The Future Of

Neuromarketing | Dr Billy Sung

Episode Summary

What exactly is ‘neuromarketing’ and how does it help companies hone their product marketing?

Episode Notes

What exactly is ‘neuromarketing’ and how does it help companies hone their product marketing?

How do consumer neuroscience technologies like eye-tracking devices reveal what people really think of advertisements?

Innovations in neuromarketing, such as eye tracking devices and biometric wristbands, are helping reveal what viewers really think of advertisements. In this episode, Sarah discusses the cutting-edge area of neuromarketing with Associate Professor Billy Sung. Dr Sung leads a research team at The Consumer Research Lab at Curtin University, and specialises in digital marketing and consumer psychology.

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Associate Professor Billy Sung is a researcher in the School of Management and Marketing, Curtin Business School. He holds a PhD in Consumer Psychology and his current research relates to the study of emotion and the application of psychophysiological methods in marketing, consumer psychology, health and robotics. Billy also works on industry projects at the Consumer Research Lab.

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Host: Sarah Taillier 
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Episode Transcription

Sarah (00:00):

This is The Future Of, where experts share their vision of the future, and how their work is helping shape it for the better. I'm Sarah Taillier.



Have you ever wondered what consumers really think about adverts? Well, innovations in neuromarketing, such as eye tracking devices and biometric wristbands, are helping to provide the answers. In this episode, I was joined by returning guest, Associate Professor Billy Sung, the research lead at Curtin University's Consumer Research Lab. The lab has a partnership with Australian marketing firm, Metrics Consulting, and wants to help Australian companies benefit from neuromarketing.

We chatted about the field of neuromarketing, recent consumer privacy concerns, and the future of the industry. If you'd like to find out more about this research. Or learn how you could work with Curtin and Metrics to use the lab, you can visit the links provided in the show notes.



Just firstly, what actually is neuromarketing?

Dr Billy Sung (01:04):

So neuromarketing is basically the application of consumer neuroscience, so these are basically physiological measurements or physiological responses that the consumer reacts to, so that's include facial expression, heart rate, skin ductions, which is just sweat under your arm, and eye tracking, pupillometry, and even brainwave.

So what neuromarketing is, it's really using these type of physiological responses to better understand consumers, and especially the psychological processes that are very much unsubconscious to consumers.

Sarah (01:35):

What type of things count as good neuromarketing?

Billy (01:39):

So I think there is a lot of marketers out there that claims that they are using consumer neuroscience and neuromarketing, but they're not obviously scientifically validated. They're very black box solution.

At the Consumer Research Lab, we really scientifically validates these consumer neuroscience techniques. For example, eye tracking technologies to look at where people are looking at, and therefore index visual attention, the size of people's pupil to look at their cognitive processing, facial expression analysis to look at their experience of emotions, brainwave analysis to look at a number of different activities in the brain, that governs their action, thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.

Sarah (02:15):

So who's actually using neuromarketing at the moment?

Billy (02:18):

There's quite a lot of companies globally that are using neuromarketing, more so, the big names would be Disney, Hyundai, Netflix, those type of big brands. What they're using these for are actually to understand the audience. When they're designing television commercials or they're designing ads, they will actually pretest or prototype their marketing and their ads with neuromarketing techniques.

Sarah (02:42):

So interesting. How does neuromarketing actually compare to other marketing research techniques?

Billy (02:48):

So it's interesting question, because traditional market research or even social science, they rely heavily on conventional research methods, such as surveys and interviews, that are basically asking people to report their thoughts, feelings and behaviour.


But we know that a lot of our thoughts and feelings are subconscious. Recent research have shown that we go through more than 6,000 thoughts a day. So if we are going through 6,000 thoughts a day, it's very hard for consumers or people to really report their thoughts and feelings accurately. And so we actually need to use these physiological responses, or what we call neuromarketing techniques, to basically understand the physiological responses that accompany or inherently linked to some of these psychological process.


So for instance, if we're looking at attention, if I show you, let's say, a television commercial and ask you, "Can you report your fluctuation of your emotional experience second by second," it's quite difficult, right?


So you have to report your anger, your joy, your sadness, your surprise. Probably you couldn't do that, and even if you could, it probably wouldn't be accurate and precise, and so this is where neuromarketing comes in, because we can use facial expression analysis, or even sensors that are attached to your face, that really measure the electrical signals that have been sent from your brain, that governs these facial expression.


What this allows us to do, is to actually measure these physiological responses that are linked to these psychological process, and by actually having a measurement of these psychological process second by second, we can now really tell, "What are the emotional experience that you're feeling when you're looking at the television commercial in a second by second, even millisecond by millisecond."

Sarah (04:22):

So the body essentially is doing the talking?

Billy (04:25):

That's right, in some sense. So basically, by measuring your physiological responses, so for instance, your heart rates, we can actually tell whether you're engaged towards a marketing or an ad or even a signage.


What we are using neuromarketing to do, is actually measuring your body response towards marketing assets, and by looking at those body responses, we can tell those psychological process that are inherent linked to those body responses.

Sarah (04:49):

Are there some people that are better to use in that process, or every generation has their own types of reactions that you're picking up?

Billy (04:57):

I guess for neuromarketing, there's not really a set of group of people that is best to be used on. What's interesting here is, when we are really applying neuromarketing or consumer neuroscience in a scientific way, what we actually do is we calibrate our measurements to individual people. So for instance, if you have an heart rate of 60 beat per minute, whereas I'm very unfit, so my resting heart rate is about 95, so we calibrate our measurements to those baseline basically.


And what's really different here is, a lot of marketers out there might be claiming that they use neuromarketing scientifically, but they don't even do that basic step, where they calibrate for the heart rate. And if you imagine this, if we say there's an increase of five beats per minute, which is quite high, that indexes engagement, and without that scientific method, you can't really safely or accurately and precisely tell that that's really indexing engagement, or is that really just because someone have a sudden increase in heart rates, or they just have a increase in baseline heart rate?

Sarah (05:59):

Obviously there are a lot of companies moving into this space, really interested in how they can tap into it. But given the rapid changes in technologies, could traditional marketing methods be superseded by neuromarketing? Can you see that happening?

Billy (06:18):

I think to a certain extent, neuromarketing or consumer neuroscience, is really one tool in the vast toolkit that marketers and market researcher can use, and so it doesn't obviously replace conventional research method. For instance, you can't really measure anything above and beyond psychological processes.


Eye tracking can measure visual attention, pupillometry can measure cognitive processing, facial expression can measure emotional experience. Those are really objective measurements of these psychological processes. However, if we are using biometric measure to measure, let's say, whether you perceive the brand to be innovative or natural or fresh, those are not psychological processes that we can tap into with biometrics or consumer neuroscience, and so we still require surveys and interviews and conventional research method to tap into those.


What's powerful is, it is combining these two kits, really triangulating the conclusion or the insights with consumer neuroscience methods and survey data and other conventional research method, to really hone into a valid and accurate conclusion about your consumer.

Sarah (07:21):

There has been quite a lot of public outcry over the use of facial recognition technology in Australian shops recently. When does neuromarketing constitute a breach of privacy, and how do you negotiate that at the Consumer Research Lab that you mentioned earlier?

Billy (07:38):

Definitely. So at Curtin University, all of our research follow very strict protocol. In fact, we have a dedicated Ethics Committee, that really governs what can be done and what cannot be done, and what we need to tell our participant. So we don't hide anything from them. We tell them exactly what the intention of that research is for.


But it's interesting that, as you have said, there is a kind of public concerns about the use of these technologies or biometric technology in general, but I think there is a bit of, I guess, misunderstanding in how some of these biometric data is being used. For instance, most of us would have a smartphone that actually has our biometric data, so our fingerprints to unlock the phone, or our fingerprints to unlock our wallets, our facial structure, those landmarks on our face to unlock the phone. These are all biometric data.


In fact, the same technology is used with biometric research, so consumer neuroscience research are based on these type of technology as well. And so if we are saying there is concerns about the biometric data that we are giving to these companies, I think we need to kind of step back and think about what are some of the biometric data that we are already giving these companies, and whether they have consent in getting those biometric data, and I think if the company or the researcher has the consent of getting those data, and the public actually knows exactly what those biometric data is used for, I think that will probably alleviate some of the concerns.

Sarah (09:06):

What are some of the common misconceptions that you tend to come across with neuromarketing?

Billy (09:12):

I think there is three major misconception. The first one is, a lot of people are very concerned about, for instance, bigger brands using biometrics in the stores to identify them. However, a lot of these biometric data is actually what we call, I guess, a match and delete kind of format. So basically they have a database of, let's say, people of interest. You walk past a camera, and they match your facial structure to the people of interest. If you are not the people of interest, then they'll delete your biometric data.


So everything is stored in that particular moment. Once that matching process is done, it's deleted, so your data is not saved anywhere. A lot of these have been used in surveillance, even in airports. So a lot of the public concerns is that, do you actually store my data, and how do you use those data? And a lot of the time these data are actually not stored. They're just use at that moment and deleted after the matching process. So that's the first concern.


I guess the second concern is, "Billy, if you know all of my consumer biometrics and consumer neuroscience tricks and tips, can you actually press a button on my brain to make me spend more?" Now definitely the answer is no, and in fact, if there is, I wouldn't probably be sitting here and telling you that I have this trick up my sleeve. I would probably developing new products where I could press that button and make you buy that product. And so I guess the concern about whether there's a buy button or a brain area that we can trigger to make you buy more or to be more impulsive in buying, that's actually not what the research is saying.


The research is saying that, although we have a lot of these subconscious process, we still have that rational thoughts, what we call a top down process that really governs what we buy, what we do, how we desire, so on and so forth.


And I guess the last concern, the third and last concern, is really about that whole concern about privacy. And again, I think as we have discussed, if we really tell the user or the person of interest, how is the data being used and they really provide consent, is similar to, I guess, some of our online data. If we provide consent for people to track us online, for software and apps to track us, and you're knowingly allowing them to track those data, I think that kind of alleviates some of those privacy concerns.

Sarah (11:31):

So education is key, really?

Billy (11:33):

That's right, yes.

Sarah (11:34):

So this year, the Consumer Research Lab partnered with marketing strategy firm, Metrics Consulting. What's the plan in that space? How will this partnership potentially help Australian companies?

Billy (11:47):

It's definitely an interesting partnership, and it really can be a game changer for businesses and organisation looking to enhance an already sophisticated marketing approach, with the latest science-backed insights and testing, that go way beyond anything we have had access to before. Especially in Australia, there is actually not a lot of consumer neuromarketing or neuroscientists that applies these type of methods to better understand consumers.


So I think with the nation's big brand, government departments, and retail giant, delving ever deeper into the science behind consumer behaviour, the partnership between Metrics Consulting and the Consumer Research Lab at Curtin University has provided a unique toolkit for these companies, these government agencies, to better understand the consumers. They can actually enhance, not only the marketing outcomes, but also how do we drive behavioural change, how do we convince people to adopt better lifestyle or healthier lifestyle, and how do we actually get them to comply with health and safety messages, so on and so forth.

Sarah (12:48):

Where does Australia actually rank in terms of neuromarketing globally?

Billy (12:54):

We don't really have an official ranking of neuromarketing, but from the global perspective, neuromarketing are more developed in United States and Europe, simply because a lot of the hardware and software companies are based there.


However, what's interesting is we do see a big interest in Australia in adopting, or at least developing, these type of methods to better understand consumers, or to better improve our marketing effectiveness, so on and so forth.


But what's interesting here, is really the solution that we have between Metrics and Curtin University is really unique, because we actually adopt a what we call multi-model approach. We don't only specialise in only one biometric measurements. So a lot of companies, even in the US and Europe, they might specialise in one measurement. For example, a company specialise in eye tracking, but they don't know about heart rates and brainwave. Another company might really specialise in brainwave, but don't really take into account emotional expression analysis.


What we have done here with Metrics Consulting, is that we actually developed a solution where we combine all these sorts of data, to actually triangulate a conclusion and insights that are useful to our clients, and so what we have here is a really unique integration of all these different biometric methodology to better understand our consumer.

Sarah (14:11):

We're just going to take a quick break. We'll be back in a second.

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Sarah (14:52):

And we're back. Billy, just before the break, you were talking about the partnership with Metrics Consulting, and some of the pathways that's created moving forward, but I'd love to find out a bit more about you. What actually inspired you to become a researcher in this area?

Billy (15:09):

It's funny you say that, because before my PhD, I never thought I would be a researcher. Really, my background is in psychology, so I did a Bachelor of Psychological Science, and I have my training really based on clinical psychology, but what got me really interested is my Honours year, where one of my supervisor actually opened me up to the cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience and social neuroscience topics. So really understanding the brain, and how brain activities actually governs our behaviours, even the thoughts process that we go through.


Very boring work at those times, and actually looking back at those times, I think what really got me interested is really understanding, there's so much complexity in a person's brain. As we said earlier, we go through more than 6,000 thoughts a day, but if you think about it, there's also research that shows that we walk through more than 2,000 ads a day.


So how do we process all those information? How does the brain actually process that whole array of information every day? That got me really interested, and while I was actually conducting my Honours research, there was a drama called Lie to Me. I'm not sure if you have actually seen that drama. It's basically a researcher of some sort, a academic of some sort, that read people's micro expression and help solve crime. That got me really, really interested in micro expression and neuroscience and neuroscience technique to better understand people in general.


And so what I have done was, I actually gave up my clinical psychology pathway and went into a PhD in Neuropsychology, and the more I delve into it, I actually see that there is a bit of opportunities in the consumer side of things, the marketing side of things, and the business side of things with neuroscience.


So really understanding or using these biometrics and neuroscience technique to better understand consumers, and by consumers we mean basically anyone, because anyone is a consumer. When we are talking about even visiting a national park, we are a consumer of the national park, or the visitor economy comes into mind.


And so really using these biometric to really optimising the experience for visitors, for consumers, so on and so forth. And so that got me really interested, and of course, because I'm not fit enough to be a police officer, and so I couldn't really be solving crime using consumer neuroscience, and so I decided to be a marketer instead.



So I joined Curtin in 2016, in Business School, and basically at that time they were really interested in enriching the research program with some innovative methods, and so I proposed to establish the Consumer Research Lab at Curtin, which specialises in these, so using an eye tracking facial expression analysis, number of different other biometrics, to conduct very impactful research and industry engagement.


So consulting for a number of global brands, local brands, on their television commercial testing, on their website usability designs, even packaging designs and marketing assets designs, so on and so forth. And what really got me really interested in marketing is really that dynamic between, I guess, data and creativity. So you really have to strategize using both data and that creative mindsets, to provide consumers something new, but also something that is really driven by data. And one of the key thing that I could add value to marketing, is really that whole new source of data from your body responses, so using biometrics to really hone into the psychological process, when people are looking at ads, looking at banners, going through a instal, going through websites, or even when you're sitting in one of my boring lectures, students are also consumers, so we need to make sure that our lectures are engaging, so on and so forth.

Sarah (18:57):

Do you feel like, through this process, you've become more perceptive of those body responses, maybe even with your students?

Billy (19:04):

In certain sense, yes. So sometimes when I do some lab demonstration, a lot of people will ask me, "Oh, could you actually change your heart rate in a second?" And I could, so there is tricks to do that. Pinching yourself for example, increases your skin inductance and heart rates straight away, so pain really does work in changing your body responses.


But if you ask me, are you more perceptive of, I guess, the marketing tricks, because I know about these body responses, I would say I probably fail at that, because I still fall for those tricks in marketing. So for instance, one of the most, I guess, common marketing tricks that are out there is limited edition and limited time offers, so on and so forth, and you always fall for that. For example, we go through festivals such as Boxing Days and all these different festivals that provides discount. There's research that shows that objectively the discount is not that attractive, however, it's because of the festival kind of sensation, the whole context about, this is a time when we should purchase, the discount and the promotion. And so what do you find is that consumer fall for those, and I myself, as a consumer, also fall for those. In fact, I purchase a lot of things through all these different sales that goes on every year. So yeah, not really much of a spotter of all these marketing tricks, I would say.

Sarah (20:29):

Billy, have you actually been ever rigged up in the process and had your own reactions analysed?

Billy (20:37):

Yes, funny you asked that as well. So obviously we always do that. Actually, we sometimes pilot test some of the new ads or new website design that our clients sent through, so we'll wire ourself up and go through them and actually look at our biometrical responses, which is interesting, because at the end of the day it is really an objective kind of measurements.


So why we actually focuses on body responses, is because you can't really lie in some sense, or you can't really exaggerate. A good example is we know that from our research at Curtin, that when we show people sustainability products or sustainability information, they say that they care about sustainability, but in all honesty, when we even look at eye tracking data or facial expression data, we show that they pay zero attention to sustainability information on product packaging.


Facial expression analysis shows that they exhibit zero liking, although they claim that they like sustainability information. That's interesting, and these are the things that are really interesting when we look at consumer biometrics and neuroscience, and how we could really use this or leverage these techniques to better understand, not only consumers, but to help us make better decision in some ways.

Sarah (21:46):

Billy, I'd love to know just an example of one of the groups or consumers that you've worked with at the Consumer Research Lab, if you can give us a sense of how you've worked with them, and what's played out.

Billy (21:59):

I think one of the most common examples that we have been doing is ad testing. We don't actually test fully-produced ads, because a fully-produced ad will cost 500 to 600K above, to produce those ads. So what we do is we actually worked with clients like an insurance clients, to test their animatics. So what that means is like a black and white storyboard, with a voiceovers that goes through, and some imageries that they will be using in the ad.


And so what we have done is, instead of them making a decision to produce an ad that is about 500 and 600K, we basically tell them, "We can test your black and white storyboard and tell you which second is effective, and which second is not effective." In many of these projects, we actually tell them, "These three seconds engages people, and these three seconds brought people out," and so we need to take those three seconds that brought people out.


We could also look at the emotional experience while they're going through the ad. We could even tell them, "In these ad segments or these execution actually elicit positive emotions, whereas these execution or elements, actually elicit negative emotions," so we could tweak them, so on and so forth.


And so what we have done with a lot of these insurance brands, FM, CGS brands or fast moving goods brands, and a number of different clients, what we have done is we actually help them to test concepts. It could be a ad concept, it could be a packaging concept, it could even be a product concept.


There is a number of cases where someone would like to launch a new product into the market. What we did was, instead of doing an in-market testing, we actually basically took the concept of the product, we show it to some of the potential consumers, and we measured the liking, and what we found is that we could provide unprecedented insight to clients, to actually tweak some of the elements of the product design, to make it more favourable, more likeable, and more acceptable for the consumers.

Sarah (23:52):

The field has already evolved so much in the time that you've been working in it, no doubt. What's next for you?

Billy (23:59):

I think the next step for, I guess, this consumer biometrics and neuroscience, and especially the work at the Consumer Research Lab at Curtin, we really want to establish a benchmark. A lot of the time now, when we work with Metrics or other clients, we find that there is not really a benchmark of marketing effectiveness. In fact, if you are a six out of seven on liking on a survey, is it that good? No marketers would be able to tell you that there is a benchmark that 5.2 out of seven is good. It's the same thing as biometric data.

So for example, if we see a 5% increase in positive emotion, is that a good increase or a moderate increase, so on and so forth? So what we are doing with Metrics Consulting, is actually trying to establish those benchmarks, so that we have a reference point to actually analyse our data, and obviously further developing the algorithm. So the partnership between Metrics Consulting and the Consumer Research Lab really allows Curtin to further develop the algorithm, so that we can start measuring even other psychological processes.

So we are really in the cutting edge of the algorithm, where we could measure implicit psychological process such as the emotion of pride, which there's no algorithm to measure right now. That's what we are working on.

Sarah (25:16):

Sounds like a really exciting space.


Thank you, Billy, for coming in today and walking us through the landscape of neuromarketing. I really look forward to seeing what's next for you.

Billy (25:25):

Thank you.

Sarah (25:27):

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