Reflections on a “Biometric” Summer

Labor Day is upon us again, as is my usual feeling that the summer went by in the blink of an eye. The “end” of something usually brings on an urge to reflect so I thought I’d take this opportunity to share a few reflections on what I am calling my “Biometric Summer.” Please bear with me as some of my reflections may sound like the “nerdy media scientist professor” who got his first complete look at an extremely exciting and engaged community of industry professionals.  After all, that is a pretty accurate description of me this summer.

Reflection 1: The marketing communication and research industry is thriving with professionals who are creating an exciting intellectual and scientific environment in pursuit of new ways of understanding consumers and the process of effectively communicating with them.

I had the privilege of meeting amazing and intelligent professionals this summer through the work I did in establishing the HCD Research Biometric Lab and presenting to their clients. I hope some of you are reading this and get to see what an honor I consider it to be to have had the opportunity to meet and work with you. Honestly, just as some industry professionals view professors as isolated, esoteric, ivory tower geeks who can’t deliver practical value — some professors view industry professionals as shallow and naive in regard to the value of obtaining in-depth, scientific knowledge of the marketing communication process. These are obviously unproductive points of view that don’t hold up for the majority of talented individuals working on both sides of this “gap.”

One element of the “exciting intellectual, scientific environment” that I mentioned above is an increase in industry/academic partnerships like the one established between HCD Research and my lab, the PRIME Lab, at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. My Biometric Summer has served to further convince me that we need to eliminate old negative stereotypes and collaborate even more to bridge the gap between industry and academia that we have all played a part in sustaining. I will do my best through the partnership I have with HCD Research to foster a positive collaborative environment and advance the scientifically valid and valuable application of biometric measures in marketing communication science.

Another great example of industry and academia coming together is the effort led by the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) to increase the scientific knowledge of neuromarketing measures, methods and potential insights that might be gained from the research. This effort is particularly exciting to me because it is explicitly focused on the pursuit of new ways of understanding consumers and the process of effectively communicating with them. I will dedicate a future blog to discussing this effort. HCD Research and I will be delivering a related presentation, specifically on biometrics, at a lunch session on Thursday, October 11 in New York at the ARF.  Specific details will be announced later, but please consider this an informal “save the date” announcement and join us if you can.

Reflection 2: The industry’s interest in applying biometric measures to understanding how consumers process and respond to brand messages is extremely high. However, we need to proceed with the necessary and appropriate caution.

This is a theme that I’ve touched on in previous blogs, but my experience this summer has provided me with more specific insight. I’ve been thrilled with the number of biometric presentations that I have delivered to teams at a wide range of organizations this summer. This is an ongoing activity that your organization is welcome to participate in. These presentations, in most cases, evolved from “presentations” to conversations with intelligent professionals who demonstrated a high level of interest in biometrics with extremely interesting and relevant questions. This illustrates the “appropriate caution” that I mentioned earlier.

We all need to be appropriately skeptical of any research enterprise that over claims or hypes the conclusions about consumers that can be drawn by somehow probing the activity of their brains.  Please note, I’m not only talking about EEG and fMRI here but also the collection of peripheral nervous system measures, such as heart rate and galvanic skin response, which I use in my own research.

The presentations and projects I was involved in this summer are all grounded in first, taking a holistic view of how consumers process and respond to brand messages and second, maintaining a proper perspective on what brand communication concepts (e.g. attention, emotion) biometric measures validly index and how to interpret biometric data within the boundaries of the communication environment and message. This approach is why one of the most successful aspects of my Biometric Summer has been that we were able to take some significant steps forward in advancing the scientifically valid and valuable application of biometric measures in marketing communication science.

So, as my Biometric Summer 2012 comes to a close, I get to re-enter my “academic” world with the craziness of a new semester and a new sense of excitement over biometric marketing communication science. As a result of my summer experience, the students in my media psychophysiology and advertising psychology classes are in for a real treat!

I also look forward to working with you as we bridge the gap I mentioned earlier, and share in this intellectually exciting and promising enterprise that I’m calling biometric marketing communication science.