Beyond a Doubt: UVU’s SMARTLab Takes the Guesswork out of Marketing

The madmen era of marketing and advertising is long gone. Today’s marketing and sales professionals can no longer simply rely on their gut instincts to guess whether a campaign or strategy is working. These days, everything is tracked, from impressions to clicks to interactions. And now marketers can add another weapon to their arsenal—biometric data analysis.

And these biometric tools are available right here in Utah at the Utah Valley University (UVU) Vivint SMARTLab.

The SMARTLab, which stands for sales and marketing applied research test lab, opened its doors in November 2014 as part of a $2 million partnership among UVU, Vivint, and Vivint founder and CEO Todd Pedersen. Led by Paul Dishman, executive director, and Dale Jolley, director, the SMARTLab helps local and national companies fine tune their strategies with high-tech tools and biometric data analysis.

But beyond helping businesses, the SMARTLab provides UVU students with hands-on experience and training that prepares them for careers in research analysis, marketing and sales, and business. The lab, which boasts clients like Children’s Miracle Network, Utah Office of Tourism and Xlear, is the only facility in the Intermountain West that features this technology and tools coupled with higher education opportunities in marketing and sales research.

Need to know whether your website or app is easy to use, or whether it’s frustrating potential customers? Wondering whether your store’s merchandise is placed in the right position to maximize sales? Want to know if your sales pitch is working? Dishman says all of these questions and more can be answered in the SMARTLab using biometric tools to measure a subject’s precise physical response to the campaign or strategy.

Here are some of the tools that can be found in the UVU SMARTLab:

Eye tracking
The lab is home to state-of-the-art software that can track eye movements and concentration while the subject is working on a computer, looking at his or her mobile device, or even in a live environment while wearing eye-tracking glasses.

For example, if a company wants to test its website, the lab’s technology can follow a user’s eyes throughout his or her browsing experience. It can tell what areas individuals focused on, the amount of time (to the precise second) they spend looking at certain areas, track their movements on the site, and even tell when they begin to get lost.

“We’ve been able to tell companies when a subject gets frustrated and leaves the website,” says Dishman. “This helps them redesign their website to be more effective.”

Another example is if a company wants to measure an advertisement’s effectiveness. “The eye-tracking technology can pinpoint exactly what the individual is looking at,” says Jolley. “We had an ad where the eye tracking told us that not one ad worked, but a combination was better. We’ve had clients who have reconfigured their entire campaigns, and it increased their ROI dramatically.”

The eye-tracking glasses are also invaluable for companies that want to do research in an actual environment, such as in a store. The glasses include four cameras near each lens that follow eye movement. Jolley explains how it works: “A subject can walk into a store wearing the glasses and you can tell exactly what captures his attention. We know what might need to be repositioned, what aspects blend too much into the background. We can tell the store to change colors, where to add lighting. We can help you remerchandise the entire store.”

The EEG (electroencephalogram) is a neurological tool that sits on the scalp and uses electrical channels to monitor and measure 14 brain waves to examine how the individual is responding to stimuli. Neurologists use an EEG to detect abnormalities in the brain’s electrical activity. But reading normal brainwaves can allow you to see, for instance, whether a person has tightened muscles or is becoming drowsy.

By analyzing this data, web designers may be able to tell whether their website causes frustration. Advertisers may be able to determine whether their ads are evoking the right emotions.

“It can test your automatic reaction to what you feel when you see a certain stimuli,” explains Dishman. “If they’re watching a commercial or a sales presentation, we can tell how they’re responding and how that translates into an emotion.”

Galvanic skin response
Similar to a lie detector test, the galvanic skin response can pinpoint reactions people have when exposed to various forms of marketing stimuli. “Your skin is the best lie detector because it’s constantly contracting and expanding based on your emotions, reactions and stimuli,” says Dishman.

While users can offer verbal feedback about a product, the galvanic skin response test can measure the strength of the individual’s reaction in the exact moment of exposure to the stimuli. The technology allows researchers to fill in the gaps between what was said and what the subject was feeling.

Facial coding analysis
The lab includes facial coding analysis software that dissects miniscule fascial expressions to discern emotions such as joy, anger, surprise, fear, contempt, disgust, sadness, confusion and frustration. “Every time you smirk or squint or smile, the software will pick up on that,” says Jolley. “The software will graph the different emotions and that makes it easy to see how you’re feeling.”

The software is extraordinarily valuable to determine whether a message is resonating. Jolley points to a sales presentation as an example of how the software works. A former salesman himself, Jolley presented a pharmaceutical pitch that included an odd statement about the drug giving users cancer. The software reported a significant increase in confusion, sadness, frustration and contempt among subjects at the moment he mentioned cancer in his pitch.

Focus groups
While having so many high-tech options offers invaluable information for quantitative data, the SMARTLab also offers its clients traditional focus groups to gather qualitative data. “We have all different types of panels. We bring in panels of moms, people who are 18 to 35, and old geezers like me,” says Dishman.

The client can sit in the observation room and work directly with the technical director, who instructs the panel’s moderator through an earbud. Or the client can watch the focus group remotely from his or her office, while still having the opportunity to talk with the technical director throughout the process.

“It’s great for concept testing and idea generation,” says Dishman. “It’s good qualitative data that provides a lot of valuable information.”

A powerful method of using the SMARTLab is to use the high-tech tools and focus groups collectively. Dishman says it’s especially popular for companies to use both the EEG and eye-tracking software to test subjects.

“It’s all about getting precise results,” he says. “When you do opinion research, you have a huge variance for error. That’s why you have to take incredibly large samples. But when you’re measuring biometric data, you don’t need big samples because there’s not a lot of variance. Plus, I don’t have to ask you questions. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt what you’re thinking and how you’re responding.”

Class Act
Utah’s universities have stepped up to ensure tomorrow’s workforce has the education and skills needed to meet the ever-evolving needs of industry. Here’s a peek inside three innovative degree programs that are the first of their kind in Utah.

Outdoor Product Design and Development
Utah State University (USU)

Students who have a passion for Utah’s great outdoors should consider USU’s outdoor product design and development degree. The program gives its students a hands-on learning approach to the outdoor products industry, including product research, design, development and testing. It offers field- and industry-based learning experiences that connect students to industry leaders, such as technical designers, fabric manufacturers and outdoor product company executives.

Digital Audio Degree
Utah Valley University (UVU)

The UVU digital audio degree gives students the opportunity to enter the fascinating world of music and audio production. Students learn album recording and mixing, sound for film and video, audio restoration and forensics, live sound, radio production, and audio hardware and software design. Using industry-leading technology, students are able to produce and engineer numerous music, audio and sound effects sessions.

Cybersecurity and Information Assurance
Western Governors University (WGU)

WGU’s new master’s program in cybersecurity and information assurance is designed to help students navigate the myriad of security issues modern organizations face. Students in the program will study issues like cyberwarfare, secure network design, ethical hacking, computer forensics and cyberlaw. The program is intended for experienced information systems professionals with real-world IT experience who are seeking a master’s degree to advance their careers in the field.