Few people know this better than Aoife McGuinness, who is a neuroscience marketing consultant at behavioural communications agency HeyHuman.

Econsultancy caught up with her to find out about a day in her life, how she uses neuroscience to measure the effectiveness of content, the skills and tools she needs to do her job well, and how to break into behavioural communications.

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Please describe your job: What do you do?

Aoife McGuinness: I am a neuroscience marketing consultant at HeyHuman. I run the agency’s in-house research lab with the goal of making content ‘brain kind’ and easy to process in the age of information overload.

Using EEG neuro-measurement, we analyse content’s effectiveness by recording its impact on people’s brains. The results of the research can be immediately practical, to apply to copy and content, or can feed into longer-term strategic thinking – from category analysis, to developing creative routes for campaigns.

Our whole stance is about crafting communications that require a perfect amount of both cognitive effort and ease – to cut through without overloading. It’s crucial to integrate the research into day-to-day agency work, rather than just use it as a trophy piece.

Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?

Aoife McGuinness: I report to the MD, Neil Davidson, and liaise mostly with the planning and strategy team, but I work alongside everyone, depending on what stage of the process the research is in.

What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?

Aoife McGuinness: You need a really good balance between creative and data-led thinking – it really helps when I’m dealing with such a wide range of departments.

Flexibility and making things work with limited timeframes and budgets is also crucial to get those quick turnarounds. Good communications skills are also a must, as I need to explain and demystify research without using jargon.

Tell us about a typical working day…

Aoife McGuinness: I usually have a morning meeting with someone in the strategy team. In terms of the actual research, I have up to eight people coming in for various neuroscience tests daily, and there’s a lot of equipment recalibration and prepping for each participant.

Overall, I probably spend a third of my time on research, a third on analysis, and a third keeping abreast of other research as well as sharing my own findings. Translating ideas to research and then to insight pretty much sums it up.

Conferences are also playing an increasingly large part in my work, and I’m especially excited to speak on how to reduce cognitive load in advertising at SXSW next year!

Aoife McGuinness headshot in black & white

What do you love about your job? What sucks?

Aoife McGuinness: I love the diversity of what we do, and the HeyHuman team is brilliant. It’s especially fascinating and rewarding to guide research pieces to fruition.

What sucks? A tricky one. Maybe participants not showing up, as recruiting them for experiments can be difficult. HeyHuman has an internal database of potential participants, so that makes that part of the process slightly easier.

What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?

Aoife McGuinness: I would like to continue researching interesting topics and growing the variety of clients we have. The public is constantly bombarded with messaging and often develops a dislike of advertising. Applying neuroscience can help agencies develop marketing campaigns that are less intrusive and ease the current information overload.

It’s all about making advertising healthier – to deliver the right message, in the right context and at the right moment.

My main KPI is obviously whether neuroscience-informed work performs better than non-neuroscience-informed work, and social metrics and recall studies are pretty key in working that out.

What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?

Aoife McGuinness: As well as a variety of specialised EEG technology, old favourites like Excel, Powerpoint, Keynote and Matlab are pretty indispensable.

How did you decide to work in the marketing sector?

Aoife McGuinness: I have a background in economics, and briefly dipped into the corporate world, but I saw advertising and marketing as an ideal place to blend analytical and creative mindsets.

Seeing tech-based creativity at SXSW was a major inspiration and this combined with my passion for multi-sensory experiences were the motivation to return to university to study neuroscience.

What recent campaigns/experiences have you admired?

Aoife McGuinness: I really liked a recent Heinz ketchup print ad that featured a blurry upside-down bottle. Those kinds of mixed cues create cognitive conflict, which make you double take and give you a dopamine hit.

Do you have any advice for anybody who wants to get into behavioural communications?

Aoife McGuinness: If you haven’t read Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman then you must do – the Nobel Prize-winner literally wrote the book on behavioural economics. He goes into the difference between system one and system two thinking, and how the reality in our decisions are usually based on completely subconscious choices about simple things like colour.

We try to convince ourselves of our rationality but the brain tries its best to avoid thinking as it uses a lot of energy! My work has really shown me first-hand how the nudges that affect the way we behave are subtle, and we often aren’t consciously aware of them. It’s important for people to bear this in mind when they are considering a career in behavioural communications.

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