Spreading Clean Beauty

Neuroscience at the service of cosmetics, by Jorge Fernández (Kernel BC)

JORGE FERNÁNDEZ INTERVIEW

Jorge Fernández

Jorge Fernández Garcia, Managing Partner of Kernel Business Consulting – and a graduate in Theoretical Physics from the University of Barcelona (UB) – is a specialist in leading, defining, designing and implementing new strategies, corporate and operational transformations and business models in multiple sectors, through the application of the latest discoveries in neuroscience and cognitive sciences, giving Kernel a unique scientific-technological approach, key to maximising efficiency, business results and reach.

You have a fascinatingly multidisciplinary profile, with a professional career marked by the most exact of the sciences, physics, and the most changing of professions, strategic consulting. In the same way, Kernel Business Consulting is based on business growth through the application of neuroscience. First of all, could you explain what neuroscience is?

Neuroscience is the science (worth the redundancy) that studies the nervous system from all its perspectives: functional, physiological, chemical, etc. The brain acquires a very relevant role given its relevance.

And what does neuroscience tell us? That more than 95% of human decisions are eminently subconscious, that is, the subconscious, which is what makes decisions for us most of the time, and on a conscious level, we basically justify or inhibit those decisions. Let’s take an example: I can be convinced that the decision to buy my iPhone was conscious, but it is an illusion, a lie! My subconscious bought a user experience, a design, an exclusive, … and then my conscious kicks in and rationalises it: “it is an excellent mobile, it connects very well with my PC, …” creating this false illusion that the decision was conscious. The same happens with a car, with impulse buying, and in general, with more than 95% of our decisions.

We can understand that someone as versatile as you would manage to link the different disciplines to create a unique differential value in consulting, but we are sure that, as in all innovation, there is a story behind it. So, if you may allow us, can I ask you why neuroscience? What led you to link the concept to its application in the business world?

I could say coincidence, but it would not be entirely true. When we founded Kernel in 2007, we founded it as a consultancy specialising in business transformation processes for medium-sized companies, under a very pragmatic approach “from managers for managers,” the result of my professional career, and what many companies were needing. After the financial crisis, we were aware that we had to reinvent ourselves, and above all, help our clients to reinvent themselves. It was in this context that, in 2009, and now, by chance, I came into contact with one of the 5 world-leader neuromarketing agencies. And although neuromarketing is an eminently tactical discipline, my career as a scientist, consultant, manager and entrepreneur (which would be my 4 great ‘ages’), allowed me to squeeze all its potential to apply neuroscience to, in this case, creating new strategies and making them come true much more effectively. Thus, we created a new discipline that we call neurostrategy, and in which we have been pioneers of international reference for more than a decade.

During these eleven years that Kernel has been in the market with this discipline, you have applied neuroscience to many different aspects of the company. We have heard of neuromarketing, neuromanagement, neurostrategy, and surely there are many more applications. All of them, based on the fact that, for any sector, for any point in the value chain, and for any type of company; there is always a common factor in decision-making and value perception: the subconscious.

Effectively, that’s it. And during this decade, I humbly believe that it has become clear that this knowledge of the subconscious has made a difference and has generated a competitive advantage for our clients.

Let’s put ourselves in context: What do companies generally do when they need to know what their audiences think, for example, their clients? Well, they ask them through surveys, focus groups, etc., there are many methodologies. And they say what they honestly think! But experience shows us that in the end it has little or nothing to do with how they actually behave.

Applied neuroscience helps our clients know, and more importantly, truly understand, what their audiences really want (even if they are not even aware of it). And what is even more important, is translating that knowledge into value for these audiences, for the company and for society.

As you say, neurostrategy is being applied to many fields, it has many levels. From the reformulation of the company’s global value proposition, to a market or a segment, to a business line, to a product line, to a client experience, to its client-journey, to the experience or journey of patient, etc. We are even carrying out the first implementation of a remote recruiting solution. Actually, the field is vast and, although it acquires its full meaning at a strategic level, it can also be applied at a tactical level, and even there it makes a difference. Well, again, it does not limit itself to providing the “whats” in regard to subconscious impact (which is what neuromarketing would do), but it also tells us the specific “whys” and “hows”, thus avoiding an ABC test (with 3 alternatives), giving lines of action prioritised over the action tested. 

From what we have understood, it is thanks to the measurement of these subconscious responses and creating a very advanced model through the avant-garde of artificial intelligence, that you are able to give such valuable information as to the client’s subconscious and emotional response to the evaluated service/product, or how to build a value proposition of maximum perceived value for the client. In the cosmetic industry, this is fundamental, given that emotions are one of the main purchase drivers. Measuring them, on the other hand, is even more complicated. Could you please give us an example of empirical measurement of the subconscious response, applied to this sector and how it has been translated into its proposal value?

The scientific research process that we follow, and that we then apply to each client, is based on our technology – built on the state-of-the-art of neuroscience and artificial intelligence – and it is precisely what makes us unique. I can also tell you that it is in the process of migration to IBM Watson technology.

This technology has 3 layers:

1. The first uses the most scientifically rigorous facial decoding system on the market and adds a layer of artificial intelligence that reads facial micro-expressions, thus obtaining much more information from the subconscious. This reading is done while the patient responds to surveys and watches videos tailored to our methodology for the challenge posed by the client.

2. The second model: creates a model of decision-making and perception of the value of the public under study for the challenge posed by our client. With this we obtain, with a high level of detail, not only the subconscious questions, but also their specific “whys”. This second layer is a very complex artificial intelligence model on almost 5,000 variables.

3. And the third translates all of the above to the challenge posed by our client, using the 360° vision of said challenge, of the company, the sector, other sectors, technology, etc. In other words, this layer is the one that gives us the “hows” we mentioned earlier.

On one occasion, a client in the cosmetic sector presented us with an exciting challenge: What if consumers were able to notice the results of their skin enhancement product within two months. If the ultimate outcome was no, it would have already been a result in itself, but what came out was truly amazing. At a conscious level, only the most educated people in caring for their skin observed the effects, however, at a subconscious level, they all noticed the improvements, which had a significant impact on their well-being and happiness. And on these three axes the value proposition was formulated: effectiveness of its results, well-being and happiness of consumers.

Cosmetics, besides being a market highly based on the emotions and brand perception of the client or consumer, is a sector increasingly focused on science and technology, where innovation is the engine. However, being a pioneer, disruptor, or trendsetter can sometimes be a challenge that some companies will not be willing to take on. How can neuroscience help define the right value proposition?

That is precisely the focus and rationale behind our MindLogics® and ImagineLab® methodologies and technologies, respectively.

First, it helps you to know what your clients really want, want or desire, combining scientific rigor and answering the “whats” and “whys” (also specific to the challenge that our client poses) in as much detail as necessary. And second, to translate that knowledge – objectively and without arbitrariness – into a value proposition under the 360° vision of the company, its strategy, the sector, other sectors, technology, etc. And in addition, all this, through artificial intelligence and cutting-edge BigData, in a strategic alliance with companies such as Minsait (of the Indra group) and IBM.

But of course, you commented that many companies are not willing to assume the investment. Indeed, that is true, so then, how do we transmit it to potential clients? We ask you to challenge us, a situation in your business that you cannot understand. For example, why is it that doing exactly what your clients say for a range of products – tracing what they ask of them – does not increase sales? Or, for example, why is a product a great success in one market, then not replicated in another analogue market?  And we tell them that the more incomprehensible the challenge is for them, the better it values ​​our work.

At Provital we are already a little more familiar with this concept. One of our latest launches was Wonderage™, a well-aging active ingredient that responds to the desire to look and, above all, feel good. By collaborating with you, we were able to scientifically demonstrate (thanks to artificial intelligence) that Wonderage ™ impacts subconscious emotional well-being. The results were impressive. But of course, in the end we create the active ingredient, and the consumer will have contact with the final product brand. This being the case, how do you think a company could express these results in the development and promotion of its final product? How could neuroscience help us with one of our main pillars, such as cooperation and co-creation with clients?

In fact, with Wonderage, we already worked on that line. We did not restrict ourselves to the value proposition for Provital clients, but rather gave carefully worked guidelines to provide maximum value, real and perceived, in this case, to consumers on the final product.

But it is true that, as you comment, in this pillar of co-creation, this same analysis could be taken a step earlier, helping Provital – together with its clients – to have a deep understanding of their consumers at a subconscious level, for example, in regard to a wide range of products (since generally, the broader the spectrum, the greater the value and the greater the synergies) and thus co-develop and be able to offer them the products, and most likely services, that they really want, desire or that those consumers crave. Undoubtedly, this creation would increase the scope of disruption, and consequently, the value contribution and results for everyone.

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