When you think of the National Trust, you probably think of stately homes, country walks, and cups of tea. You perhaps don’t immediately make an association with neuroscience.
However, the National Trust’s marketing team recently turned to brain scans and other scientific techniques as part of a project to optimise visitor journeys and experiences.
At the Festival of Marketing last week Christina Finlay from the Trust and Dr Cristina De Balanzo from Walnut gave an insight into two different projects, codenamed Potter and Rawnsley, that combined elements of user surveys and more complex methods of gathering feedback.
Here’s an overview of what they discussed – as it was a detailed talk, I’ll lean heavily on my slightly dodgy photos of the presenters’ slides. Apologies for the laptop and water bottle that crop up in the bottom corner.
For those unfamiliar with the National Trust, it was established in 1895 to protect and preserve Britain’s countryside and historic buildings. Its mission hasn’t changed much since then.
This handy slide gives an overview of some key stats:
(Click to enlarge)
According to Christina Finlay, as a cause-driven organisation the Trust’s marketing messages need to take people on a journey to convince them to support its cause. This requires messaging that has an emotional appeal, which is why neuroscience techniques are effective.
Dr Balanzo explained that it’s hard for people to articulate emotions, so user research needs to go beyond simple questions and answers. Neuroscience can provide that additional human insight.
So how does the National Trust combine traditional research techniques with neuroscience? Let’s look at the first project…
This project aimed to give the National Trust a better understanding of visitor journeys at its various locations around Britain. By understanding the frame of mind people were in at each stage of their visit (e.g. upon arrival vs. touring a property), the Trust could then develop a messaging strategy that appealed to their emotions.
To begin with, Walnut ran a user survey to discover the explicit and implicit associations that people had with the National Trust brand.
Explicit associations are those attributes that users selected in the survey, while the implicit associations were deduced based on the speed of the participants’ answers.
This slide shows the results, with the grey bars showing the percentage of people who chose that attribute overall, while the orange bars also factor in the speed of selection.(Click to enlarge)
The next step was to look at actual journeys at National Trust properties. Respondents were asked how they felt at each stage of their visit in order to work out their frame of mind and emotional state.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the results showed that upon arrival people want functional messages. As Christina Finlay succinctly put it: “They want car parks, toilets and maps.”
Armed with this insight, the National Trust knew it would be wasted effort to have recruiters at its welcome centres, as people weren’t yet ready to consider signing up for membership. Equally, messaging around conservation would probably go unheeded at this stage.
But as people moved onto the next phase of their visit, exploring the property during the learning and discovery phase, they were more open to messaging around conservation and the Trust’s values.
Finally, as people are ending their visit and exiting the property they become more relaxed, contemplative and fulfilled. This means the Trust can use more emotional messaging that reinforces a connection with the brand.
These insights have allowed the Trust to refresh its high-level strategic thinking around messaging and visitor flow.
Christina Finlay said that previously the National Trust hadn’t spent enough time thinking about the arrival and exit part of visits. “When people exit a property it’s normally by a little lane that just leads down to the car park. We need to think more about how we can improve that part of the experience.”
Three parts of the customer experience
Finlay explained that the visit experience was broken into three sections:
- Hygiene factors: basic factors such as customer service, loos, car parks, maps, etc.
- Expectations: what do people expect to encounter during their visit? What will be new, what will be different? Finlay said that guests tend to have high expectations.
- Delight: how can the National Trust exceed expectations and delight its visitors?
In the past the visitor journey framework had been preoccupied with getting hygiene factors in place, but now the focus is moving on to the Expectation and Delight elements.
To gain further insight into the visitor journey, Walnut used eye tracking to explore how people engaged and interacted with the messaging at National Trust properties. It helped reinforce the idea that context is important when thinking about where to place key messaging.
The same message around buying membership achieved extremely different results depending on where it appeared, largely due to people expectations but also the size and the amount of clutter that appeared alongside the message.
For example, A-board signage visible as people approached a property achieved reach of 90% and a dwell time of 16.8 seconds, while the same message positioned by the welcome desk achieved reach of around 60% and dwell time of two seconds or less.
(Click to enlarge)
To improve the efficacy of its messaging, the Trust began using a reduced number of larger images at its welcome centres to increase the clarity and impact.
Rawnsley: Positioning the National Trust membership
To understand the impact of imagery and messaging in positioning the National Trust membership, the team undertook research using:
- EEG (brain monitoring) to understand relevance.
- GSR (physical response testing) to understand activation.
- Eye tracking to evaluate whether the messaging grabbed people’s attention.
Dr Balanzo shared some very useful insight into what makes a memorable creative execution. In essence, simplicity is key, but to add some further detail:
- Our brains like simple communications as this aids processing fluency (i.e. the ease with which information is processed).
- The easier something is to process the more impact it can have on people’s judgements and the more likeable it is.
- Executional elements like contrast, redundancy or symmetry can increase this processing fluency.
Tied into this is a requirement to make the messaging consistent with imagery. Dr Balanzo explained that imagery generates certain associations and emotions, so any copy that sits alongside it has to be congruent with the image otherwise it will be jarring and reduce the impact.
Thankfully Dr Balanzo also showed an example – as you can hopefully see in this image, the copy which referenced sandy shores and rolling hills achieved much higher emotional relevance compared to copy about ‘places of discovery’.
(Click to enlarge)
Principles of design
Finally, Dr Balanzo shared her design principles as well as a nice quip about how to create an emotional connection.
Noting that children and animals drive positive emotional engagement in people, Dr Balanzo said that marketers should all be on the lookout for “a baby that barks”.
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Overall Christina Finlay and Dr Balanzo gave a really fascinating overview of the importance of creating an emotional connection with customers and showed how neuroscience techniques can be combined with traditional research to achieve tangible insights into customer behaviour.
For more on the National Trust, see: