclable program that is built into the business model. And that, I think, that circularity, of being able to sell to a consumer, have there be a platform to resell it or even to buy it back, I think is going to be fantastic, not just for Gen Zs, who want to feel more connected to their products and have products with more values, but ultimately, Adrian, to the environment, right? For us to be able to have a much healthier planet and a much healthier lifestyle.

Adrian Tennant: Digital fashion, nonfungible tokens, blockchain, cryptocurrencies, the metaverse. I know you believe they all offer opportunities to revolutionize the ways in which fashion brands conduct business and connect with consumers. So Syama, I’m curious, was there one particular moment or event that triggered your interest in Web3?

Syama Meagher: So, back in 2014, which is now nearly 10 years ago, I had the privilege of opening up a retail store for a client in the West Village. And that opening of that store was also the advent of when we first launched the Bitcoin ATM. So you can say I’ve been crypto-curious since about 2014. And what’s hilarious is that at that time, people care less about a Bitcoin ATM, but for us at that time, it was extremely innovative and exciting. And it really was my first toe in the water that let me say, “Hey, there’s something here.” Now, fast forward nearly seven years later, we saw the first sale of that Beeple NFT from Christie’s. And what I thought was so fascinating about the sale of that was it showed not only that we were ready to have a new form of art and a new form of communication, which obviously artists are always on the forefront. But we were actually able to see a market that was hungry, rich, and ready to spend. Now for me, I consider myself a consumer futurist. I’m always following the money, right? I’m going, “where is new wealth being created? How are customer values shifting? And how are we looking at being able to take some of that market share, take some of those dollars and be able to create value?” So the moment that I saw that there was really an abundance of transactions that were happening on the marketplace in terms of people buying into crypto, crypto really kind of increasing its value. So now we have more crypto millionaires in 2020 and 2021 than we’ve ever seen before. Combining that with the utility, right? Of being able to now express that into art, into having a commodity, to me was like whoa – my mind kind of exploded. And I said, “oh my gosh! We need to be able to educate brands into how to properly execute this new invitation for our consumer to come and play with them in a new way.” And it’s not using the US dollar, it’s using Ethereum or Bitcoin or any of these other tokens and solutions. So I see NFTs as an invitation for consumers to join brands on a digital journey and for brands to invite consumers to spend their cryptocurrencies and their time into building a relationship with the brand.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, The Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in specific areas of marketing and consumer research. Our featured book for April is Paid Attention: Innovative Advertising for a Digital World by Faris Yakob. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with exclusive promo code BIGEYE20. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free e-book offer. To order your copy of Paid Attention, go to – that’s K O G A N, P A G E dot com.

Adrian Tennant: Last October, Bigeye published a market research report, entitled Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. In a special Bigeye video event, we’re joined by four experts, including this week’s podcast guest, Syama Meagher.

Syama Meagher: I see NFTs as an invitation for consumers to join brands on a digital journey and for brands to invite consumers to spend their cryptocurrencies and their time into building a relationship with the brand.

Adrian Tennant: For a lively discussion about the future of retail and marketing watch Bigeye’s ENVISION 2022. For details, go to

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. You’re listening to a conversation with Syama Meagher, the founder and chief executive officer of Scaling Retail, who was recently a featured guest with Bigeye’s ENVISION 2022 video event. Well, I mentioned in the intro that you worked with Gucci in the past. The iconic fashion house released a digital version of one of their purses that actually cost more than the physical version did. Syama, what’s the appeal of investing in an NFT from a luxury brand compared to purchasing a physical product from that brand?

Syama Meagher: So interesting, right? Because it’s not like the person who bought the NFT got the handbag, right? They just got the NFT. Now, what I think is important to project ourselves into is, a future or a lifestyle where we want to represent who we are, wherever we’re engaging with people, right? You and I are engaging right now. How do I best represent myself? How can I show you who I am in the context of this digital conversation? And so when I think about things like the value of an NFT, you know, there are so many different utilities for it, but someone who’s going to buy that Gucci NFT, who wants to engage with that brand digitally. Chances are they’re spending a lot of their lives, right, and their life online, engaging with other people digitally, right? If I’m spending a lot of time going to parties and events, and I’m seeing people in real life, well, you better believe I’m going to want the social capital and status that comes along with having that Gucci handbag so I can show it off in real life. So if you think of our products and the things that we buy as extensions of identity and extensions of self, one doesn’t have to look much further than saying, “Well, where am I showing up every day? And where do I want people to get to understand and know me better?” So that digital version of a handbag, right, having those NFTs from luxury brands or from artists are going to become increasingly important as we have more platforms and opportunities to showcase and share with each other, our social capital.

Adrian Tennant: Well, I understand how that works for really well-established, large luxury brands. I know your client base also includes pre-revenue, or early growth stage companies. So in what kinds of ways are you thinking about NFTs and web three in relation to their businesses today and into the future?

Syama Meagher: Great question. NFTs are an invitation for consumers to be a part of a journey. As a small brand, there are so many ways in which you want people to be evangelizing and to be a part of your community. And so many reasons why it’s so valuable. The first is we are seeing now smaller brands use NFTs as fundraising mechanisms. That means instead of going to, let’s say a crowdfunding place in order to raise capital for your business, you can raise non-dilutive capital. So that means capital from consumers that are coming into your bank account that are not going to require a line item on your cap table. They’re not going to own a piece of your business, but they’re going to own a piece of that journey. So what I’ve been working with brands on is really not only how do we get you Web3, but truly, what are the consumer problems that you’re solving that actually Web3 is going to help you solve a lot easier? So good examples of that would be: let’s say I’m building community and I’m inviting everyone to come to an event. And this event that I’m doing is going to be one in 20 events of the year. And I want to see who are my most loyal fans, right? Not even consumers, but loyal fans. Well, I might, for everyone who shows up to my event, I might airdrop them an NFT. That’s almost like a ticket for the event and that way we can see who’s attending the event. Now let’s say they collect 15 out of the 20 events. Well, that person may not have been a purchaser of my product, but they sure as hell are brand loyal. These are our evangelists. So I’m going to go ahead and reward that person who’s now unlocked these different NFTs with some sort of reward mechanism, right? They’re now part of a certain segment of loyalty. That’s just one way of being able to engage a consumer. The other ways are being able to offer collectibles alongside physical products. So, hey, you’re going to now have, and there are so many companies that are working on this problem, but you’re going to have a digital gallery of all of the art that you own that’s an NFT. Well, if I’m a small brand, I might say, “well, you know what? With every product that I sell of this limited edition collection, I’m going to go ahead and give an NFT alongside it. And that NFT is going to be proof of ownership and proof that you actually have an authentic piece of the small collection.” Now, if someone wants to resell it, they’ll resell the NFT, right? And that I think is a very simple and easy way for smaller brands to say, “Hey, I’m already producing sustainably, limited edition quantities. I already have a niche consumer. How do I help my consumer evangelize what I’m doing on all the spaces that are important for that consumer to show up in?”

Adrian Tennant: We’ve seen sports brands like Nike and Adidas selling virtual sneakers, and then of course, as we’ve been discussing, many luxury fashion brands are also active in this NFT space. It’s still very early days, but are you getting a sense that metaverse consumers are the most enthusiastic brand loyalists in real life? Or do you think these fashion consumers in the digital realm are representing different types of buyers?

Syama Meagher: Hmm, this is interesting. If you were to look at the saleability factor of let’s say a new hot, like you mentioned, Nike, a new hot Nike sneaker. Right? Well, think of it like this: if a new hot Nike sneaker, sometimes people are buying those products not to wear them, but they’re buying them to resell them. We hear about this all the time. Right. People who are sneakerheads, or sometimes, you know, the ones who own them and wear them and like to look at them. But also there is an entirely new ecosystem of the resell market. I would say some of these NFT loyalists might also be flippers, they’re looking to invest in new hot drops, and then they’re looking to resell them. That’s just one slice of it, right? And that would be almost very similar to that kind of StockX sort of equivalency. Get first in line, buy the sneaker, and resell it. So think of the NFT as also having that brand loyal resell ability. Now also think of who these brand loyalists are, right. Or who’s consuming these NFTs as also people who were very interested in terms of what is community and what’s going to be building. So what we haven’t yet seen because NFTs are so young, like we’ve established, we actually haven’t seen any sort of NFT program launch full circle in terms of customer experience over time. So all we’ve seen so far are the beginning stages of this, right? And in the beginning stages, it simply means like, “join this and we’re going to give you the promise of Y if you buy X. ” but we haven’t actually seen is: are those promises being made good on? Right. Like, what is the actual loyalty community program over time? Now, certain companies have done well in terms of getting their foot in the door. Breitling did a launch of an NFT blockchain project that helped with authentication of their products so that people who had one of the watches, had the NFT, they could join an exclusive club, but we have yet to actually see many of these roadmaps take off in a way where we can track how frequent someone is engaging with the community. Are they truly buying more items from that brand or do they just continue to buy NFTs? lots of questions TBD.

Adrian Tennant: What is the one aspect of retailing that you think is most likely to be disrupted or look completely different by 2030?

Syama Meagher: I can only pick one? Um, okay. So one thing about retail, that’s totally going to change. Oh, my gosh. I want to say two things. I’m going to say one, and then if you, if you let me have the second, I’ll have the second.

Adrian Tennant: Syama, of course, I’ll let you have a second.

Syama Meagher: Okay, great. So I think the first thing that I’m so excited about actually is what all of the shifts in our supply chain are going to mean for how we consume products and our value of products. And what I mean by that is we’ve seen so many shifts and changes, obviously with disruptions in the supply chain, in manufacturing, and shipping and logistics and where we are producing products that I actually do believe that consumers are starting to understand how fragile our supply chain infrastructure is. And also the value of buying a domestically produced product. This is something that really suffered in the last 10 years. We heard a lot early 10 years ago about made in USA and how great that is. But very few consumers were actually willing to be able to put their resources or money behind those products because they were more expensive. But now, as we’re kind of looking at where, you know, supply chain shifts are happening and people are starting to understand that they’re not going to get those products in time, or as quickly as they want unless they’re manufactured locally. I think consumers are gonna be willing to spend more money for the product they want in order to have them in time. And so I think that the supply chain shifts now are going to change how we look at the value of domestic manufacturing. And I think more consumers are going to be willing to spend the money, whereas before they might’ve seen it as a vanity or fad To be able to luxuriously pay for me, made in the USA. So I think that’s a huge shift. Now, in terms of how we, and the second, thank you for giving me the second. Um, I think the other thing that’s going to be so fascinating or exciting is going to really be how we think about shopping and what it means to be able to have our identity showing up in all of these different spaces. And so when I’m looking at how consumers right now are thinking about, being brand loyal or having repeat purchases or what they’re buying from, there is going to be a synthesis of the metaverse within real life. And that means it’s not only going to be having a seamless, e-commerce experience, but it’s truly going to be, I think the advent of having an iPhone, being able to hold it up to something, being able to buy, have access and see through layers of engagement. And I think that our smartphones will be the gateways to how we start to purchase and consume more on-demand.

Adrian Tennant: Excellent! Syama, if people would like to learn more about you, your consultancy, Scaling Retail, or attend upcoming events that you’re speaking at, where can they find you?

Syama Meagher: Absolutely Adrian. All of our socials are quite robust, but I would say the Scaling Retail Instagram is a fantastic way to see all of the fun and exciting things that we’re up to. And then also on our newsletter and Adrian, I’d be remiss not to mention we’ve got an extensive YouTube platform with just a ton of fantastic retail and business information. I mean, I think being on the forefront of what’s happening in this rapidly changing world and being able to see the vision and execute tactically is something I’m so deeply passionate about. And I think people will be excited to see more.

Adrian Tennant: Well, that definitely comes across. Syama, thank you very much for sharing your insights with us!

Syama Meagher: Oh, thank you so much, Adrian. Such a pleasure.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to our guest this week, Syama Meagher, the founder and CEO of Scaling Retail. As always you’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at, where you’ll also find details about Bigeye’s ENVISION 2022 video event. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host. Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

Friday, April 22 is Earth Day. While many profess a desire to help fight climate change by engaging in more sustainable behaviors, there’s often a gap between people’s expressed intentions and their actual behaviors. Applied consumer neuroscience expert Michael Smith joins us to discuss his book, Inspiring Green Consumer Choices. Hear what Michael believes marketers and advertising creatives need to do to encourage more consumers to purchase sustainable products and services.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Michael E. Smith: There’s a great need for brand advertisers to educate consumers about the real personal and societal benefits of sustainable products and environmental behavior.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us today. This Friday, April 22nd is Earth Day, which marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970. The website at chronicles how, over the decades, hundreds of millions of people have been brought into the environmental movement, creating opportunities for civic engagement and volunteerism in 193 countries. Of course, the fight for a cleaner environment continues as the impact of climate change becomes more apparent every day. So to mark earth day, our podcast this week is an Encore episode, featuring the author of a book exploring the ways in which our consumer economy affects the ecosystem we inhabit and explains why efforts to mitigate humanity’s impact have to start with an improved understanding of consumer behavior. The book is entitled, Inspiring Green Consumer Choices: Leverage Neuroscience To Reshape Marketplace Behavior. Its author, Michael E. Smith, is an applied cognitive neuroscientist and management professional experienced in consumer research, neurotechnology research, development, and commercialization. Michael was a senior partner in Nielsen’s NeuroFocus consulting practice, president of Cortech labs, vice-president of Nielsen’s consumer neuroscience practice, and is the founder and principal scientist of Adaptation Research. Currently focused on challenges at the intersection of psychology, behavior change, and environmentally sustainable products and services, Michael joined us for this interview last October from his home in La Jolla, California. Michael, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Michael E. Smith: Adrian, it’s a pleasure to be with you.

Adrian Tennant: So, Michael, what prompted you to write Inspiring Green Consumer Choices?

Michael E. Smith: Well, several things. First, it integrates two topics I’ve had a long interest in. One of those is the emergence of the discipline of consumer neuroscience over the last decade or so. That discipline attempts to better understand consumer decision-making through advances in neuroscience, experimental psychology, behavioral economics, and other disciplines. As you noted in the introduction, I had been working in this field for many years and watched it grow from a niche discipline to something that’s become much more mainstream. The second topic was a growing interest in the expanding effort of marketers to both reduce the environmental footprints of the products and services they are creating and to promote those efforts and their marketing communications, there didn’t seem to be much overlap and the related literatures on these two issues. So I recognize that gap in the discussion and identified a need to introduce the fields to each other. Of course, another proximal backdrop that motivated me, was the growing impacts of extreme weather across the globe and evidence that increasing numbers of consumers were voicing both greater recognition of environmental problems and greater desire to adopt more sustainable ways of existing in the world.

Adrian Tennant: Well, the first chapter of Inspiring Green Consumer Choices includes some eye-popping stats reflecting American consumerism. You write that the average individual living in a modern home now has over 200% more personal space in which to stretch out, consume media and store their personal collections of stuff than someone would have done just a few generations previously. And yet, even with all this extra room, often including one or two car garage is filled to the brim with more stuff, almost one in every 11 Americans pay for storage facilities outside their home, fueling the $40 billion a year self storage industry. Michael, how did we get here?

Michael E. Smith: Well, slowly and then much faster. following world war two and more developed nations and especially in the US which suffered much less than the Homeland from the war, consumer behavior grew to become an increasingly large component of GDP. this mainly reflected the growth of the middle class in the U S with increasing prosperity and increasing availability of consumer goods. After a slow and relatively steady growth and demand for consumer products, essentially from the beginning of the industrial revolution onwards, beginning in the 1950s demands for such goods, enter a period of essentially exponential growth. that has put unsustainable impacts on the resources available to meet such demand and on the ability of planets, physical systems to absorb the polluting byproducts of meeting those demands. The period from around 1950 to the present is sometimes referred to by resource management experts and economists as the great acceleration. And while one might assume that much of this increase in environmental impact simply reflects population growth, in fact, most of the growth of the consumer economy has occurred in developed nations, which haven’t witnessed that much population growth. Whereas much of the population growth instead has occurred in less developed nations that are least responsible for the growth and consult.

Adrian Tennant: What are the psychological factors behind our seemingly irrational consumption and hoarding behaviors?

Michael E. Smith: Well, this is not fully understood. So let me just be clear on that. But we have inklings of what’s driving it. It is clear that the same reward systems in the brain that are involved in more extreme and pathological psychiatric aberrations, such as compulsive shopping, gambling addiction, extreme hoarding behavior, and also physical addictions to substances. Those same mechanisms are also engaged when clinically normal people buy things. the process of shopping for and purchasing attractive products, engages deep brain structures involved with reward anticipation. Which provides a bit of a dopamine rush to the shopper, you know, when they select the purchase and decide to buy it. This is a very transient effect and our emotions regressed to a kind of equilibrium after a purchase. And, you know, in a pretty, rapid fashion. As a result, the last shiny new thing we purchased is no longer quite as exciting anymore. And we step back on what is sometimes referred to as a hedonic treadmill and pursuit of other goals and desires and in a largely unconscious effort to reinstate the positive feelings we experienced on previous shopping occasions. Over time, based on that reinforcement, we develop automatic habits that drive purchasing of preferred products in a relatively autonomous fashion. We don’t give it much thought once it’s become a habit. And because we live in a social world, we tend to model our own behavior around what we see others doing and those others are also busily out there shopping. And because of that it becomes a societal norm to do exactly that behavior. and to some degree, because people are concerned about how they are perceived by others, some purchasing relates directly to an effort to convey taste and status to our peers, you know, to look good in the eyes of others.

Adrian Tennant: This is the concept of self where what we choose to buy is really an expression of how we want others to perceive us?

Michael E. Smith: Very much so.

Adrian Tennant: Michael, in Inspiring Green Consumer Choices, you describe mental models of the relationship consumers have with the environment and the history of earth day, which has been celebrated in April every year since 1970. Could you just briefly explain the roots of the circular economy movement?

Michael E. Smith: Sure. So it’s this acceleration beginning in the 1950s, by the early 1960s, people were becoming more aware of the growing problem than many forms of environmental pollution. And by 1970, as you note, there emerged widespread concern about the impacts we were having on the planet and hence the emergence of the earth day phenomenon. Accompanying this concern was a growing realization that planetary resources were not unlimited. If we are to have a long-term future on the planet, we would need to move beyond the traditional. What sometimes referred to as a linear take use, dispose of view of consumption to end, that was less wasteful and that better mimics what happens in nature and in nature, nothing is really wasted or use it up, but rather materials are cycled through ecosystems, such that the outputs from one use becomes the inputs to another process. Since this period, was also the dawn of the space age, late in the 1960s, the sociologist and economists Kenneth Boulding characterize this the emerging difference in worldview, as essentially on the old perspective, he is the metaphor of a cowboy exploring and exploiting a limitless frontier versus the emerging relatively closed system of a spaceship astronaut dependent on life support systems that minimize environmental contaminants and that recycles limited resources in more recent decades, this notion has evolved to a discussion of a circular economy, largely building on those metaphors one where waste is minimized, and the end of life of one product cycle provides resources for the next or for some new upcycled phenomenon.

Adrian Tennant: All of us engaged in quantitative and qualitative research know that pro-social biases often result in marked differences between what survey respondents and the focus group participants say they’ll do and what they actually do in real life. Environmentally conscious behaviors are no different. The problem which you lay out in your book is the gap between what consumers say about the importance of sustainability considerations in the purchase decisions and their actual choices and post-purchase, pro-environmental behaviors they engage in. Can you explain this intention action gap?

Michael E. Smith: Pro-social response biases undoubtedly play some role in explaining the gap. Additional influences may be at work as well and some of those influences may be inherent in the psychology of the consumer, while others may reflect a market failure of one form or another. On the consumer side, people just aren’t very good accountants of their own behavior. They may lack insight into how often they actually engage in pro environmental behaviors. And because they’re well-known to rely on a variety of mental heuristics, one such being the availability bias, or how easy something comes to mind when you try to think of it, they may overweight the frequency by which they engage in such behaviors, especially if it is easy to remember instances where environmental concerns weighed on their decision-making, if that comes easily to mind, it’s easy to assume that you do that more often than you actually, frankly, do. People also tend to discount some benefits such as environmental benefits if they promise to pay off only in the future, we discount future rewards to a great degree, whereas when they are trying to satisfy some immediate need, state hunger, thirst, a need for a new pair of shoes, they may be more attuned to immediate functional benefits rather than sustainability claims of more environmentally friendly products. And generally consciously considering the pros and cons of environmental benefits typically require more mental effort on their part. They might not fully understand a potential benefit and they may be skeptical of brands emphasizing such claims, and they may not really be willing to spend the extra mental effort to think through that problem. I’m reminded of a frequently cited quote, usually attributed to the Nobel Laureate, Daniel Kahneman: ” thinking is to humans as swimming as to cats, we can do it, but absolutely hate it!”. So part of the gap may be intrinsic to human psychology. but another part of that gap may be attributable to problems brought on by marketers themselves. They have made claims that are difficult to understand in the first place. And those claims may in some cases, be rightly viewed with suspicion as there is a long history of brands engaging in greenwashing and purpose, washing, activities of that nature. And it’s well documented, so it’s not really controversial for me to say that, and I should be obvious. marketers tend to price more sustainable products at a premium to more traditional products. Yeah, many consumers may not be able to afford that differential. And a third part that might contribute to this is that some barriers that are more institutional and structural in nature, a pro-environmental consumer may sincerely want to engage in a behavior such as say, purchasing organic foods are recycling packaging, but if they live in a place where organic foods aren’t widely available or where recycling infrastructure is underdeveloped or undeveloped, they may not have the opportunity to engage in the behavior despite their desire to. So while the intention action gap is real, I think there are many things that contribute to it.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm, that’s interesting. Because the limitations of research instruments that rely upon respondents and participants self-reporting are generally well understood within the industry, there are also researchers and suppliers that offer implicit methods, including biometrics, like eye tracking, facial expression analysis, galvanic, skin response, and electroencephalography, or EEG that aim to decode consumers non-conscious thoughts. Michael, you’ve gone a lot further than most in understanding the shopping brain. Could you tell us a little about your experience as a leader in Nielsen’s consumer neuroscience practice and how the learnings could inspire brands to make it easier for consumers to make green choices?

Michael E. Smith: Happy to, and, I will say that of all the types of tools you described, it is the case that much of the applied research I’ve been involved with, and commercial endeavors I have relied heavily on those tools. my experience in the domain actually precedes my being a direct, employee of Nielsen because I previously worked for many years, and a startup that Nielsen, subsequently acquired much of that work focused on traditional, market research associated with evaluating, commercial communications about brands and their benefits and, their, attempts at persuasion in the marketplace. But such tools can serve the same purpose for the sustainability market as they do for traditional marketing. In fact, the portion of the research agenda I was directly responsible for at Nielsen examined how the brain measurement tools frequently employed in the field for optimizing commercial marketing in general could also be used to optimize communications, promoting different types of prosocial behavior. Some of the tools are really good for identifying what grabs your attention and what fails to. Others are good for estimating whether communication imposes too high of the mental workload to be effectively processed and which in turn can lead to negative emotional response. And still others could help identify whether a communication promotes a positive emotional response, and whether it’s memorable. And the commercial world, these tools can be used to pre-test communications in order to evaluate what is working well and what requires some creative optimization before it’s unleashed into the media sphere of one form or another. I’m sure you’re well acquainted with that process. Yeah, for example, for an application in this domain, I’m reminded of one project that we did on behalf of a non-governmental organization that was developing public service advertisements to promote recycling behavior. We were able to identify parts of, you know, a 32nd ad or a 62nd ad under development, that was either eliciting confusion as to what the point was or failed to elicit an emotional connection. And in turn the feedback from that measurement exercise provided information to the creative team, working on the spot that they were able to use to increase the degree by relatively minor edits and the advertising copy to increase the degree to which viewers engaged with the advertisement. So applying these tools to sustainability marketing really are not intrinsically different than marketing in general.

Adrian Tennant: And the other title by which some of these tools go, of course, is neuro marketing. I’m wondering how you feel about that term.

Michael E. Smith: Well, I have mixed feelings about it. neuro-marketing is really in my mind, the difference between consumer neuroscience and the use of the term neuro-marketing is I think of the, term consumer neuroscience applying more specifically to evaluating brain responses in response to marketing materials, whereas neuro-marketing, and my mind is more. Well, it sounds scarier to some people, rightly so in some instances, but it’s also really the application of the insights that come from consumer neuroscience to marketing strategy. So it really, those insights may help a brand marketer or an advertising team construct effective communications. And if you rely on neuroscience inputs to construct those communications, and you’re the person putting those communications out into the wild, well, that’s more of what I conceive of as neuro-marketing per se. Many other people would just equate the terms.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, The Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in specific areas of marketing and consumer research. Our featured book for April is Paid Attention: Innovative Advertising for a Digital World by Faris Yakob. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with exclusive promo code BIGEYE20. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free e-book offer. To order your copy of Paid Attention, go to – that’s K O G A N, P A G E dot com.

Adrian Tennant: Last October, Bigeye published a market research report, entitled Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. We surveyed consumers across America to find out how their shopping behaviors had changed as a result of the pandemic. In a special Bigeye video event, we’re joined by four experts who reflect on the study’s findings and explore the implications for retailers and brand marketers in 2022. 

Doug Stephens: It’s logical to assume that as we see this metaverse constructed as we as individuals spend more and more time in these virtual worlds, the adoption of things like virtual apparel might start to make more and more sense. 

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: I think being channel agnostic and just making sure that you are you know meeting your consumer, where they are is important. To not think about channels as competitive to each other, thinking about them as complimentary.

Andy Sheldon: When you’re watching something as a live stream, that’s linear, there’s no choice but to watch what’s going on at that moment on the shopping television.

Syama Meagher: I see NFTs as an invitation for consumers to join brands on a digital journey and for brands to invite consumers to spend their cryptocurrencies and their time into building a relationship with the brand. 

Adrian Tennant: Join us for a lively discussion about the future of retail and marketing. Bigeye’s Envision 2022, coming soon.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. You’re listening to an Encore episode, featuring Michael Smith, author of the book, Inspiring Green Consumer Choices: Leverage Neuroscience To Reshape Marketplace Behavior. Due to the pandemic, many US consumers had no choice but to order products online and have goods delivered to the homes. As previous guests on this podcast have noted, while we like the convenience of home delivery, it presents us with a lot more packaging waste to dispose of. Michael, you write about the important roles that habit and intent play in consumer behaviors. Could you explain why these are so important if we want to change how we shop in order to be more sustainable?

Michael E. Smith: Well, let me first say something about the first issue and then talk about habits, which are indeed very important. the other side of increased packaging for deliveries is that you’ve dramatically decreased, the human time resource and the, you know, vehicle miles traveled by everybody going out, driving to the supermarket. and then when they’re wandering around in the marketplace, maybe buying things they never intended to in the first place. So I think there are pros and cons on the sustainability front, in terms of e-commerce and further, there’s a lot of pressure on the major e-commerce providers to clean up their act as much as possible, so there’s that going for it. but to get to your point about habits, Psychologists have documented that habitual patterns of behavior influence a significant fraction of all consumer choices, especially if those choices are about products, typically purchase frequently or routinely and purchase and the context of your favorite shopping center that you’ve been to many, many times shopping for many of the same products. mainly because during the habitual behavior is relatively easy: it requires a little thought and has fairly predictable rewards associated with it. You do the same thing over, you’re likely to have the same outcome that you did in the past, whereas doing something new has the risk of remorse associated with the purchase, something that you short circuit by relying on habits. For highly ingrained behaviors, such as habits, explicit intentions, to do something different or to do the same thing more frequently, appear to have relatively little influence and academic research on this topic, if you compare the strength of an existing habit versus an individual’s explicit claims about their behavioral intentions, habit, strength in general appears to be a better predictor of actual behavior than stated intent is. One way to overcome that: habits are driven by a familiar contexts, providing cues that activate the habitual behavior. So one way to get around that is if you’re a marketer who wants to overcome existing habits is to disrupt the context in some way. And by disrupting the context, you’re more likely to give people the mental space to adopt new behaviors. and sometimes you don’t even need to disrupt the context. Sometimes life does that for you. So for example, if someone’s starting a new job, going to a new school, moving to a new neighborhood, they have to recalibrate all their routine behaviors to better adapt to the new environment. And if you can identify people, who’ve switched the context on themselves, you can approach them when they’re in a state of mind to actually try something new, with greater acceptance than they might otherwise.

Adrian Tennant: Michael, you cite a McKinsey and Company study that found that consumers feel that it’s largely the responsibility of companies and governments to reduce barriers to green consumption. What do brand marketers need to do to adjust to consumers’ growing intentions to shop more green?

Michael E. Smith: Brand marketers need to make their sustainability claims more trustworthy and transparent if people are going to be more accepting of those claims. They also need to focus more on highlighting the immediate and concrete, functional benefits of their products. And then more as a secondary consideration, focus on the more long term and abstract environment, mental benefits, because at the end of the day, if we’re not getting our needs satisfied, by a particular product or service, we will explore other ones. So, shoppers need to be convinced that whatever their primary need is be it taste or health or identifying something aesthetically pleasing. they’re not going to go after the secondary needs. They also need to ensure that their offering has some degree of mental and physical availability. Byron Sharp, in his book, How Brands Grow, emphasizes that, having something top of mind as a brand, and have it physically available where you’re shopping, are the keys to increasing, sales and growth,of your brand within the broader category. And this is as true for sustainable brands, as it is for any other brand. And then I think marketers really need to get comfortable with letting go of the notion that just because somebody filling out a survey says they’re willing to pay more for more sustainable products. Doesn’t mean when the rubber hits the road, that that’s true. some people can be distracted by a discount on a neighboring product that they find at the shelf. and many people, the majority of the population, really, especially these days don’t have the resources to spend more money on fulfilling their product needs. And so I think there needs to be a greater emphasis for marketers marketing, more sustainable products to do everything they can to achieve price parity with the competition if they want to have more success in this sphere.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm, that’s a great point. What are the kinds of adjustments that those of us working in the advertising industry will need to make to support green consumption and adoption of a post consumerism mindset?

Michael E. Smith: There’s a great need for brand advertisers to educate consumers about the real personal and societal benefits of sustainable products and environmental behavior. More generally, there’s a growing body of evidence that more informed consumers tend to be more receptive to sustainable marketing efforts. Whereas less informed consumers tend to be more skeptical. so advertising and creative development teams really need to work with marketers to convey, where we’re headed and, fashion that is informative, without eliciting so much despair that people just give up and try not to be,more sustainably thoughtful, beyond that, I think the advertising community needs to help marketers to build more trust with their consumers. They need to rely more on things like trusted third party verifications of claims. especially on topics such as sustainable sourced and fair trade bonafides rather than promoting claims that lack such certification, or that may seem otherwise self-serving, You know, the creative agencies need to be conscious to avoid communications that smack of greenwashing. Consumers will be quick to detect it and will be turned off by it. And we’ll be more likely to engage in negative word of mouth to disparage it. and finally, I think one thing that’s really critical and that’s missing and a lot of sustainability marketing, is a failure to highlight the immediate, personal benefits that a product might convey, rather than focusing on abstract environmental benefits that might be remote and in space, because if you’re not helping people to, satisfy their immediate needs, they’re not going to have the bandwidth, to try to aspire to help to satisfy a future generation’s needs. 

Adrian Tennant: When it comes to beliefs and attitudes about climate change here in the US there is polarization among the general public, as the topic has become as politicized as mandatory precautions against COVID-19.Michael, how can marketers address those skeptical of climate change? 

Michael E. Smith: You know, the first thing to realize, trying to rationally argue this point With extreme deniers it’s likely to get you nowhere. They’re likely to just harden their position because they’re not reasoning about it in a rational way, but rather in an emotional way, that may be based on their values, that may be based on their peer group, and the place of that peer group or many other factors. So, you know, one way to address this is, personalized to the extent possible communications, that makes sustainable goods and services more personally relevant to climate skeptics. And you can do that by not focusing on carbon emissions, but rather focusing on the functional and personal benefits of the sustainable products. For example, Tesla, they didn’t become a trillion dollar company. By highlighting environmental benefits. In fact, they do little direct advertising at all. And you very seldom hear Elon Musk tweeting about, you know, their impact on, carbon emissions. Rather, in a variety of ways, they try to highlight their cars being cool, sexy, high performance, and fun to drive. Their cars are an offering that also has the benefit, frankly of lifetime costs that although they seem expensive on the surface once you take into account, fuel savings, reduced repair costs because they’re actually mechanically simpler than an ice vehicle, they’re cheaper than other premium vehicles. So by convincing people, this is a cool choice,that you’ll have fun with, and that you’ll even save money on, none of that says anything about climate and, you know, that’s worked really well for them. You know, similarly you might be able to convince a denialist to nonetheless soak up their house with led lights for many of the similar reasons: they last virtually forever. they’re a little more costly, but they have such a dramatic reduction in your energy use that they paid for themselves many times over once they’re installed. who wouldn’t want to be receptive to that? I know before I got my,solar panels, I put LEDs all over the house and monitored the impact, and it actually reduced my electrical bills by about 25% because we live in a climate where we don’t have to do much heating or cooling. so lighting is actually a big component of electrical expenses. And again, you don’t have to talk about the environmental benefits to highlight those benefits. So I think that’s a good strategy with those denialists, but you know, and this is,my activism coming to light, focusing particularly on,your industry, and not to be too pointed about it, but advertising creatives should follow the lead of the organization, clean creatives, which you could look at at, which is an organization of advertisers bringing together leading agencies, their employees, and clients to address the ad and PR industry’s work with the fossil fuel industry, which is documented to be extensive. And the ideas, to stop profiting from the sale of fossil fuels at the agency level. And instead, begin to combat the longstanding corporate greenwashing the fossil fuel industry has engaged in, that has, in fact, encouraged climate disinformation and denialism in the first place. They kind of manufactured that whole cognitive positioning. So, just again, my activist thoughts that given the question, I can’t help, but bring up.

Adrian Tennant: I’m very glad that you did.. Michael, if in clear focus, listeners would like to learn more about you, your work in consumer neuroscience and psychology, or your book, Inspiring Green Consumer Choices, where can they find you?

Michael E. Smith: If they want to have direct communications, the best thing is just email me at, or connect with me on LinkedIn. And if you’re interested in the book, it’s available for order either on major e-commerce platforms like Amazon or Walmart, or from my publisher, Kogan page, just Google Inspiring Green Consumer Choices, and you’ll get lots of hits on the topic.

Adrian Tennant: Michael, thank you very much for being our guest today on, IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Michael E. Smith: Thank you, Adrian. It’s been a real pleasure to be with you.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to our guest on this week’s Encore episode, Michael Smith, applied cognitive neuroscientist and the principal scientist of Adaptation Research. If you’d like to obtain a copy of Michael’s book, Inspiring Green Consumer Choices, as an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you’ll receive a 20% discount when you purchase online at Just enter the promo code BIGEYE20 at the checkout. As always, you’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under insights, just select podcast. And if you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week. Goodbye.

Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

Our guest is Marc Guldimann, a digital media pioneer whose company Adelaide is on a mission to bring fairness and transparency to the digital marketplace by quantifying the true quality of media through the lens of attention. We discuss Adelaide’s brand advertising model, The Attention Pathway, published with the ANA, and how Adelaide’s Attention Unit (AU) can help media buyers evaluate quality, identify efficiencies, and invest in higher quality media at a fairer value.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Marc Guldimann: With the privacy movement, and regulation, and walled gardens even further locking down access to data about ad exposures inside their platforms, it’s getting nearly impossible to build scaled attribution systems. So this is forcing advertisers to take a closer look at what is the quality of all of the media they’re buying.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer at Bigeye. Thank you for joining us today. This month, we’re looking at the role that attention plays in advertising and communications. Last week we spoke with Faris Yakob, the author of Paid Attention, our featured Bigeye Book Club selection for April. Today, I’m delighted to be speaking with Marc Guldimann, a digital media pioneer whose company Adelaide is on a mission to bring fairness and transparency to the digital marketplace by quantifying the true quality of media through the lens of attention. Marc graduated from Carnegie Mellon with a degree in social decision sciences and, after working in internet and technology firms, became the founding CEO of digital media firm Enkin and then Spongecell, which was acquired by ad server Flashtalking, now part of Mediaocean. Marc then established Parsec Media, the first marketplace to sell media based on time. Then in 2019, Marc founded Adelaide, which helps digital media buyers evaluate quality, identify efficiencies, and avoid clutter by utilizing attention metrics. To discuss how Adelaide’s approach can help agencies and in-house teams invest in higher quality media at a fairer value, Marc is joining us today from Los Angeles. Marc, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Marc Guldimann: Thanks, Adrian. Thanks for having me. And it’s nice to meet you.

Adrian Tennant: I mentioned in the introduction that you graduated from Carnegie Mellon with a degree in Social Decision Sciences. Can you tell us a bit about what that course entailed and how it prepared you for your subsequent career in digital media?

Marc Guldimann: Yeah, so Decision Sciences is I think a mix of a business degree, a little bit of economics, and a little bit of psychology. You could also think of it as sort of like an undergraduate MBA. I don’t know if it did too well, preparing me for my career in digital media. Because when I arrived in digital media, I was a little bit surprised at the lack of let’s call it an evidence-based approach. It seemed like a lot of things were based on metrics that weren’t derived from the scientific method or derived from a scientific approach.

Adrian Tennant: Well today, we’re going to be talking about your company, Adelaide, but before we do, could you give us an idea of how, as a serial entrepreneur, your previous companies led you to your current focus on developing attention metrics?

Marc Guldimann: Yeah, sure. So I actually ended up in advertising by accident. My first startup was a company called Spongecell, where we developed as part of the web 2.0 wave, a JavaScript and DHTML calendar. Then we ended up raising money from IPG and trying to build sort of an event promotions platform that was powered by a lot of the same calendar technology. And then eventually, ended up doing display advertising that had a lot of the calendar elements inside those display ads. So that was the Spongecell that Adrian, that you’ve probably worked with and are familiar with. So that was the entrance into digital media from a background in decision sciences. I was previously working in wireless security, so it had nothing at all to do with advertising.

Adrian Tennant: It’s funny how that works sometimes. Well, as you know, Faris Yakob was our guest last week and characterized attention as the foundational idea of advertising. Faris cited Orlando Wood’s 2021 book, Look Out, which is partly about attention in advertising. And of course, in 2020, Dr. Karen Nelson-Field’s book, The Attention Economy and How Media Works was published. So I’m curious, Marc, why do you think we’re seeing so much ad industry attention being paid to attention?

Marc Guldimann: Yeah, well, I mean, I think first, I’ll say Faris’s book, Paid Attention was one of the original pieces that really sort of drew attention to attention. So his work early on guided a lot of our thinking. With regards to why we’re seeing so much attention being paid to attention these days, I think advertisers are becoming a little bit fatigued with the idea of viewability and video completion rate. And they’re starting to understand that both of those metrics are not accurate proxies. And they’ve both been pretty fully gamed by the sell-side. There are a lot of products out there that are specifically focused on driving higher viewability or higher video completion rate without the requisite increase in quality. I think the other thing that’s causing a lot of attention to be paid to this area is the decline of identity and the impact that’s having on attribution. For a long time, advertisers used attribution as a crutch. Because, you know, if you weren’t able to measure the specific quality of all of the touches against the consumer, across all of the different channels and formats for reaching them, it was still possible to build attribution models that tried to approximate the relative impact of various impressions on an eventual outcome. But now, with the privacy movement, and regulation, and walled gardens even further locking down access to data about ad exposures inside their platforms, it’s getting nearly impossible to build scaled attribution systems. So this is forcing advertisers to take a closer look at what is the quality of all of the media they’re buying.

Adrian Tennant: So can you explain to us what Adelaide does and how it quantifies the true quality of media?

Marc Guldimann: Sure. Yeah. So at Adelaide, we’ve developed the AU and the AU is a prediction of the likelihood of attention paid to any ad by any person inside of a specific ad placement. So we’ve really tried to focus on the quality of the media and its ability to create an opportunity for attention and then a subsequent outcome afterwards. We do this omnichannel, right? So the AU is a score of zero to 100 and it works across, let’s say like today, about 90% of an advertiser’s media budget. We do display, online video, walled gardens, native placements. Recently we’ve partnered with a company called TVision to release a CTV and linear product. We’re also, right now, working on an audio product, and then after that, we’ll expand to more mediums. So the goal is to give advertisers a global, omnichannel apples-to-apples metric that is a true reflection of media quality. 

Adrian Tennant: Let’s talk specifics. You provide several examples on the Adelaide website, but could you discuss a couple of case studies that demonstrate how using attention metrics has proven to be a better approach than say using viewability to quantify the quality of media?

Marc Guldimann: Yeah, definitely. So when we started out at Adelaide, we wanted to build a fast-moving media metric that was a proxy for brand outcomes. The goal was to have something that advertisers could optimize to in-flight and know that they were going to get more awareness or more consideration. So early on, we started matching our results to Kantar and to Lucid, and to sort of more attitudinal based research tools, and that it worked really, really well. We saw very consistent lift when advertisers would shift budget towards more efficient sources of AU, compared to viewability. And we did that for about the first nine months of the product. And then one of our clients, who is a global CPG, came to us and said, you know, “This is working really, really well at the top of the funnel. How’s it working in terms of actual sales or more behavioral-type metrics?” And we didn’t know. And I, to be perfectly honest, was sort of scared, because I figured the bottom of the funnel had been armed, you know, completely by Facebook and by Google and their ilk. But it actually turned out that when they ran that bottom of the funnel – like it was basically POS data against the AU, they found that it was just as correlated if not more in certain circumstances. And in hindsight, it’s obvious, right? Like quality media placement will drive any type of outcome that the creative is trying to achieve. So, what we actually see is a little bit less noise and volatility in terms of correlation at the bottom of the funnel, and I think that’s representative of a lot of the bias and noise that’s introduced in the survey methodologies at the top of the funnel. You know, there’s a lot of inconsistencies that are created by the fact that you’re really asking people to answer a bunch of questions about how they feel about a brand or how they remember, which doesn’t really get at salience or some of the more proven upper funnel metrics.

Adrian Tennant: And by “proven,” I think we have to talk about the name of your company, Marc, Adelaide. Can you tell us why you named your company Adelaide?

Marc Guldimann: Yeah. So Adelaide is where Ehrenberg-Bass is from. It’s the global epicenter of evidence-based advertising. The book, How Brands Grow, was sort of seminal in the foundation of Adelaide and our thinking and the realization that, you know, advertising and advertisers needed an evidence-based approach to measurement. So it seemed like a good name for the company, if that was our inspiration.

Adrian Tennant: Yeah. Well, in 2020, Adelaide published a guide in partnership with the ANA entitled The Attention Pathway And How To Measure It. Could you give us an overview of its contents and tell us what led to the model you proposed explaining how brand advertising works?

Marc Guldimann: Yeah, definitely. So previous to Adelaide, the company that founded Adelaide worked on an ad network called Parsec, and Parsec was the first ad network to sell media on a cost-per-second. And this means that we charged advertisers for the amount of time that people spent with ads. In this sense, advertising was an outcome, right? The amount of time that you choose to spend with a full-page print ad, or a skippable video ad, or a full page mobile ad – something that we call politely interruptive – that duration is driven by the quality of the creative, the relevance to the user, and the quality of the media. All of these three things, they’re sort of coming together to create the outcome of attention. When we’re working on Adelaide, our thinking is more that we want to understand the likelihood of attention being paid to something. And the attention pathway was critical in understanding and sort of breaking apart the difference between those two things. So the attention pathway describes the arc of attention over an individual impression. The first stage is to get noticed. The second stage is to retain attention or to capture attention. And the third stage is finally to shift the way that somebody thinks or behaves. And so over this arc, we see media and audience and creative playing a different role through those different phases. In the beginning of the impression, when it’s really important to get noticed and to sort of get the eyeballs into the box or into the medium where the ad is being delivered, that’s largely a function of the placement. And then from there, the ad, you know, definitely an eye-catching piece of creative will help drive the capture of attention. But moving on from that, the holding and the retention of attention is largely driven by creative, right? The amount of time that you spend looking at something is driven by if it’s interesting to you and if it’s relevant to you, and if it’s entertaining. Now, media still plays a role in this middle stage because you want to make sure that you have a well-lit space without a lot of clutter and a lot of distractions. But you know, at this point in the middle of the arc of attention over the impression, it’s largely about the creative capturing your attention, holding you in, and then at the end, inserting in some distinctive assets or some other branded elements that will actually drive salience or change the way that you think about the advertiser. So that’s our thinking about the attention pathway, and it really helps us understand how media and creative and audience all sort of have this interplay to drive attention.

Adrian Tennant: What kinds of responses have you had to the model from within the industry?

Marc Guldimann: So the attention pathway has been really well received because I think people are looking for very simple yet specific ways to understand how attention works. So I think that the attention pathway has been really well received. The AU overall has been very well-received for a lot of the same reasons. I think that people crave a simple and authentic way to measure things. The advertisers have so many metrics at their disposal, but a lot of them are only applicable in certain places, or have a lot of caveats, or have been gamed, and aren’t really that effective, or even worse, aren’t tied to business outcomes. I think that’s probably the most important thing when it comes to any sort of innovation in metrics or measurement, is that it needs to be about what the advertiser’s goal is and the business outcomes. So attention metrics and anything else really just needs to be in service of that advertiser’s business outcomes.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Dana Cassell: I’m Dana Cassell, Bigeye’s Senior Strategist. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as marketing professionals, often inspired by data points reported in consumer research studies. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, through our own research, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers – analyzing their attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. We distill this data into actionable insights to inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – with strategic, cost-efficient media placements. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, The Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in specific areas of marketing and consumer research. Our featured book for April is Paid Attention: Innovative Advertising for a Digital World by Faris Yakob. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with exclusive promo code BIGEYE20. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free e-book offer. To order your copy of Paid Attention, go to – that’s K O G A N, P A G E dot com.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Marc Guldimann, founder and CEO of Adelaide, creator of the attention unit, or AU, the first omnichannel media quality score based on attention metrics. Well, I really appreciate that you pay attention to both the media side of the equation and creative. Your website offers the white paper entitled Using Attention Metrics For Creative Optimization. Marc, what are some of the key ideas here that creative teams should be paying attention to?

Marc Guldimann: Yeah. So, attention paid to creative is a really nuanced thing, right? Because there are ways to get attention onto creative that aren’t in service of the brand, right? So I can show you an ad with puppies and kittens, or an ad with naked people, hopefully it’s not the same creative! I can show you a ball coming over the horizon and your lizard brain will think a lion is about to eat you. Or we can shift eyeballs or facial features and then you have the uncanny valley and people are more likely to pay attention to that. None of those things really drive brand outcomes. So when you’re thinking about how to use attention with creative, I think it’s much more important to use some of the more advanced tools that are out there by companies like, you know, like RealEyes or like Orlando’s System1, to really understand what’s driving that attention in the creative and what does it mean? There are ways to use media attention to drive more learnings about creative attention, though. Because when you can hold constant the quality of media through the lens of attention metrics, you can start to derive more learnings about the creative, right? So you can reduce the amount of noise when you’re doing impact analysis on, you know, in the wild campaigns, and understand which creative really drove lift, and which creative underperformed. So, I think that there’s a couple of ways to think about how you can use attention metrics to understand creative, but it’s really important to understand those nuances and the fact that just optimizing to the maximum amount of attention, can do a brand a disservice. And I think that that’s something that’s really interesting to unpack because there’s a debate in our industry now where our little sort of corner of the attention corner of the industry, where some people are thinking about attention seconds and the total amount of attention captured. That can get dangerous because not only are you optimizing creative to the maximum attention, but you’re optimizing audiences to the maximum amount of attention. And unfortunately, people pay attention to things that they’re aware of. And so that can lead to targeting the wrong segments of audiences and optimizing towards the audience that’s already aware of your product, which is not really what you want to do with advertising. So I think that really highlights the nuanced approach that’s necessary when you’re going to apply attention metrics to any part of advertising.

Adrian Tennant: Well, you referenced your “corner of the attention space.” Adelaide is a founding partner in The Attention Council. Could you tell us about how the group was formed and what the aims of the council are?

Marc Guldimann: Yeah. So we started The Attention Council, it was probably about two and a half years ago, with the goal of spreading the gospel of attention metrics around the industry. And I think The Attention Council has been incredibly successful. I don’t think that we can take credit for all of the increased attention on attention, but there was a lot of work done to sort of prove out the efficacy of attention metrics and how they were attached to outcomes. So it was a lot of content created around how advertisers can apply attention metrics, and how publishers should think about them. So The Attention Council served as this sort of, foundational element in the industry. You know, all of the companies that are now growing in this space, or most of them, came out of The Attention Council.

Adrian Tennant: Now, would you say that you’re competitors with one another in some spaces, and collaborators in others, or you is a case of, co-opetition? How does it work?

Marc Guldimann: When we started, we were really the only company that was focused on measuring media, and there were a couple of researchers and eye-tracking companies in that space. So, as their companies and their visions have evolved, inevitably we started to bump into each other as they’ve started to apply their research into how to understand the quality of media.

Adrian Tennant: Marc, in what kinds of ways do clients and agencies interact with Adelaide? And what does a typical engagement look like?

Marc Guldimann: So it’s really, really simple to get started with attention metrics and with Adelaide. There’s a number of different ways, depending on the type of advertiser and the goals and how they like to work with measurement, but a lot of advertisers get started with just really simple measurement, right? They’ll apply our tag to their digital media and they’ll start to understand where they’re finding more efficient sources of attention and where maybe they’re overpaying for media through the lens of attention. So they can get this sort of benchmark view of how they’re doing. And then the next step, after that, they start to optimize. And from there, there’s a lot of different directions they can go. We have several partners that are integrating AU into MMM. We have people that are working with their publishers to do guarantees based on AU. We have people who are working with their DSPs so that their custom algorithms are tuned to drive more efficient AU. And we have lots of different applications of AU, and I think that it speaks to the fact that we’ve really honed in on media quality, right? So it’s because the AU is really just sort of the next step beyond viewability and a more precise measure of media quality, it can be plugged in to all those places where advertisers were previously using viewability. 

Adrian Tennant: Well, you mentioned earlier that you were astonished by some of the ways in which the industry was measuring success for clients. I’m curious, now for agency-side media planners and internal brand marketing teams, what are some of the ways that we can ensure we’re basing our decisions on empirical data?

Marc Guldimann: I think it’s just a matter of having an evidence-based approach to things, right? I think a lot of the metrics that the industry uses today could be classified as more of a narrative-based approach. Things like viewability or brand safety are about a story, right? They’re about like, you know, either something is viewable or not, or something is brand safe, or it’s not brand safe. Very little work has been done, definitely on the brand safety side, and I think it’s been harder for people to actually connect viewability with business outcomes. I think that in general, it’s really important for advertisers to move from those narrative-based approaches and narrative-based metrics to ones that are simply just tested and proven, right? Just using the scientific method, using exposed and controlled studies or just A/B splits. I think that that kind of approach and, you know, looking at the incremental impact of advertising is incredibly important. And the good thing is it’s getting a lot easier with the tools that are at advertisers’ disposal.

Adrian Tennant: Marc, what’s one question you wished I had asked you but didn’t? And what would the answer be?

Marc Guldimann: I don’t know exactly what the question is. Recently I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about currency and about how attention metrics can evolve from an arbitrage tool into something that advertisers treat as more of a currency that they can use to denominate contracts, and then what is the upside from that? I’ll unpack that. There’s been a lot of talk and articles written about currency and advertising. I think that the first thing that’s really important to understand about currency is that it’s a word that’s used in two ways. There’s money currencies, like the US dollar and like Bitcoin, and then there’s metric currencies, like viewability and hopefully like AU and like GRP is from the audience perspective. Those are two very different things. The money currency stuff is a very, very different subject from media currencies and/or metric currencies. And they shouldn’t be confused. In order for a metric currency to come into existence, typically it’s first used for arbitrage, right? So the first thing, when a new metric is invented and starts to being used by buyers, is that it’s typically like asymmetrical information or alpha. It’s something that the buyer can go out into the market with and buy more efficiently than the rest of the market, like finding bargains and optimizing away from overpriced assets. As that information becomes more diffuse, and more and more buyers know about it, there’s less of an opportunity to sort of get an upside from that arbitrage, the arbitrage gets sort of eeked out. And at that point, some advertisers start to say, well, you know, “I don’t want to take the chance that this high-quality asset is going to be available in the market. Instead of optimizing to it or hoping that I can find it at spot, I’m going to go and ask the supplier instead to guarantee a contract using this new metric.” And it’s at that point that it becomes a currency and then you have people starting to trade on it, right? You have advertisers and publishers and in our industry who would start to denominate contracts in a new attention metric, instead of viewability, for example. But at that point, the sellers, not all of them, but some of the more disingenuous sellers early on, will start to game the metric, right? They’re going to try to start to substitute a lower quality asset that still measures the same way or looks the same way through that new currency, but it’s cheaper for them to produce. And as that gaming gets worse and worse and worse, advertisers or buyers in a market have more incentives to innovate in terms of the metrics that they’re using. So then the cycle starts all over again. You go from arbitrage to currency, to gaming and over and over. The goal is if you can create a metric that is really hard to game, then it will be a currency for a long time. And there is a lot of secondary effects from the creation of a currency that is super trustworthy because it enables buyers and sellers to engage in these guaranteed contracts, which can eventually be standardized into futures, which allows both sides of the market to de-risk, right? So it allows the seller to know that if they make something of a certain quality, they’re going to be able to sell it for a certain amount. And it allows buyers to know that if they commit upfront to buying something for a certain price, that they will be ensured of its delivery. This is a much, much better situation than we have in advertising today, where everything is traded on the spot market. And you have an issue where publishers have very little idea of what their revenue is going to be next month let alone next year. And if you’re an advertiser, it’s really hard to ensure that you’re going to have the media that you need available that you need, to drive the impact that the rest of your business relies on marketing for. So that’s, you know, I think that the most exciting part about the work that we’re doing in attention metrics is preparing ourselves and our clients and the industry for the evolution of the currency from viewability to attention metrics. 

Adrian Tennant: Going back to our conversation around using attention metrics for creative optimization, I appreciate that Adelaide is measuring the quality of the media environment, but to what extent do you see further analysis of individual creative elements – and I’m thinking here of distinctive brand assets – are there any variations there. Are there some nuances that we should be considering as we’re putting together either visual ads or of course, audio ads?

Marc Guldimann: The measurement of a person’s attention to creative and making sure that the creative is holding your attention for long enough to drive the desired impact is something that requires a very nuanced study and something that is really focused on creative measurement. It’s possible and it’s a very, very good idea, but it’s something that requires a very intricate setup. It’s interesting because you could start to merge creative quality and media quality in some interesting ways, right? So if you’re finding that this creative that’s already been built and tested maybe isn’t scoring as high as you’d like, you could maybe invest in higher quality media. Or if you have an ad that is off the charts in terms of capturing and holding attention, you might be able to save some money on media and invest in 70 or 80% attentiveness. So, you know, as I think both sides of this advance, there will come some really interesting opportunities for crossover.

Adrian Tennant: Marc, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about you, or the work you’re doing with Adelaide, where can they find you?

Marc Guldimann: So the best bet is on our website at You can send me an email M A R C – and I’d be happy to talk about attention metrics or anything else in terms of how we can help improve advertising by using more specific measurement.

Adrian Tennant: Marc, thank you very much, indeed, for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Marc Guldimann: Thanks for having me, Adrian.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to my guest this week, Marc Guldimann, founder and CEO of Adelaide. As always, you’ll find a full transcript of our conversation along with links to the resources we discussed on the Bigeye website at under insights, just select podcast. And if you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us wherever you listen to podcasts, submit a review, or tell a friend about IN CLEAR FOCUS – it really helps us out. Thanks again for listening, I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye!

Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

Our guest is Faris Yakob, the author of Paid Attention: Innovative Advertising for a Digital World, this month’s Bigeye Book Club selection. Faris explains what attention is, what the latest research reveals about how it works in humans, and the important role it plays in advertising. Faris also discusses his planning model, the Media Pyramid. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can claim a 20 percent discount on Paid Attention at by using the promo code BIGEYE20 at checkout.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Faris Yakob: Attention is the foundational idea of advertising. Trying to have a single way of understanding human minds and attention in advertising is just logically wrong because there’s lots of different kinds of attention, different ways they work.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer at Bigeye. Thank you for joining us today. This month, we’re looking at the role that attention plays in advertising and communications. But what exactly do we mean by attention and how do brands attract it? The book Paid Attention: Innovative Advertising for a Digital World offers some answers and fresh insights into how human attention works, illustrated by strategic communications from several global brands. Published by Kogan Page, Paid Attention is our featured Bigeye Book Club selection for April and I’m delighted to be joined today by its author, Faris Yakob. Faris is the co-founder of Genius Steals, a nomadic creative consultancy, and of The School of Stolen Genius, an online learning community for marketers and creative thinkers. Faris is the former Chief Innovation Officer at MDC Partners, EVP and Chief Technology Strategist at McCann-Erikson, and Global Digital Strategy and Creative Director at Naked Communications. Faris is also a prominent international speaker and guest lecturer at a number of universities and has written for publications including Fast Company, Campaign, and The Guardian, and authors a monthly opinion column for the World Advertising Research Council. Today, Faris is joining us from London, England. Faris, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Faris Yakob: Thanks for having me. It’s delightful to be here virtually, as it were.

Adrian Tennant: Well, today we’re talking about your book, Paid Attention, and specifically the second edition, which was published earlier this year. Faris, what prompted you to write this second edition of the book?

Faris Yakob: My publisher, to their surprise, noticed that my book continued to sell five years after it came out. Now, you know, business books don’t sell very many copies. The average business book sells a couple of hundred in its first year, a couple of thousand in its life. And my book was selling thousands per year – not like many thousands – but some, and so it clearly had some longevity. And to be honest, I wrote it with that in mind, because working in the digital parts of the industry for a while, you notice how fast things change, even though some things don’t change, some things do. And publishing is an inherently slow business. It’s an 18-month or two-year production cycle for a book to come out. So I realized by the time the book came out, if I wrote it about now, it wouldn’t be relevant then. So I decided to focus on things that were more principle-based rather than specific practices, perhaps. So they approached me and said, “Would you like to write a second edition? It’s still selling well.” It’ll get a sort of sales bump, essentially, that’s why you do a second edition. It updates it, makes it current so that people who are coming into the industry – which is happening all the time – will consider it to be relevant for them. I get to get a new cover design, which I was excited about. That new cover is, I think, better, I like it a lot. And in the five or six years since it originally came out, the discourse in advertising about the concept of attention went from non-existent to extremely loud. And that made me think there was things I needed to add into my book to make it, as I said, kind of the set of principles that I believe about this stuff. So it just was interesting that the industry kind of began to reflect on attention. And because of that, it felt like I should aggregate all the new research that might help substantiate some of my thinking and make sure that the advice or thoughts were still what I believed.

Adrian Tennant: Could you give us an overview of Paid Attention and an outline of what readers will find within its pages?

Faris Yakob: Absolutely, yeah. So I guess my primary thesis is that attention is the foundational idea of advertising. So the word advertising is derived from the Latin, ‘advertere’, which means to draw attention to things. The function of advertising is to draw attention to things. I started thinking about this because I saw an interview with a guy called Apollo Robbins, who is a pickpocket, slight of hand magician, and fascinating guy. And he said this really interesting thing in a couple of quotes in the magazines and books and then on a TV show he did: “Attention is like water.” And this expression really crystallized a lot of thoughts in my head, this metaphor – I guess it’s actually a simile – really crystallized a lot of thoughts in my head about how things work. Like we call it channel planning because you create channels for attention and you hope it flows down them. But he also says you can’t control attention. As a magician, misdirection is misunderstood. You aren’t trying to push people’s attention away. You’re trying to work out where it is and move around it. So you have to be aware of it, but you can’t get it pushed off in one direction because it can come back, like a boomerang, expose what you’re doing over here. You’ve got to manage it. I thought it was super interesting. And then, you know, if you look at kind of how creativity advertising works, or at least some of the models of how it works whilst the linearity of this model is based on salesmanship from a very early age. And it’s kind of not super literal, the dominant model most people have in their head for how advertising works, it’s still called AIDA, right? It’s a cognitive cascade model. It is that you need attention to get interest, create a decision, which leads to an action. It’s very logical and linear. It feels like it makes some sort of sense, even though it doesn’t work exactly like that. And then, because I used to work in media planning, I was very aware that what we are buying and selling in aggregate is human attention. But we do it through a set of proxies that we call sometimes impressions or whatever. So it seemed like an interesting idea to build all my kind of thoughts about advertising that I’ve been writing about for 15 years around this kind of thought as it being the foundation for everything else, you know? So it’s about that. It’s also about kind of how attention works at a human cognitive level and how advertising both seeks to get it, literally and kind of conceptually, and how you use it. And then importantly, how now I think we’ve evolved since it came out originally to a different stage of media in the world. So the later chapters are all about how people think attention is changing, it’s not really. It’s more that the world changed around it. Humans change extremely slowly, but media changes really fast. Media consumption historically has always just grown as new channels have emerged. But that no longer is happening because we’ve run out of time in the day.

Adrian Tennant: In a chapter entitled Advertising Works in Mysterious Ways, you highlight two apparently diametrically opposed models of advertising. Could you explain them and how they differ with respect to the attention consumers pay to them?

Faris Yakob: Yes, absolutely. So, It may have been Ehrenberg originally who said this, “No model of advertising will ever be true because it works in different ways.” And that was a big part of my thinking: trying to have a single way of understanding human minds and attention in advertising is just logically wrong because there are lots of different kinds of attention, different ways they work. The models that talk about in that chapter, specifically, are based on Robert Heath, who at the University of Bath, wrote a really important set of papers about what he calls low attention processing. Basically, the idea is that when you look at a billboard, you never really look at a billboard or a poster. You drive by it, and yet it still has an effect. His thesis, which he sort of anchored a lot of extremely good research to, is that advertising works better if you don’t pay attention to it. Now, his thinking here is it’s because if you try and convince someone or persuade someone, their defenses go up. If you try and slip in, in the periphery of their consciousness, you create somatic changes in structures of their brain that create decision preferability, essentially. And there’s some evidence that A: we know this works to some degree we can measure low attention processing works. We know it does have an effect. At the same time, when I was originally writing the book, the internet had gotten very exciting. I was very excited about it. I spent most of my career as a consultant before advertising and in advertising sort of just pointing at the internet saying, “This seems quite important. Perhaps we should do something about that.” And the model essentially there was engagement, which is fundamentally the opposite of low attention processing. It’s like the more engaged somebody is with something, which we measure through a different set of proxies, behaviors, essentially clicking on things – we did then, at least – was basically the more engaged somebody is in your advertising or your content the better it will work. And I was struggling to reconcile how these two things could both be true. But the thing I said at the beginning is how they’re both true. Some attention works quite well, and can be very efficient at super-high frequencies, for example. If a bit of attention works, a lot of attention should work more. If we think about it as a linear thing, Which is somewhat satisfying that now that appears to be true. And it also kind of plays to Heath’s point, which is the separation of selling messaging from branding messaging, which is a big part of the last decade or so of thinking in the industry, right? Branding and direct marketing or sales promotion, whatever you want to call it, are different. They work differently. And the kinds of creative you use for them should be different. And you measure them differently and so on. So it kind of slightly reconciles that dichotomy.

Adrian Tennant: In the book, you also have a chapter entitled Everything is PR. So Faris, why should advertising attempt to become famous?

Faris Yakob: That’s a good question. Because that’s the job of advertising and the way it works best is the answer. So, Binet and Field are very clear about this. There’s a couple of pieces we have to build before we can get to this point, I think, but there are very few absolute rules in marketing. They probably can’t be on account of humans are complex and the world is complex, that’s the thing. But there is a very strong correlation and a statistically robust, consistent correlation between excess share of voice, which is buying more media than your competitors in certain channels or places and market share growth. It’s usually something like 10% plus excess share of voice leads to 0.5% plus market share growth over about six months. The point being is excess share of voice means spending more money than other people, which inherently means smaller brands can’t really do that. So it’s like the Double Jeopardy law: biggest brands tend to get both more penetration and tiny, slightly, very slightly higher frequency of purchase, which we sometimes call loyalty, which is a misleading term, but slightly higher frequency of purchase. So that Double Jeopardy law is quite robust across all kinds of decades, markets, categories, et cetera. So, if you want to grow, you have to create in Ehrenberg-Bass-ian terms mental availability. That makes logical sense because excess share of voice gives you more space in someone’s media life than other brands, which means you get more mental availability. Now the fame piece comes from both Binet and Field and, Paul Feldwick, one of the great thinkers about brand, and Feldwick’s point in Why Does The Peddler Sing? Is that mental availability is a psychological construct. The way in which you get mental availability is by making things famous. Jeremy Bullmore made this point in the nineties. Bullmore was the Worldwide Creative Director of WPP. And before that, a partner of Stephen King, the creator of what’s known as account planning, the strategic function within advertising. And Bullmore said in a paper called Persil and Posh Spice, and that he wrote in 1994 I think, that Posh Spice understood intuitively how the world of advertising works when she said in her autobiography, I believe learning to fly it’s called, She said I wanted from the very beginning, I wanted to be more famous than Persil Automatic, which is a detergent brand in the UK also known as Omo in many markets. Her insight was so strong because he said the only thing that all successful brands universally have is a certain level of fame. And then in all the data research from Binet and Field, from the IPA Databank and so on, they talk about fame advertising as a certain kind of advertising, which generates excess share of voice without excess media purchasing, because people are more likely to talk about it personally, or share about it on the internet. So you generate excess share of voice for less media money, which means you can grow without outspending the competition. So fame ultimately, or the previous great minds I’ve mentioned, have come to the idea that that’s the job: is to make things famous. And the reason that the chapter’s called Everything is PR is because it’s a couple of things. What PR does is try and get earned attention. So layering PR thinking into advertising is probably a good idea. If you want to generate outsized market share returns for less media budget, which everybody has to now, unless you’re the biggest brand in the world. But also, everything a company does is now very visible in a way that it historically wasn’t. Advertising was the most visible aspect of a company’s behavior because everybody saw all the same stuff, but not everybody’s a customer of every company. So you probably are more likely to have seen the ads of a company than you were to have bought the product, if that makes sense? But for a long time, I worked for a company called Naked Communications, which was like an integrated creative, media, strategy, boutique operation that was briefly very successful and a bit famous. And their insight, one of the reasons they call it Naked, was that they think because of the internet, especially, and the modern media world, brands now stand naked in front of consumers, which is to say when the CEO of a company tweets, it has significant communication effect. everything a company does is branding. Branding is the behavior of the company in totality: its product, its services, how it pays its staff, what people say about it in the press, and its advertising. And so when I say everything is PR, what I mean is that every action of the company, every utterance, should be considered for how it will affect the perception of the brand. Not that PR agencies are going to rule the world. That’s not what I mean, but they are useful advisors!

Adrian Tennant: Based on your research, how does human attention work? And honestly, why should marketers care?

Faris Yakob: Right. Well, how does it work? I like to say something like it’s a many-splendoured thing. It works in many different ways and it’s complex, therefore. In some aspect, the sharp pointy focused end of the most complex phenomena in the known universe: human consciousness. Right? So the fact that it’s complex is not surprising because of that. In other ways, you can measure it just as what’s called sustained awareness of a certain thing. Right? So the origins of psychology come from a book by the brother of Henry James, the author. And he sort of says attention to essentially you choosing to pay attention, which is slightly recursive, but you get the point, you choosing to attend to one or some things out of a set of possible stimuli, external and internal. When you make somebody do complex maths in their head, or remember things, it’s easy to pick their pockets as Apollo Robbins knows, ’cause their attention is directed inwards So it’s partially a thing where you choose how to focus your brain and therefore, by extension, it’s your experience of life. it’s how you interface with reality. That’s kind of the conceptual level. It’s also looking at stuff to some degree and you know, that’s part of it too. and it also works in various different ways. So you have thinking like some attention is what’s called broad-beamed. This is coming from Orlando Wood’s work in Look Out. Part of your brain is constantly trying to keep you alive, so your attention system is an alert system that keeps you constantly monitoring for threats around you. That’s broad-beamed attention, essentially. When you choose to focus on something to do work or hunt originally, you narrow your focus down to sort of very small point and try and focus on just that thing, so you can do sustained work or hunting they’re different kinds of attention, right? Equally, because your brain is trying to keep you alive, if alarms go off or you see a bear attack, that will take over your attention, you can’t control that. It will try and keep you alive, even if you’re really, really interested in, the maths you’re doing, it will try and say, “hang on, the bear!” Or, you know, “alarm, run away!” You know, so it works in different ways. Why is it important? Well, advertising has to somehow get from media into your head and the direct route for that is attention in different ways, but you have certain sensory organs. And you process a huge amount of visual and auditory data and your brain ignores the vast majority of it. You can’t consume the amount of stuff your eyes are seeing. In fact, according to a podcast, I heard recently only about 10% of the data your brain uses to create “seeing” comes from your eyes or optic nerves. The rest comes from the rest of your brain. Because it’s not just doing pictures. It’s pattern recognition. It’s conceptualizing. It’s trying to work out if you know about these things, if they’re dangerous, if their mate potential, it’s telling you, you know what this is, and that is a lot of seeing is generated internally. But, at some point, you have to create mental availability, which means you have to get your brand from through the media, into someone’s head, in order to effect any possible change. So I would say the attention is the sine qua non of advertising, without which there is nothing. If no one sees or hears your ads ever, they definitely aren’t going to work.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Sandra Marshall: I’m Sandra Marshall, VP of Client Services at Bigeye. Every week IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as advertising professionals. At Bigeye, we always put audiences first. For every engagement, we’re committed not just to understanding our clients’ business challenges but also learning about their prospects’ and customers’ attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. These insights inform our strategy and collectively inspire the account, creative, media, and analytics teams working on our clients’ projects. If you’d like to put Bigeye’s audience-focused consumer insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, The Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in specific areas of marketing and consumer research. Our featured book for April is Paid Attention: Innovative Advertising for a Digital World by Faris Yakob. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with exclusive promo code BIGEYE20. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free e-book offer. To order your copy of Paid Attention, go to – that’s K O G A N, P A G E dot com.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Faris Yacob, co-founder of the creative consultancy, Genius Steals, and the author of this month’s Bigeye Book Club selection, Paid Attention: Innovative Advertising for a Digital World. You include several case studies in the book. Could you talk us through just a couple that characterizes smart, integrated communications planning?

Faris Yakob: Yeah, so I guess part of what I’m interested in the book is focusing on the sort of first bit of advertising, which is attention. And there’s a lot of work coming out now I think about the second bit, which is emotion and how creative actually affects human decision-making. One of the new case studies I wrote about, because I was really interested in it, because it was so divisive in the industry, which is always an interesting thing. The industry has got very…. the industry? The world has got somewhat polarized into kind of very naive binary positions. It is this, or it is that. I’m like, it probably isn’t either. It’s probably both and maybe a bit of, you know, when anyway. But the Burger King work for the last 5, 6, 7 years under Fernando Machado, who’s subsequently left, to me, felt like a very different model of communication than we historically were using. So a PR-led advertising model, where every campaign was completely different and every campaign was designed to generate mainstream media coverage. I thought that was really interesting. Now, one of the things that’s happened subsequently to him leaving for Activision is that Burger King has decided this model doesn’t work anymore. At the time, I did a bunch of research into the financials of that company. It seemed to work pretty well for a while, and then it didn’t work as well. And then people panic because business needs growth constantly. That’s the nature of these things. And I think there’s a reason for this, right? So Cory Doctorow, who’s the extremely smart writer and kind of cultural media technology thinker, writes about this. He says, “The thing humans are best at, or one of the things humans are best at is habituation.” We get used to things really, really fast and things that are exciting and novel will attract our attention. If you do them again and again, they stop attracting attention. Like the boy who cried Wolf! because we just habituate to that and be like, “Oh, well I get it now. Huh? Whatever.” So that’s my thesis for what happened with Burger King: for a few years, they were knocking it out of the park with really, really big hits that were generating a lot of excess share of voice through earned media because they were hacking the system a little bit with PR ideas. And then it stopped working as well because people are like, “I sort of get what you’re doing now. I got a bit bored of it.” You know, I think also one of my hopes or ambitions perhaps with the book is to go back to some of the Naked kind of thinking, which is that because if everything’s communication, if everything communicates, really good integrated communications planning has to involve thinking about internal audiences at the company and how the company behaves financially, legally, commercially, in climate terms, and so on. To me, that’s kind of, it’s always been kind of this weird division because advertising is an industry built on utterance: we say things for other people, we’re all ghostwriters for brands. But when the internet collapses media and commerce, as it increasingly is doing and was inevitable, certain gaps appeared in kind of the customer experience. It’s called the experience gap, sometimes. We promise certain things and then people become our customers. And it’s not exactly as good as we thought. And sometimes customer service is a bit difficult to get hold of or whatever it is. And so we were trying to fill some of those gaps, which is what the customer experience industry is all about, right? That’s what evolved is to try and fill some of these service level gaps between promises, utterances, and actions. To me, integrated communication planning is integrated marketing strategy is business strategy to some degree, – not the financial part maybe as much – but it’s thinking holistically about how the company acts in the world and how media is part of that behavior.

Adrian Tennant: Using research on how media consumption can affect psychological wellbeing, you created a tool called the Media Pyramid, which looks very similar to the food pyramid. Faris, what led you to create the model?

Faris Yakob: Why did I do it originally? Because I consume a vast amount of Twitter and I have to actively attempt to control the amount of Twitter I consume. Because the way my brain works, it likes very high frequency, high volume, disparate information to be fired at it all the time. So Twitter is uniquely suited to my media consumption modality. And I began to be aware before doom scrolling was a thing that I spent all day on Twitter. I started to feel a bit bad about stuff. And so I started looking into research about how media consumption effects reported psychological wellbeing. So when I started thinking about it, I was like, maybe I need to think about a diet, like a more balanced diets for my brain. And that led me straight to the food pyramid. Which is a now non-used model in America, the USDA abandoned it in the 2000s, but they replaced it with a thing called My Plate, which is useless. Well, I like about immediate the food pyramid model is that it’s beautifully simple in what it expresses, right? You eat 2,000 calories a day. I’m making a triangle shape with my hands, ’cause the food pyramid actually is a triangle and not a pyramid. But I followed the convention and called it a Media Pyramid, even though it’s a triangle. Anyway, you have 2,000 calories a day you should be consuming if you’re an adult man, give or take. And the things that are worst for you should make up the least amount of those calories. So the things at the top, sugars and stuff like that, Which our kind of evolved brain is extremely drawn towards because that super dense energy sources that were very rare in the conceptual African Savannah, upon which we all evolved. Because they’re rare, fats sugars and so on salts, we are drawn to them and we tend to overeat them if we have them in abundance, which is what happens. Hence the food pyramid was invented to say, ” a bit less sugar would be good”. And then at the bottom of the food pyramid, the things down there “Eat as much as you want vegetables, fruits, which contain sugar, but there are things that are better for you and things that worse for you and you should try and make your diet fit into that pyramid because you’ll be healthier.” And we tend to naturally eat upside down. Because when we’re given sugars, salts and fats, our limbic brain goes, “ah!”, you know, “get as much as you can.” And we live in times of, in some places of the world, extremely high calorific abundance, but most of those calories skew towards the things that aren’t very good for us, especially the cheap ones. So the model is simple to understand. I took to it and I started looking into the research that exists. And there’s, there is some of it it’s not huge amount, but I used as much as I could to build this. And it’s obviously a subjective attempt to think about media in a way that’s, your whole consumption of a day. How much Twitter should I be consuming? So how much social media is good for you? And because social media has become polarizing in the last decade or so, there is a lot of research about this. And then we search mostly also is between the half an hour, one hour, maybe even two hours a day of social media consumption, people tend to feel better. They feel connected. They feel informed. They feel engaged. They feel like they did something if they messaged somebody, you know. but after that, it begins to decline. And after a certain number of hours, if you’ve been doom scrolling for eight hours, you tend to report feeling worse than when you started. And the same is true with other channels. They have different curves if you like. Right? Whereas at the very bottom of the pyramid, people that read a lot of books never say, “Oh, I read a book all day. And I felt terrible afterwards.” That doesn’t happen that no one’s reported that they just go, “I feel smarter. I had a nice time.” People that play games with their friends or talk to each other or go to museums or indulge in I guess, “high culture”, that is kind of designed to be educational and informative and engaging, which is obviously somewhat bound up with kind of class distinctions and availability and all that kind of stuff, which I appreciate. Some things we consume make us feel better. People that consume podcasts report feeling good afterwards and mostly smarter sometimes. So it feels like it made sense for me to try and manage my diet because I was being drawn by the attention hacking mechanisms of the magic rectangle in my hand and the business models of the companies that want my attention to over-consuming certain things to the point where, to my own personal detriment. So I built a model, I put it on the internet and it got a lot of mainstream media pickup, because it was a feeling a lot of people were having and I found a triangle that made it sort of feel like you could think about it in a certain way. so it was, for me originally, it was a tool for me. But that’s how most of my thinking starts, I suppose.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. Interesting. So how might readers of Paid Attention use the pyramid to inform media planning, for example?

Faris Yakob: Right. So I did an evolution of this, how to plan media in a sort of media pyramid way based on the, I guess you can call it an insight if you want. But my thought was “Okay, there’s a lot of research to show that emotional congruency is a part of how attention transfer and advertising works, which is to say happy ads in happy environments or fishing ads in fishing environments, or finance ads in finance environments work better than non-congruous, non contextually relevant advertising.” Also, if people are enjoying themselves in the first couple of hours of their social media consumption or their ad supported streaming binge, there’s probably a qualitatively different effects for the advertising that operates in those two hours, than there is getting served the same impressions to the same people on the same exact channel eight hours later, when they’re miserable about it. If that’s the case, the way we balance our overall communication strategy should be considered across different time horizons and what I considered to be different levels of agency. So usually the more agency you have in your media consumption, the more likely you are to enjoy it for longer. Which is to say, if you graze broadcast television endlessly and are fed, versus if you choose to watch a certain thing, you get a longer amount of positive feelings if you choose to watch something that if you just graze. The same as true with Facebook, they’ve written about this many times. Social media in feed, if you just scroll endlessly, you get a certain amount of time before you get sad. But if you use it to communicate with people you get much longer actually makes you feel better to communicate with people, humans like that, it turns out. So there’s different vectors that the pyramid works along and they sort of map against McLuhan-esque thinking of like hot and cold media and fast and slow media and different things work in different ways. So Binet and Field have a lot of lovely graphs. One of them shows certain channels that are inherently better at brand building and certain ones that are inherently better at direct response. And it’s not exactly as simple as that, but it does make sense that things that you can do very quickly, where you can click a button and buy the thing you just saw on impulse-driven Instagram or whatever works really well with direct response. Why wouldn’t it? Make sense, right? You don’t have to go to a shop. You just literally just clicking on the button. You did it. Of course that’s going to work well that way. Can it do branding as well? Yeah, it can, but it works differently. But things like sponsorships are much better at branding overall for sort of obvious reasons because they’re inherently much longer term. Sponsorships or like football and like big sport events sponsorships, or like museums sponsorships, or anything like that. A: you’re inherently there to experience those things. Events are good for branding as well because you’re experiencing them for longer in more dimensions, and they tend to last for years. And we know that branding effects take years to show up. So it kind of maps really well to a lot of the stuff we already have begun to understand about different channels and how we use them. But it isn’t as simple as just like 10% here, 10% here, 10% here. Like I tried to make it seem because every situation is different and context is hugely important in all considerations, objectives, budgets, et cetera.

Adrian Tennant: Towards the end of Paid Attention, you write – and I quote – “While attention is the determinant resource being bought, sold, and allocated in advertising exchanges between companies and people, it’s a complex, precious thing and deserves respect in its capture and utilization by brands. It is a commons that needs renewing and protecting.” Faris, can you unpack this idea for us?

Faris Yakob: Absolutely. Yeah, that is how I write, and I guess how I speak also. So, for a while, the industry started saying something like data is the new oil and the corollary of that idea was the attention was being metaphorically, turned into a commodity. So the idea of the attention economy, it comes from the early seventies, a Nobel prize-winning economist called Herbert Simon first invented the term because he said, look, there’s more media, and there’s more information being generated all the time. And information consumes attention, media consumes attention. So if we have more media than we have attention, then the economics of things invert and the tension becomes an economic good because economics is the science of the allocation of scarcity. That’s what it is. That’s what it’s for. There’s a certain amount of stuff. Who gets it? Economics. So the idea is really old. And then somebody in the nineties wrote a thing about the attention economy for the internet It was a really prescient article way, way ahead of its time. The internet was a K dial-up thing at the time, but it was really prescient. Because there’s just less attention than there is brands and ideas that want yours and ours in totality. So my brother’s epidemiologist. He referred to this as scrambled competition. It’s a form of competition between different things that creates kind of an endless escalation sort of arms race. When we started thinking about attention as a commodity, the metaphors we use are very important. We think in metaphors too. I mean, if you believe George Lakoff the psychologist, he talks about this a lot with the way we think is purely metaphorical. Our brains work through analogy, not from first principle analysis very often. It’s too laborious. The metaphors we use change how we think about things and when attention became a commodity, we know how capitalism operates with commodities. We mine them, refine them, process them, and sell them in value-added ways to make money until they’re gone, which is going to be a problem in lots of different areas, obviously. And I feel like at the beginning, I didn’t make that clear enough and it became more clear to me in the last five years. A: ’cause I read some philosophy about attention, and B: media consumption has grown, always growing historically, since every channel was invented, adds to the media consumption like radio and TV and papers and everything. You just get more and more media consumption, but we’ve reached what I call peak attention in most mature media markets now. According to Nielsen, who are going through their own measurement and accreditation issues right now, media consumption has plateaued in America at about 12 hours and a few minutes per year. It changes by about one or two minutes a year, no more. There’s an obvious reason for this. If you’re consuming 12 hours of media a day, there’s not a lot of time left to get anything else done. I don’t know how people are managing it, but Americans do watch a lot of television. In the UK, it’s about 10 hours a day, but it sort of plateaus, it just stops growing. There’s just nowhere left for it to grow because there’s no room left in the day. Because the magic rectangle in our hand means that media can fill every possible crevice of time and space. Because of that, attention becomes a zero-sum game: companies are all fighting for it, media companies are trying to get more of it from each other so they can sell it to advertisers, and at a certain point, people started to feel like this was a lot. And so different mechanisms begin to happen, right? People go on digital detoxes or meditation became popular again for the first time since the sixties, because everyone’s like, “I feel like something is happening. And I feel like I need to reclaim some of it.” so, if you can change the metaphor from a commodity to a commons, we might be able to change how we think about it. A: your attention is literally how you experience reality. It’s your experience of your own life, how you choose to allocate it will dictate what your life is and how you think and what you believe it’s everything to some degree. Cause it’s all that’s coming in. It’s precious. And if we look at it through spreadsheets, sometimes it’s easy to dehumanize the people part of the advertising exchange. And that leads to bad advertising and bad relationships with brands and bad media being supported, perhaps unintentionally because of the scale and complexity of the algorithmic infrastructure that provides programmatic advertising. And by bad media. I mean media that lies to sell you snake oil supplements specifically that any media which tells obvious falsehoods, demonstrably untrue things in order to sell snake oil or, supplements or whatever they sell is bad. That’s bad. Don’t do that. so, the idea of the commons comes from the tragedy of the commons, right? A very famous economic principle. Let’s say you have a number of sheep farmers – shepherds? Let’s say shepherds! – shepherds. and they all have access to a common piece of ground full of grass. They all responsibly feed their sheep a certain amount per day. The grass grows back. It’s renewable. All the sheeps are fine. Sheeps? That’s not right. All the sheep are fine and everybody is fine. However, in economics, a rational actor will try and get preferential access to resources. Economics thinks about individuals, not really about sharing stuff very much because it’s the allocation who gets what, right? So one of the shepherds has this idea. What if I sneak out onto the commons at night when no one’s looking and I just feed my sheep a little bit more grass. They’ll grow a bit faster. They’ll get a bit fatter. They’ll get better milk. They’ll get better wool. I will win. No one else loses because it still grows back and the amount that I take extra is only a little bit. however, we’re all rational actors. So we’ll all do that. And then all the shepherds sneakily get their sheep on there at different times of night apparently not noticing each other, but it doesn’t matter. And we overgraze the resource until it dies and the commons becomes a desert and then the sheep all die and then everyone dies. That’s why it’s called a tragedy. And that’s what happens with resources that we all share. And it’s, what’s happening kind of in the world. And it’s sort of what happened in advertising with attention. We’re like, “let’s just get all of it we can.” But we have to be careful we don’t destroy it. And I know that sounds nonsense terming, but what I mean is reactions will happen if there’s too much supply or too much overgrazing of attention. Reactions like 20 to 30% of young people use ad-blocking technology on their laptops so they do not get served advertising. that’s an over-farming reaction, right? Places like San Paolo in Brazil, banned all outdoor advertising. All billboards now are illegal. They don’t exist. If you’ve been there, it’s kind of weird, spooky even. So used to seeing ads everywhere, when they’re gone, their absence is noticeable. But that’s because they were not responsible with it. Advertising is a self-regulated industry in most markets and increasingly what’s happened is we weren’t very responsible with it. And so things like GDPR were created to force us to be responsible in how we capture, utilize attention and data.

Adrian Tennant: Faris, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about Genius Steals, The School of Stolen Genius, or your writing, where can they find you?

Faris Yakob: So is the consultancy previously mentioned that I set up with my wife, and we do larger projects with brands, agencies, and media companies. The School of Stolen Genius is an online learning community that we have created in order to provide access to some of the thinking that we aggregate and generate for individuals who are not part of large agency structures, which is increasingly happening, and don’t have massive budgets in order to pay for huge amounts of subscriptions to huge datasets or whatever the massive holding companies can afford. That’s The SchoolOfStolenGeni.US. I am on Twitter as I mentioned more than I should be. And I’m just @Faris on Twitter @ F A R I S. And my book is available in all places that books exist or can be bought, I assume. and perhaps most maybe usefully as an intermediate measure, we have a newsletter called Strands of Stolen Genius brief bursts of inspiration of your inbox that we publish twice weekly. the first one we published, Rosie and I write it. And then every week, we curate a new contributor from our travels that we’ve met, who seems interesting in any field that’s interesting, but largely to do with creative industries, broadly, and many advertising and marketing people. So it goes out to 13 or 14,000 marketers and agency folk all over the world. It’s free. It will always be free. And it’s a good way to sort of be in touch with us and to get access to the things that are inspiring us and the people that inspire us too.

Adrian Tennant: And if you’d like to obtain a copy of Faris’s book, Paid Attention, as an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you’ll receive a 20% discount when you purchase online at Just enter the promo code, BIGEYE20 at the checkout. Faris, thank you very much, indeed, for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Faris Yakob: Thanks for having me. It’s been a pleasure. 

Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to my guest this week, Faris Yakob, co-founder of the creative consultancy Genius Steals, and the author of this month’s Bigeye Book Club selection, Paid Attention: Innovative Advertising for a Digital World. As always, you’ll find a full transcript of our conversation along with links to the resources we discussed on the Bigeye website at under insights, just select podcast. And if you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us wherever you listen to podcasts, submit a review, or tell a friend about IN CLEAR FOCUS. It really helps us out. Thanks again for listening. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.