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As you read this text, you may skip over some parts but focus on others for longer. Maybe it’s because they contain new words or ideas, or perhaps it’s merely their placement on the page. Whatever the reason, this is how humans interact with most visual stimulus: they pay more attention to some parts than others. The eyes and brain are in constant communication as the eyes dart over some things and linger on others.
For marketing professionals, this can have significant consequences. Whether it is the area of communication which attracts the eye, or the part of an in-store fixture which captures the shopper’s gaze, understanding where consumers’ eyes go can be the key to improving the return on marketing investment.
Eye tracking has emerged as a powerful tool to help consumer and market research professionals understand how to optimize their brand performance. The following article introduces the fundamentals of eye tracking and why it might be helpful for your business.
The Eye is a Simple Window to the Mind
There is a simple reason why tracking respondents’ eyes makes sense as a research methodology: the eyes are an easy way to interpret what is going on in the human brain.
As one of the primary senses, sight gives all sorts of clues as to what is happening in the mind. When a respondent spends more time looking at something, there is typically a reason. Conversely, understanding why certain things do not capture visual interest can also provide meaningful insights. Understanding what the eye is looking at does not reveal precisely what is going on – it does not always explain why. However, by comparing visual patterns versus norms, it can help inform the viewing behavior
How exactly does eye tracking work?
Most modern eye trackers utilize near-infrared technology along with a high-resolution camera to track gaze direction. Near-infrared light is directed toward the center of the eyes (pupils) causing visible reflections in the cornea which are tracked by a camera.
Different Types of Eye Tracking
There are three main types of eye tracking used for market research.
1) Remote eye trackers record eye movements at a distance (with no attachments to a respondent). The respondent is simply seated in front of an eye tracker. This method is ideal for any screen based stimulus materials in a lab setting such as pictures, videos, front panels of packaging and websites.
2) Head mounted eye trackers record eye activity at a close range and are mounted onto lightweight eyeglass frames or in virtual reality headsets. Eye tracking glasses are ideal because they allow the respondent to walk around and exhibit natural behavior. They are well-suited for shopping research, usability studies, product testing and many other applications.
3) Webcam based eye trackers are less expensive but there is a trade-off in quality. They allow the flexibility of being able to conduct the research in respondents homes but the quality assurance of proper calibration is reduced. It’s important to consider the trade-off between cost and quality with different types of eye tracking equipment.
What to look for in eye tracking data?
Eye tracking makes it possible to quantify visual attention by measuring where, when and what people look at. Here are six insights that can be revealed with Eye Tracking.
1. Fixation and gaze points
Gaze points are basic units of measure that are recorded by the eye tracker. When a series of gaze points happen to be close in time and range the resulting cluster denotes a fixation. A fixation is a period of time in which our eyes are locked toward a specific object. Typically the fixation duration is 100-300 milliseconds.
2. Heat Maps
Heat maps are another output of eye tracking and show the most viewed areas whether on packaging, a website, at the point of sale or in other situations. Heat maps are the aggregation of gaze points and fixations revealing the distribution of visual attention. Heat maps allows you to see where consumers are most likely to spend time looking. Areas in red show high traffic and areas that only receive a quick glance are shown in yellow or green. By reversing a heat map an opacity map can be generated that shows what is viewed and more importantly what isn’t seen at all.
3. Areas of Interest
Areas of interest, also referred to as AOI, measure the performance of two or more specific areas in the same video, package, website or in-store experience.
4. Scan Patterns/Fixation Sequences
Eye tracking data can also reveal a scan pattern which shows the viewing order of different elements. Based on fixation position and timing information you can generate a fixation sequence. Dependent on where respondents look and how much time they spend, an order of attention can reveal where respondents looked first, second and third, etc. Scan patterns are helpful in demonstrating if your communication is organized in an easy and efficient way for the consumer. If, for instance, a package is viewed up and down several times this might be indicative of a design that should be optimized. Overall scan patterns help to optimize layouts and positioning of different elements.
5. Time to First Fixation
The time to the first Fixation is the amount of time it takes a respondent to look at a specific AOI from stimulus onset. This metric can help show what stands out and drives attention.
6. Time Spent
Time spent quantifies the amount of time that respondents have spent on an AOI. Time spent often indexes motivation and conscious attention (long prevalence point to a high level of interest, while shorter prevalence indicate other areas on screen or in the environment that might be more notable).
Eye Tracking Gives Important Clues to What Matters to Consumers
At first glance, it may seem obvious what sort of activities would benefit from the use of eye tracking to measure consumer behavior.
Upon closer inspection, however, eye tracking could be relevant in more research scenarios than you may imagine.
It is undoubtedly a critical tool for assessing advertising communication. Whether for print or video, it can help you understand what draws the respondent’s attention and – just as crucially – what does not. It shows you the progression of the visual interaction with communication, which can be particularly helpful when understanding how consumers engage with text copy as well as with videos.
For example, if respondents dwell longer on certain scenes in an advertisement it indicates higher interest but would require further questioning to understand if the reaction is positive or negative. Eye tracking provides the raw data and interpretation needs to follow. Eye tracking through a series of iterated communication examples can be a highly effective way to improve ad effectiveness.
Eye tracking is not limited to situations where consumers evaluate two-dimensional objects like advertisements. Eye tracking can be used anywhere and is often used in stores, bank branches, car dealerships or shopping malls to better understand the customer experience.
For example, when designing the desired customer flow inside a store or trying to understand how consumers navigate public transportation, eye tracking is a non-intrusive way to measure what is being noticed and what is being engaged with along the shopper journey. In such a situation, a respondent wearing a discreet eye tracking device they barely notice can go about their business the way they usually would and yield reams of hard data on what they are looking at every step of the way. Often respondents will not recall what they may have viewed after the fact and eye tracking allows you to capture that important data rather than relying on recall alone.
Eye Tracking Technology is Affordable and Reliable
Sometimes when a new marketing research technology is launched, it sounds attractive but is prohibitively expensive for most users. One of the things which makes eye tracking technology such a useful tool is the fact that it represents excellent value.
The human eye is small and generally behaves consistently from one person to the next. When it moves, it gives clear physical signals which are easy to interpret. Eye-tracking technology only has to perform a simple task – monitoring movement of the eye within its small field.
This has led to the development of eye tracking technology which is both accurate and also cost effective. Accordingly, when eye tracking technology is used for marketing research purposes, it can be deployed quite affordably.
Another advantage of eye tracking is its reliability. The movement of the human eye is an observable phenomenon. It can be captured millisecond by millisecond and understood precisely. The interpretation of why the eye is moving is a different thing, but the mere fact of its movement is a fact. This means that eye tracking can provide a detailed, accurate history of where the eyes have moved and for how long during the period in question. There is no ambiguity about this. It is also easy to compare different sets of results, whether they are from different groups of consumers or before and after comparison using the same consumer.
Eye Tracking is Perfectly Suited to the Digital Age
Eye tracking has been around in one form or another for some years but has come into its own with the recent surge in digital usage.
As digital usage and media have grown, there has been increasing demand for research methodologies which help companies understand how consumers are interacting with digital media.
How do consumers navigate media such as web pages and social media? Eye tracking has the advantage of being able to monitor where their eyes are moving and how long they spend in certain parts of the page. It enables an understanding of which parts of a website are attracting more attention than others. It can also help show the way consumers move through a page. This has long been useful in the physical world, for example when eye tracking reveals which parts of a shelf attract attention from shoppers.
Eye Tracking Works Hand in Hand With Other Insight Generation Techniques
So far it is clear that eye tracking can generate a wealth of detailed, highly accurate data about what respondents are viewing.
However, data only tells you so much as a researcher. For instance, take the situation where a cellphone retailer wants to examine how a customer navigates the category in their store. The customer’s eye movements can be tracked for an hour. Let’s say that she only looks at one shelf in the store, and looks at it for a long time. What does that mean? It could be that she has already identified her chosen brand and is selecting between their models. It could be that she did not notice the other shelves. It could be that she has visited the store multiple times already so felt no need to look at shelves she had previously seen.
There are many possible explanations and to search for one or even several on the basis of eye tracking alone would be pure speculation. That is why eye tracking is commonly combined with other consumer research methodologies when it comes to the analytical stage of making sense of the data.
In the cell phone example, a simple solution could be to follow up the eye tracking hour with an in-depth interview in which the respondent is asked about the results of the eye tracking and given an opportunity to explain what was going on at key moments from her own perspective. This is a simple, traditional market research approach which is enhanced by eye tracking because the eye tracking data provides many interesting areas to probe during questioning.
Eye Tracking Has a Strong Track Record
Since eye tracking has been available for some time, one may expect that the proof of its utility would be its adoption by marketing research thought leaders.
In fact, that is precisely what has happened. One of the clearest examples is in the tech industry. Most of the major tech companies spend considerable time doing marketing research which utilizes eye tracking. Indeed, Google was so excited by the prospect that its prototype Google Glass product line incorporated the technology. Samsung also included eye tracking in some of its smartphones.
However, traditional consumer goods companies, who more or less invented eye tracking in the first place, are also heavy users of eye tracking. Due to its affordable nature, eye tracking is also used by much smaller companies and startups. Eye tracking is widely used by a vast number and variety of successful business.
Eye Tracking: Actionable Data Made Easily Accessible
Eye tracking can tap into non-conscious processing to measure which elements in a design or advertisement trigger the basic low level circuits of the brain. This can reveal valuable insights into your respondents individual preferences by observing what they dwell on.
To summarize, eye tracking is an objective measure that reveals:
• which elements attract immediate attention
• which elements attract above-average attention
• If some elements are being ignored or overlooked
• in which order the elements are noticed
• directly compare one stimuli to another
Different consumer research methodologies each have a role to play in understanding why customers make the choices they do. Eye tracking is a simple, accessible technology which has proven to be effective. It can provide valuable data which with the right analysis and qualitative interpretation can help rapidly optimize the impact of communication, packaging, and other experiences.