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Mark Webster interview

5Q5M (5 Questions in 5 Minutes) with Mark Webster – Non Exec Director of Split Second Research

As part of the series, 5 questions in 5 minutes, Paul Barrow from research agency the BLINC partnership interviews Mark Webster of Split Second Research who BLINC work with on all their Implicit testing. The interview went on for 10 minutes rather than 5 and as Paul said it was “too interesting to squeeze into 5 mins!”.

Watch HERE

Split Second Research Scoops Up Two David Ogilvy Awards

Split Second Research, with Edelman Intelligence and Hewlett Packard, took two awards at the ARF David Ogilvy Awards, September 2019.

We won GOLD in the category TECH & COMMUNICATIONS (beating Twitter and Samsung), and SILVER in the category DATA INNOVATION.

The aim of the marketing campaign was to reinforce HP’s leadership in diversity and inclusion. The goal of the research was to understand what Americans from all walks of life associate at conscious and unconscious levels with “The All American Family” . HP wanted to raise awareness that printed photographs have a powerful impact and are still relevant in today’s digital world.

With Edelman Intelligence, Split Second Research designed an implicit test with images of families that varied by their ethnicity, sexual orientation, presence of children, and number of parents. It assessed the extent to which an unconscious bias existed in their associations with what represents and “All American Family” and what does not.

The key finding was that “75% of respondents picture an all-American family as a white mom, dad and kids. However, census data tells us that in reality, only 25% of families match that portrait.”

The research inspired a marketing campaign that has helped HP achieve double digit growth in the quarter immediately following the campaign.

Read the case study here.


Like many thousands of businesses, we are missing physical conferences big-time. While virtual conferences are fun and informative, they can’t truly replace meeting other people working in your area face-to-face.

However, there are some advantages of online conferences, such as not needing to leave home, and we were delighted to present at the recent DIGITALKS EXPO2020 in Brazil – streaming live form the UK, of course (and sadly). We presented our approach of using simulated artificial neural networks to understand a market category and the positioning of brands within it. If you would like a copy of the presentation please complete a CONTACT FORM.

Our most recent in-person conference was Certamente Albania in December last year, though it seems more distant than that, and what a beautiful city Tirana is. It was organised by our dear Italian friends, Barbara and Luca of Ottosunove. We look forward to Certamente 2021 and in Milan, not online!

Eamon Fulcher presenting in Albania Certamente 2019

Psychological stress or growth will determine post-pandemic consumer behaviour

In the wake of COVID-19, research in the field of cognitive neuroscience may provide some helpful pointers on how consumer behaviour will evolve.

  • Neuroscience and psychological science is pointing the way towards longer term changes in consumer behaviour.
  • As the world continues to adapt to a post-pandemic environment, recent experiences and behavioural adaptations will continue to forge lasting changes on our brains.
  • Brands that make it easy to create new routines and embed themselves into consumers’ lives when habits and rituals are malleable, are likely to acquire competitive advantage.

Read the full article here (if you are a WARC subscriber)

Or request a pdf of the full article by completing the contact form here

Split Second Research making news in Brazil

Jornal da Globo, the largest commercial TV network in Brazil, reported on Split Second Research’s study on personal debt. The survey was conducted in partnership with Serasa on how people are coping financially during the pandemic. Using explicit and implicit measures, it focused on which bills people are prioritising. Below is the link to the report.

82% say they will have difficulty paying bills (Serasa / Split Second)


What post-COVID-19 new normality may look like and why many have already started their market research to find out

A recent YouGov survey indicated that only about 1 in 10 Britons want to return to life as normal. Indeed, as virtually everyone has been affected by COVID-19 I think we are all aware by now that when the lockdown is over the new ‘normal’ will be very different to the pre-virus normality.

It is clear that there will be, and indeed as we are currently seeing, many personal and social changes, and these are sure to influence consumers in the long run. The message here is that brands need to understand these changes and their likely effects on their business, so they can better plan for the demands in the new normality.

Change would occur for two main reasons. Firstly, having experienced such a dramatic change in our lives, we have been exposed to new or at least different set of circumstances and these have subjected us to new ideas, new brands, products and services, and new ways of seeing the same things. Secondly, we learned that those with underlying health conditions were more likely to become seriously ill, so in anticipation of this happening again in the future, people will want to feel healthier and better able to cope. It is not just governments who will have learned an important lesson about preparedness for such a crisis, we too as individuals, as families, as colleagues, and as neighbours will want to be better prepared.

So, the obvious prediction I have heard several times is an increase in healthier foods, especially foods aimed at being preventative. I have to say, though, that I did notice some of the healthier foods (fresh fruit and vegetables, and especially the organic ones) were not the first items to run out in the supermarket during the panic buying. Instead, ready meals, like pizza, tinned soups, tomato ketchup, and fizzy drinks were first to go. There is too the perceptions that items that fit into the luxury category were less needed and not essential.

“It’s strange how the economy is about to collapse because people are only buying what they need…”

– a meme that did the rounds on social media around 14th April.

Some consumer behaviour is unlikely to change. For example, our need for basic foods, such as dairy products, rice, pasta, bread, fresh fruit and vegetables will continue pretty much as they did before, but our relationship with them and especially the way we consume these products may change. We may see an increase in consumption of foods that have a longer shelf life, such as tinned and frozen foods. We may find more people baking their own bread or certainly preparing their own food rather than buying pre-prepared meals. Hence, we may see a surge in home baking materials (these were some of the first products to be sold out during the earlier days when panic buying was prevalent). Moreover, we may witness a strong ‘grow-your-own’ trend, with people turning the lawned area of their garden into a vegetable patch.

Or will we? The opposite is also possible. After being cooped-up for several months we may see a drive towards prepared foods, pre-cooked meals, takeaways, and of course eating in restaurants, as people grasp the opportunity to be waited on. A good example of this is when New Zealand eased the lockdown and everyone flocked to McDonalds, which soon ran out of products. What was once taken for granted becomes a forgotten but revisited pleasure.

Will we see indulgence on a sudden intense scale? It reminds me of that YouTube video of a herd of cows jumping for joy in the field having been cooped up in the barn over the winter. Yet this may be countered by the surge in unemployment and lack of spending power that may exist. Many businesses and even famous household brand names will be lost, especially those with products and services that were overly dependent on face-to-face contact and travel, such as high street shops, tourism and related industries. Those with an online presence were better able to adapt. It shows that businesses always need to be adaptive and resourceful and less reliant on a single product or one specific way of delivering their product.

The before-after aerial images of China and Italy have brought home the dramatic influence of human activity on the environmental pollution. We have also seen images in the media of animals roaming deserted city streets. Will this raise environmental consciousness? Will people seek more locally sourced food and products? Will people choose more local destinations for their holidays? Or will we behave like those unleashed herds of cows and visit places we have yet to tick off from our bucket list, so making up for lost time?

Having discovered that much of their workforce are able to work from home quite successfully, we may see companies encouraging this more and so reducing their overheads, or at least to free up crowded offices. Consequently, city centres may become less busy and the beleaguered high street may suffer further. Online entertainment services like Netflix and game apps have flourished during the lockdown. In the new normality, home entertainments may become more attractive and less expensive than the cinemas, theatres, rock venues, and so on. Yet, having been deprived of rock concerts, sports, and other community events, people may flock to them in unmanageable numbers.

It raises the question of which industries will see a huge and dramatic increase in demand and which will see a continued decline. There may be two responses to social isolation, one inhibited like newly released prisoners unable to cope with too much stimuli in their environment or the newly freed herd of cows jumping for joy in the field. People the world over have been traumatised. People cope with trauma in different ways. Many have enjoyed mutual support from, and a greater reliance on friends, family and neighbours. In many cases these would have strengthened our relationships, while others would have had their weaknesses exposed. We may also value resilience more, and as individuals strive to become more resilient. So, people may explore activities and events related to self-improvement rather than seeking to be ‘merely’ entertained. We may also come to rely less on gurus, prophets, or celebrity commentators, and more on expertise and science-based decision making.

“In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to”

– Lawrence H. Gerstein, Director, Center for Peace and Conflict Studies https://www.bsu.edu/academics/centersandinstitutes/peace/outreach-and-services/covid-19-peaceful-strategies

Aside from the obvious changes, such as fewer cash transactions, the end of hand-shaking, a new trend in fashionable masks, more online shopping, and a greater value for those in essential occupations, there will be other changes that we cannot predict with any degree of accuracy so soon unless we begin to ask those questions. Which products and services will see a burst of new demand and which will struggle? How should businesses adapt to the new normality in their sector?

It reminds me of that feeling we call ‘pins and needles’ – when our arm has ‘gone to sleep’ and feeling suddenly returns (translation). As the nerves in our arm receive new blood supply, so they make their presence known, and it hurts! So, too for some industries as demand dramatically increases, if they are not prepared for it, it could be very painful and a lost opportunity. So doing their market research now will pay dividends later. For other brands and services where demand will wane, they need to do their research now to understand how they can best adapt to what the consumer will want in the new normality.

In trying to understand the impact of the pandemic on consumer behaviour in the surveys we have been conducting, we have developed a scale to measure coronavirus-induced anxiety. It has thrown new light on the differences between those with low and high anxiety and how they behave as consumers. Several of our surveys have revealed that natural worriers and those who worry about coronavirus more than most, evaluate brands, products and services in many different ways to those who seldom worry, and this has important implications for businesses.

Finally, as a psychologist I’ve been interested and concerned about how those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have reacted to the pandemic. One feature of OCD is a fear of contamination and many of their symptoms are a response to this, such as regular hand washing, keeping a distance from other people, not touching door handles and the like, holding their breath when someone sneezes, and similar, all to reduce the chances of becoming contaminated with a disease. These are the very behaviours that everyone has been encouraged to adopt. It seems that those with contamination OCD were right all along and have just been waiting for the rest of the world to play catch up! So, ironically, while therapists have been trying to use exposure therapy to help recovery from contamination OCD (by showing that exposure to the source of the fear does not result in negative consequences), the pandemic has rewarded their behaviour and their fears. In this article, we have only been able to touch on a handful of potential personal and social changes, and how these may influence consumers in the long run. Brands really need to understand these changes right now so they can better plan for the demands in the new normality.

Get in touch with our specialists now via our contact form.

Featured image and these photos by Damien Heweston Photography

Don’t shelve your market research, get testing online

Business continuity during these unusual times

With social distancing and community lock-down, face-to-face research is becoming near impossible to do.

Online market research can be the perfect solution when focus groups or other central location testing methods are not possible.

Yes, these are strange times, but they do not mean that you have to abandon that piece of research you were planning, whether it is to validate your new design or identify how your brand positions against your competitors. If you are looking for an effective alternative to face-to-face research, online surveys can provide insights that are equally as good, if not better. The benefits of online research are many:

  • Data collection can be very quick – it is very common to fill your quotas within a day or so
  • Analysis can be done in real-time – you can preview the charts during the survey and then as soon as the target sample is reached
  • The flow of the survey can be controlled programmatically so that you can link in different kinds of questions and tools, whether these are qualitative, quantitative, or neuro-implicit methods
  • You can screen in your desired target group and screen the rest out
  • Online research is much cheaper to do than in a central location – respondent costs are much lower. A large sample size of respondents from the general population, for example, is very inexpensive
  • There are many techniques to identify low quality responses –for example, those who chose the same response or make poor or no discrimination at all – and we can report these to panel providers, so they are alerted to such people
  • There are many techniques to detect inattention and poor engagement – trick questions, rewording a question and checking for consistency, lie scales, and so on
  • Nearly everyone has access to the internet these days, and typically on a desktop computer or smartphone – online research can be device-agnostic
  • Online surveys have the advantage of randomization – the order of questions, the order of answer options, and the order of survey parts, can all be randomized or rotated. This reduces any bias caused by order effects
  • Rapid download speeds mean that these days, respondents can assess video ads in their own home, they can evaluate lots of images, it is also possible to simulate out-of-home experiences, simulate engaging with a product, and testing respondents in situations where you mimic some aspect of consumer behavior, such as the effects of in-store promotions

Used in conjunction with implicit response testing, online research can provide deeper insights than methods such as focus groups and interviews. When done correctly, they can reveal not only what consumers want to tell you but also what they can’t tell you and what is going on subconsciously – what they know intuitively but are unable to verbalize it. 

How does online research work?

Respondent Journey / Survey Flow

In a typical online survey, researchers use recruitment agencies who have hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life on their books. These ‘members’ are given a unique identification number or ID and have signed up to do market research in return for a fee or other reward. When a new survey becomes available, members with suitable demographics receive an email inviting them to the survey. When a respondent joins a survey, they are only known by their ID. To be sure that they are right for the survey, they are asked questions about their demographics. Those with the same demographics as those being targeted, qualify for the research. Those without the desired demographics are politely screened out.

Surveys can include qualitative elements, in the form of open-ended questions, or even through voice recordings if they give permission, as well as traditional quantitative questions (rating scales, multiple-choice, drag and drop, ranking questions, and so on).

Split Second Research also specialises in implicit response testing, a way of finding out how consumers feel objectively, without asking questions directly. Speed of response to flashing words and images can reveal how they feel about products, brands, or services. These response testing techniques, also known as IATs or IRTs, have a long history in cognitive psychology. IRTs can provide brand managers with reasons why consumers are interested or disinterested in their brand. In fact, a typical IRT provides around 30 of such reasons, and these are in the form of ‘attributes’ – they may indicate for example that your brand is perceived as high quality, very reliable, strongly family-orientated (and so on) but not perceived as trend setting or sufficiently authentic.

Respondents who successfully manage to complete the survey are redirected to the recruiter’s website which logs their ID, and their account is credited with a reward. While respondents come into the test, the screener makes a count of the number of respondents who have completed the survey and closes once the target has been reached. Quantitative data can be analysed within a few hours, and implicit data can be previewed online in real time. Qualitative data usually requires analysis later, often involving human interpretation.

Split Second Research has expertise in all of these areas and our team is ready to help in these unusual times. Thanks for reading and stay safe.

Get in touch with our specialists now via our contact form.

Call for Submissions Shopper Brain Conference

The Shopper Brain Conference is an international event on neuromarketing and behavioral science in retail. It is well received by shopper marketers and consumer insights professionals around the globe. Due to happen in 2020, and now scheduled for 2021, this unique event will be in Dublin.

If you like to share some Shopper Insights from the brain, please submit your speaking proposal.

Introducing our new neural network platform – EmNet

As I have a background in neural networks (I completed my PhD at the Neural Systems Engineering Lab at Imperial College London), I have for some time known that neural networks could be used to make sense of consumer data and give rise to predictions and insights that have been so far unavailable.

Artificial neural networks and implicit reaction time tests are based on the very same assumptions about how the brain processes information – that many of these processes are associative. For consumer scientists this means that perception of a product or service is a composite of every- thing that we have come to associate with it, from adverts to word-of-mouth, to direct experience with consuming the product or using the service, and that such memories are activated in the brain, though most often do not reach conscious registration. It is not a coincidence that the same principles that underlie deep neural networks are the same that underlie implicit response testing.

At Split Second Research we have created EmNet a neural network platform that enables us to dive deeper into market research data. The platform enables us to understand purchase drivers more deeply by mapping brand values (in the form of reaction times or explicit choices) to behavioural ‘outcomes’ towards the brand, (such as purchase intent, willingness to recommend, and so on) as well as explore the relationships between brand values in order to understand different kinds of purchasing decisions.

We simply upload the responses from a survey into the platform, make a few selections based on the kind of network we want to produce, and within just a minute or so it produces outputs that show relations between the concepts we are testing in the survey and salient features in the data. We are currently offering this service free with every survey we are commissioned to undertake. We also offer this service to other agencies who have data they want to analyse using a machine learning approach.

We already have some interesting case studies which we have put together with a description of EmNet (with a brief introduction to neural networks). This six-page report can be obtained on request via the contact form.

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