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All in the mind
In the basement at Nielsen's offices on Headington Hill, there's a catalogued collection of market share data from the 1940s. It is contained in bound leather books with hand drawn charts and tables.
As the race for post-war national brands began, Nielsen’s creation of the concept of an unbiased relative performance of brands within a defined competitive set, or what we now know today as 'market share’, transformed the way a brand's performance was measured and in the end how that of a chief executive was measured too.
Years later their creation of a TV rating point introduced a method of setting the rate card for TV advertising and a measure of who watched the ad that is still used right across the world today.
Over the years, maths and computing power has developed this discipline to the point where this market share can be sliced and diced to measure the impact of an individual promotion in a single store and the impact of a TV advert on sales can be measured with precision.
These were the market research industry's first major innovations, the ‘Google search’ of marketing and advertising, long before the internet began its march.
The company continues to innovate. In Nielsen's offices a team of researchers are preparing results for a major global brand with data collected from Nielsen's latest neuroscience laboratory.
Analysing the brain’s subconscious response to advertising and combining it with eye tracking, this convergence of science and marketing is able to identify the high points of a consumer’s interaction with a product in ways that could only be dreamed of just a few years ago.
Chris Morley, group managing director UK and Ireland, said: "Often we know people feel some sort of connection to, or ‘magic’ associated with, their favourite brand, but they find it impossible to describe what it is.
"We call the connection an iconic moment and are able to capture what it is, what it looks like and the movement and sounds associated with it, allowing marketers to reproduce the moment in the interaction with their consumers."
This amazing technology has spin-offs way beyond marketing research.
In an effort to make the original equipment smaller, easier to wear and quicker to install, the giant hat with hundreds of wires attached, became a small lightweight headset which is wireless.
This technology, being so portable, is now being tested and used to control prosthetic limbs, drive electric wheelchairs and even turn thoughts into speech. Brain activity is being turned into action for those with a disability.
The upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games, it is claimed, will be the biggest digital event in history. But what does this mean?
“It means that viewing, browsing, tweeting, sharing the experience of the games, will be lived out online, globally,” said Mr Morley.
"And it will be more important to the engagement of, and marketing to, consumers than any other event in history.”
Nielsen has been chosen as the official research provider and its role is to be the intelligence behind the games, offering help in strategic decisions, from helping to choose a mascot to maximising engagement of the paralympic movement.
Social media and other online tools allow the analysis of millions of comments, conversations and opinions where traditional research would rely on a small sample of respondents.
Nielsen’s objective now is to create an innovation of similar scale to its invention of market share — this time in the arena for digital measurement — by creating an ‘Online Rating Point’ as an addition to the TV rating currency the company created before.
Mr Morley said: “Marketing and the measurement of its effectiveness develops faster every year but the way consumers find, choose and buy products develops even faster.
“Every day we have the opportunity to watch millions of interactions with brands and marketing and measure how one impacts the other. Some 25 per cent of conversations online involve a brand.”
By far the biggest research company in the world, Nielsen needs to keep moving fast to stay ahead of the pack.
The bound leather books have been replaced with mega computers and social media sponges, but let’s hope the spirit of the founder, Arthur Nielsen, shines through and the staff continue to make a great job of defining the uncommon sense of the consumer.
* This page is co-ordinated by Oxford Innovation www.oxin.co.uk