By Dipesh Mistry

Our series ‘Congress Countdown’ looks forward to ESOMAR Congress 2016 by giving you an insight into some of the presentation topics on the programme that will be sure to #WOW you! In his forthcoming ESOMAR Congress presentation Dipesh Mistry looks at the practical challenges posed by non-conscious measurement techniques and proposes relevant solutions.


The landscape of market research is changing – new technology and innovation is everywhere we look at the moment. One of the major new advancements is the merger of non-conscious techniques and market research. Since 2013 there has been an increase in uptake of techniques such as neuromarketing, eye-tracking, facial analysis, and biometric measures (GRIT report, 2016). At Northstar, over the past few years we have been very much a part of the rise in uptake and wanting to seek new platforms for research. Throughout the past few years of running non-conscious measurements, the techniques we have used include Galvanic Skin Response (GSR), Eye-tracking, and Implicit association testing (IAT). My talk could well have been based on how well all these tests have been run and the value they have played in our projects, but rather than talk about just the good parts, we have learnt a lot in regards to what can actually be improved in running non-conscious tests – my talk will therefore involve sharing our advice to others who wish to undertake non-conscious testing.

Making an impact with the shiny new methods that you can offer is all well and good and it’s what everyone likes to hear and talk about but as with any new technique not everything is perfect. Things that are new can be confusing and puzzling at times, they offer new challenges to overcome and require minds to be more open to new solutions.

The three key challenge areas, non-conscious techniques being evaluated and proposed solutions I will discuss are as follows:

Challenge: Can non-conscious techniques replace traditional research?

Technique: GSR (Galvanic Skin Response)

It’s a common misconception within the industry that non-conscious measurement techniques can be used in place of traditional measures. The greater time and cost that these studies often require mean that it is tempting to try and cut something else from the study to make space for them.


We used GSR (Galvanic Skin Response) in an automotive product test, to help understand consumers’ emotional reactions to concept cars. However, as can be the case when running non-conscious tests, the data obtained was not able tell the full story. To get the ‘bigger picture’ pairing the non-conscious testing with traditional measures such as a survey or qualitative interviews is needed.

Challenge: Can non-conscious techniques provide greater clarity in natural consumer environments?

Technique: Eye-tracking

As non-conscious measures are new and innovative, there is an over-exaggeration in wanting to use them in the hope that they can unlock answers we previously couldn’t access. The transition from taking lab based techniques and placing them in natural consumer environments has its problems in trading off control versus natural validity. Market research aims to be a true a reflection of natural purchasing environments’, where respondents are encouraged to act as they would do in everyday life to ensure findings are valid and applicable. This poses a challenge to the control that is required in many non-conscious techniques, as control is required in order to be fully sure your results are reliable.  All non-conscious methods require stringent control to make the tests more replicable and trading this off for retail environments used for research has its costs.


The transition in market research introducing non-conscious measures will pose this overall challenge. In order to overcome it, we need to think of alternative solutions such as placing certain measures of control in research spaces that are used. The research environment for eye-tracking in the case study should be designed for the non-conscious testing, using fixed viewing points and walking routes that have been planned and mapped out. Planning your viewing points will ensure that your variables are clear and defined from which you can reliably base your hypothesis and findings against. Overall this will ensure at the back-end you are sure of what your data and results mean due to the thorough research design.

Challenge: Can I tack non-conscious measurements onto my existing research setup?

Techniques: GSR (Galvanic Skin Response), IAT (Implicit Association Test)

When trialling new techniques, it can be tempting to treat them as bolted-on measures. Problems can arise when doing this, in that the research design hasn’t been created for the testing. This can cause problems as it devalues the non-conscious test, whether that be a GSR (galvanic skin response) test or IAT (implicit association test) and the research overall can become bloated and confusing.


Whilst it may be ideal and ‘safe’ to add on a new measure it can also put you off using the technique in the future. When designing a survey with an IAT addition, you should make the IAT as important as the rest of the survey and ensure that any overlapping questions are removed. This will mean you have sufficient time to ask the important questions with the right approach, whether that be implicit or explicit.  

Dipesh Mistry and Samantha Bond from Northstar will be delivering their presentation entitled 5 Practical Tips On Incorporating Non-Conscious Measurement in #MR Studies at the ESOMAR Congress on Tuesday 20th September.