Potential Disruptors

Jonathan T. Mall, CEO and founder of neuromarketing and AI company Neuro Flash, talks to us about how implicit insights from big data are changing the market research industry.

The world of market research is changing. As technology advances, we are discovering exciting new ways to revolutionise the industry with more in-depth analytics and more accurate predictions about human behaviour. At the forefront of this change is Dr Jonathan T. Mall, CEO and founder of Neuro Flash, a company that uses neuromarketing and data science to enhance brand positioning for Fortune 1000 companies.

“My background is that of a frustrated cognitive neuropsychologist,” says Jonathan. “I studied for a long time to better understand how humans think, and the frustration came from being so limited by what you can do in academia.” After finishing his studies, Jonathan went on to work in big data and market research, before setting up his own company in 2015. He was helped on his way by the Microsoft Accelerator course, which helps start-ups to scale up their operations by providing tools, resources, and connections.

So what exactly does Jonathan’s company offer? He says, “We provide words that work, and Fortune 1000 companies utilise our solutions to determine and then optimise their brand positioning on a subconscious level, in any market on the planet.” Essentially, a company comes to Neuro Flash with an idea for their marketing – e.g. they want their brand to be associated with ‘health’. The team then analyse which words consumers in the target market associate with that idea, and provide a list of ‘words that work’, which the company can use in their marketing to strengthen the association between their brand and the idea of health. From beginning to end, this process takes three weeks.

At the heart of the process is Jonathan’s proprietary data engine. It is this that computes which words are ideally positioned to convey certain messages, and companies can either request insights on a case-by-case basis, or sign up to a subscription that allows them to make searches themselves. Jonathan says, “Developing the software took about six years of my own personal interest in the topic – the research and early prototypes – and two more years within Neuro Flash.” This approach to market research has become very popular, and Jonathan says they now offer a product that is “very unique, and people ask for more”.

The software itself aims to simulate how consumers think. Over several years, Jonathan has gathered data from different global markets by analysing the media that people consume, the channels through which they participate in conversations, and the kinds of words they use. The software then uses this data to predict behaviour, and it has proven to be very effective. “If you understand what people read and write,” says Jonathan, “you understand what they think, and that is what we try to achieve using big data.”

This cross-disciplinary technology is set to make waves in the market research industry, partly because it solves some of the problems associated with traditional market research, which can involve putting a consumer in an artificial environment. This makes it difficult to know whether their answers are being influenced by other factors, such as social desirability. By observing consumers in their ‘natural’ online habitats, however, more accurate data and word associations can be obtained. Jonathan says, “For most cases, we do know what associations people make, even though they may not voice them very often. We find these associations will give you deeper insights.”

There is no question that these new forms of insights will be disruptive for the market research industry, as “you don’t need people with gut feelings, you just need the right algorithm to predict what creates that gut feeling in people.” Jonathan also recognises that many within the industry might feel threatened by this kind of automation, but there is no denying the accuracy of the new technology, and he hopes to see a future in which computers and people work together to create more accurate predictions based on behaviour.

Jonathan’s company is also on the cutting edge when it comes to its style of working, and for Jonathan this is one of the most exciting parts of his job. He says, “We are a remote team that works around the globe – in Hong Kong, Amsterdam, Berlin, London. We are able to be anywhere and build a big-data brain model for China or Japan, to better understand how people within those countries are thinking, all from a different hemisphere. That’s crazy!”

The Asian markets hold a particular interest for Jonathan. When he was 19 he spent a year working in the Philippines, and he has also spent time in Singapore. He says, “I’m simply fascinated by the diversity in Asia, and the drive of many countries to really try new things. I think the Asian markets have the guts to go in a certain direction with speed and conviction, and that is truly fascinating.”

One of Jonathan’s recent case studies involved a Chinese skin cream. The brand positioning focused on being ‘green’ and ‘natural’, but the company wanted to steer away from more rustic associations and concentrate on luxury and desirability instead. Jonathan’s team were able to find words that are strongly associated with those ideas in the Chinese market, thus helping the company to improve its packaging and become very popular. Other success stories include changing the labels of vegetable products, which resulted in 35% higher consumption after Neuro Flash provided more ‘delicious’ words.

Jonathan believes that the main idea all companies should embrace in order to build a strong brand is repetition: “Repetition is always the key, so repeat your brand name and what you stand for with something that will hit the zeitgeist.” Ultimately, it is big-data and neuromarketing companies that are providing the newest and most revolutionary ways to do this.

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