The Importance of Visual Attention

The Importance of Visual Attention

In this post, we are exploring an article by Pete Foley, former Director of Consumer Science at P&G, on the psychology of visual attention. Our eye tracking studies in the retail context reveal important cues in the decision making process.

Below are a few quotes and key insights from Pete’s article, Innovation Psychology: Do I Have Your Attention?

Attention Operates Below Our Awareness

“We consciously control far less of our attention than most of us realize.  Certainly, we can direct our attention, and look for specific things, but a lot of what guides our attention is automatic and occurs below our awareness.  It’s why when we are busy doing something, we rarely have to think about where to look.”

 How many men would tell you that's where their eyes were focused? How many men would tell you that’s where their eyes were focused?

Now you see it, Now you don’t.

“We don’t see as much of the world as we think.  At any one moment in time, our high acuity vision only covers an area about the size of our thumbnail held at arms length to our body.  What we see with our minds’ eye is created by our brain, which stitches together these high acuity snippets with low resolution data from our peripheral vision, and then uses memory to fill in the gaps.  The problem is that this creates an illusion of seeing more detail than we really do.  The unfortunate result is that someone performing a familiar task, or who is distracted, may therefore be completely blind to innovations we’ve placed on websites or store shelves.”


Turning Attention into Sales

“Being seen is not enough.  Turning noticeability into a sale requires customers to see, understand and want us.  Imagine a customer looking for his usual shampoo in its usual spot, but we’ve replaced it with our innovation. It is a Brand Managers dream that the shopper will stop, pick up the new product, diligently read the on-pack copy, and be ‘persuaded’ to try it.  However, in the real, time constrained world, he’ll more likely ignore it, and scan the area for what he originally wanted.  Worse, he may mentally categorize it as an annoying distraction, and unconsciously deselect it in the future.  It’s therefore critical that potential customers intuitively know what we are, and why they should buy us.  Not easy, but one tip is to be both new and old at the same time.  Mix signpost elements and category norms with new elements that help tell our innovation story.  Avoid the temptation to look completely different to the rest of the category.  We may stand out, but in many cases, we’ll be hard to understand and mostly ignored.”

Our Thoughts

Pete Foley really hits the nail on the head with this article on visual attention and we couldn’t say it any better. The value of eye tracking is evident when you see how important our vision is to our “unconscious” decision making process. Pete identifies many of the pitfalls with just focusing on visual attention, and this is something we always make our clients aware of when starting a study. An example that Dr. Hurley tends to use is the Pink Package. You can design a bright pink package that stands out against the category and attracts the eyes, but your package is no longer subtle. You have now sounded the alarm to consumer and competitor attention. Our Eye tracking studies can help you identify the subtle features and innovations that attract customers without alarming your competitors in the process.

For the full article: Click Here

Did you see our first post on Eye Tracking Metrics 101?

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