Understanding Humans Through Technology

The truth of young generation is that technology is changing every bit of our lives. Historians argue that innovation and technology has impacted humans since the dawn of civilization. But what differentiates this inevitable change is the unprecedented pace in which it has accelerated in the past century.

An implication of this technological advancement has been the advent of new media forming new platforms for media consumption and dissemination. Traditionally, media platforms are meant for the sole purpose of content dissemination. From the newspapers, banners and posters, and now the modern media – the television and the Internet – they are all, in some way shape or form, spreading content. It is no surprise that we humans have banked on the mass-consuming, mass-reach nature of these media platforms, and used it to spread content that we not only deem informative, but also to gain profit. This reconciliation has led to what we now see as the modern look-and-feel of advertising and marketing.

The way humans behave has been of interest to marketers, advertisers and economists, in contemporary times. The rationale is – if we understand humans better, we can sell goods and services to them better – hence, making more money off of them! Behavioural economics is what scholars call it – the amalgamation of sociology, psychology and decision-making, and how it impacts economics and purchase behaviour. Humans are consumers, and our consumption is based on the premise that we have economic frameworks to determine how we behave in these circumstances. Our economic, sociological, psychological and anthropological mannerism in these processes is what we call consumer behaviour.

It all boils down to the question – what do humans want? In the beginning, there was ethnography and anthropology that helped us understand the human condition. As our inquisitiveness increased, we explored new research methods such as demographics, psychographics, and surveying. In ’15, The Wall Street Journal featured Thomas Davenport’s piece, dubbed What Automation will do to Marketing & Marketers. He said that the days of marketing and sales folks getting their hands dirty are long gone. Davenport, with his credentials in the field lasting several years and numerous pages, says that the data, analytics and the numbers crunching is already on full-swing in the marketing process. The day when the creative process is to be automated, is yet to come – and will most definitely come. We are moving even further from traditional methods now and exploring automated ones of understanding consumer behaviour, using Big Data analyses.

Seldom does one find a single day in The Economist or The Wall Street Journal without a mention of “Big Data.” The buzzword of the decade is definitely making an impact on Smart communications & technologies. In ’12, for the Harvard Business Review’s October edition, Getting Control of Big Data, Thomas Davenport and D.J. Patil, don’t hesitate to call the Data Scientist, the “sexiest job of the 21st century.” Data is influencing marketers and advertisers so much so that, if Mad Men was based in 2015, Don Draper would be a computer scientist, and Peggy Olsen the data analyst.

We, as consumers, are leaving large chunks of data behind us – from our social media posts, to our credit card information and our maps feature on our phone. The machines now know more about us than we know about ourselves. The machine comes in different demeanours and façades – one of them is in the form of a marketer, advertiser and salesperson. The machines know us, and they are using the information they know about us to sell us more things. Call it contextual advertising, ultra-targeted content, or programmatic media buying – whatever your creative agency calls it, it simply is the machines telling brands who we are and how to sell to us better.

The consumption of the future doesn’t just stop there. Now, we are tapping into our minds, not simple by studying our behaviours and patterns, but by studying brain stimuli. Sensors, rods and wires, connected straight to our brains using fMRI, EEG, SST and other medical tests, are tapping into how our intellect perceives marketing messages. It is not the case anymore that we can simply know how humans look at, feel, and react to products, services and brands, from a psychological, sociological and behavioural understanding, but beyond – on an intellectual and neurological level.

The machine doesn’t simply know how we feel. It truly knows how we feel!

The Economist facetiously says that marketers are “no longer prepared to take your word for it that you favour one product over another.” In an article published in back in ’04 called Inside the Mind of the Consumer, The Economist brings up the classic marketing case study – the Pepsi versus Coke challenge – a topic of interest for marketers and social scientists alike. Perhaps it is now one for the brain scientists as well. Studies over the years have proven that Pepsi tastes better than Coke, in a blind test. But Coke has a higher brand resonance – or at least in America it does. The complexity has led to numerous marketing blunders and triumphs – in the form of the Pepsi Challenge of ‘75, and the Coke Classic blunder of ‘85. If only we knew what was happening in our brains, rather than on our tongues, we could have cracked this code. Thankfully, we can today, because of neuromarketing.

Humans are avid consumers. Brands and advertisers vehemently attempt to grab people’s attention to their product. And this is where, traditionally, advertising has found its value. But today, there are new tools driven by technology. Modern techniques, far more accurate than what we think and feel about the progressiveness of Big Data and the Internet of Things, are making traditional surveys and consumer insights, obsolete. Now we know how people truly feel about something…anything…because we can measure their reaction through stimuli triggered in their brain. By knowing how they truly feel, we as marketers can serve them better.

Is this a boon or a threat though? Just because we understand humans better, does it mean that we can serve them better? There is a fine line between knowing the truth and acting on it to serve humans better, and manipulating reality to cater to the masses. The danger is that the implications of neuromarketing getting in the hands of people that can price discriminate, and manipulate our consumption. However, those perils of capitalism are a challenging conversation for another time. Little did we know that our consumption patterns would open up a debate in neuroethics. It may be the first time the Chief Marketing Officer may be called in to a neuroscience conference.

Photo: Shutterstock

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