Harnessing the Power of Biometrics in Communications

Biometrics are the unique physical, psychological and behavioral characteristics of a person—including fingerprints, retinal patterns and even the way one types. Used for identity verification for everything from banking and unlocking phones to tracking fitness, biometric technology is even changing the way we travel—JetBlue was the first U.S. carrier to use facial recognition to board passengers without a ticket or passport to speed up boarding time. Society’s desire for a more convenient and faster user experience is driving adoption, and it’s a trend that shows no signs of slowing down.

The big question is, how can biometrics be applied specifically to research and analytics in communications? An early experiment offers an answer. Back in 2015, Mindshare and Lightwave tracked biometric data of 35 users via Apple Watches, such as heart rate and temperature along with other data such as location, to demonstrate the potential of the technology to do more than just count steps. The idea behind this experiment was to show how we can give consumers better instantaneous experiences through adaptive marketing, allowing brands to tailor their activities in the moment to meet the needs of their consumers, like an adaptive playlist according to what music people engaged with the most.

Just like dial-testing and focus groups, biometric research can be used to test and optimize creative ideas. But different than dial-testing and focus groups, biometric analytics provide moment-by-moment data on consumer reactions to stimuli at both the conscious and subconscious levels. Our recipe for a successful, data smart campaign is simple: reach the right people via the right channels with the right messages. Biometric research is yet another tool that can help us get even closer to finding the right balance of ingredients by providing actionable, second-by-second insights.

If you are considering using biometric research to enhance your campaigns and creative, here’s some advice to get you started:

  1. The output is only as good as the human element and input being fed into it.
    Like any research conducted, the quality of the end deliverable is contingent on the accuracy and quality of the input, so it is important to not only pick the right stimuli and probe the right questions, but also understand and choose the right biometric measures and equipment. Biometric research can consist of various data streams, and picking the right ones to measure is critical to the overall success of your project. This may include eye tracking, electrocardiography (EKG) and heart rate, skin conductance response, facial coding, implicit association measures (IAT), electroencephalography (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). In our case, we’ve partnered with biometric research experts september Strategie & Forschung to bring a biometric research approach (Ketchum Unfiltered) based on over 15 years of university research. Our approach consolidates more than 20 psycho-physiological biometric measures into seven emotional key performance indicators – attraction, relevance, skepticism, emotional closeness, trust, distress and likeability – and combines it with one-on-one discussions with participants to make sense of and maximize the complex biometric data.
  2. Biometric research doesn’t replace other research methods, but supplements it.
    It is important to set smart objectives at the beginning of every project and then design the right framework to achieve your goals. You need to ensure that you are picking the best combination of quantitative and qualitative research and analytical methodologies that will help you get to the insight you need to solve your challenge. Sometimes focus groups may make more sense than conducting biometric research – it all depends on time, budget and objectives.
  3. Data privacy is of the utmost importance.
    The amount of personal data being collected online already worries consumers, and some may believe biometric research is even more intrusive and personal. Currently, the use of biometric data is poorly regulated, and only recently, with the introduction of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), were rules governing the privacy and security of personal data implemented at all. Make sure the company you hire complies with the latest regulations and ensures that consumer data is protected to the highest standard. By doing so collectively, we will increase trust among consumers and be able to further advance in this space.

At Ketchum Analytics, we are already combining state-of-the-art biometric research with interviews to better understand audience reactions to creative and messaging, and we believe the possibilities for biometric research are endless. Biometrics are especially effective in helping to measure consumer emotions, which play a huge role in driving purchase decisions, preference and advocacy but are often difficult for consumers to articulate. Biometric research allows us to get granular and tap into these drivers to understand how consumers subconsciously respond to messaging and overall branding.

Like with any technological advancement, we need to continuously seek ways to creatively harness the power to supplement and improve our current methods. By doing so we will become better communicators and advisors to our clients. Data on its own is just data – it’s how we get and interpret data that will set us and our work apart; it’s being data smart.

The Advertising Research Foundation
Spectrum Group
American Marketing Association

Mary Elizabeth Germaine is partner and managing director of Ketchum Analytics, one of the largest research groups embedded within a major communications agency and a pioneer in communications research and analytics for over 20 years. Under her leadership, Ketchum Analytics received AMEC’s 2020 Platinum Award for the most effective media intelligence, research & insights company. Since joining the agency in 2001, Mary Elizabeth has been instrumental in growing the Analytics team to number well over 60 in 12 cities globally. Mary Elizabeth counsels clients on how to make the best use of analytics and derives insights to develop strategic communication program, with work that spans the entire communications process — from planning to testing to evaluation. She has also worked alongside Omnicom PR Group’s chief innovation officer in the development of a new precision communications platform, omniearnedID.