Humans experience a range of emotions in response to products and experiences on a daily basis. Shoppers may get excited for certain brands and then overwhelmed by choices. Audience members may oscillate between apathy and engagement during performances. Children can become frustrated, bored, or entertained while learning a new subject.
Using wearable stress sensors, analytics, and other technologies, MIT Media Lab spinout mPath is able to pinpoint the exact moment consumers feel these subconscious responses. In doing so, the startup has brought some interesting market research insights to major companies and organisations to help them refine their products and services.
“Right now, companies struggle to understand their customers’ emotional needs or wants,” says founder and CEO Elliot Hedman PhD ’12. “But if we listen a little to consumer emotions, there’s a lot of room for innovation.”
Headquartered in Denver, Colorado, mPath has worked with big-name clients including The LEGO Group, Google, The Blue Man Group, Lowe’s, Hasbro, and Best Buy, as well as governmental organisations, film production companies, and hospitals. Now mPath is dipping into childhood education, having just launched a project with the Boys and Girls Clubs in Denver to discover ways to encourage children to read more.
The startup’s MOXO sensor — whose core technology was co-invented by Hedman, MIT Professor Rosalind Picard, and other MIT researchers — is a wearable that resembles a bulky smartwatch.
Placed on the wrist, it wirelessly measures changes in skin conductance (subtle electrical changes across the skin), which reflect sympathetic nervous system activity and physiological arousal. Spikes in conductance can signal stress and frustration, while dips may indicate disinterest or boredom.
To gain an accurate picture of consumers’ responses to specific stimuli, mPath developed a new approach to market research, called “emototyping.” This process combines the stress sensors with eye-tracking glasses or GoPro cameras, to identify where a person looked at the exact moment of an emotional spike or dip. Personal interviews are also conducted with all participants, who are shown the data and asked what they think they felt.
This entire process creates a more in-depth, precise emotional profile of consumers than traditional market research, which primarily involves interviews and occasionally video analysis, according to Hedman. “All these things combined together in emototyping tell us a deep story about the participant,” he says.
Emototyping is an especially useful tool when studying children’s experiences, according to Hedman. “It’s hard for kids to describe what they felt,” he says. “The sensors help tell the whole story.”