Challenge

Have you ever tried to be extremely annoyed by delays on your phone? We all experience buffering on videos, and web pages barely loading, and with oh that so extremely annoying circle logo, showing that something is loading, but without showing any signs of progress.

The study with Ericsson aimed to understand the “breaking point” of such delays. In self reports, people in Northern Europe tend to say that 5-6 seconds is the breaking point. However, as we all know from applied neuroscience, self reports are a poor proxy for understanding consumers’ actual responses.

What we did

We employed mobile eye-tracking (glasses) and brain scanning (EEG) to measure attention, as well as cognitive and emotional responses to mobile delays, and combined this with self-reported experiences of the test.

Have you ever tried to be extremely annoyed by delays on your phone? We all experience buffering on videos, and web pages barely loading, and with oh that so extremely annoying circle logo, showing that something is loading, but without showing any signs of progress.

The study with Ericsson aimed to understand the “breaking point” of such delays. In self reports, people in Northern Europe tend to say that 5-6 seconds is the breaking point. However, as we all know from applied neuroscience, self reports are a poor proxy for understanding consumers’ actual responses.

In the study, which was conducted just outside Copenhagen, Denmark, we enrolled participants to perform different tasks on a smartphone. Some included looking at videos, while others included reading from web pages. Unbeknownst to the participants, we divided the participants into three groups, and manipulated the degree to which they experienced delays during the tasks:

  • Group 1 – control group, with no or only incidental, small delays
  • Group 2 – medium delays, with noticeable delays
  • Group 3 – high delays, with substantial delays

All participants underwent a pre- and post-test of responses to brand logos, our so-called NeuroEquity™ approach. This allowed us to go beyond self-reports on brand responses, and to measure unconscious and direct emotional responses to brands, and whether mobile delays would impact on this.

Already at 4 second delays, stress responses were on the rise

WHAT WE FOUND

What we found was surprising: despite that self reports suggested that tolerance to delays were 5-6 seconds, we saw that already at 4 seconds, there was a dramatic shift in cognitive stress and a downturn of emotional responses. Basically, mobile delays made users stressed and emotionally negative.

Delays caused a drop in enjoyment of the material

Most notably, we saw a dramatic shift in stress that lasted for delays between 4 and about 10 seconds. After this, it was as if people resigned and started doing other things. Similarly, emotional responses was at a low until people gave up, after which their emotions went up again, signalling that they had started to focus on other things than the actual mobile phone.

Mobile delays cause a downturn of emotional responses to both service and content providers

What surprised us even more was that mobile delays showed a detrimental effect on users’ emotional attachment to the brands they believed they had been using. First, the service provider they believed they were using took a hit: the longer the delay, the more negative the change. At the same time, we found that the some service providers got a boost. That is, if people had a bad experience with service provider, not only did their emotional responses to them drop dramatically: competitor showed a net increase in emotional response – even though no person had interacted with them!

Second, the same effect was found for content providers. If users believed that they were watching movies from one provider, loading artifacts in video content caused a strong negative emotional response to that provider, and conversely a net increase in positive emotional response to other providers!

CONCLUSION

Our applied neuroscience study for Ericsson – now available as a public report – suggest that mobile delays should be a major concern for BOTH service providers as well as content providers. In an age where “all things digital” is a mantra, this is a cautionary tale that in order to succeed in the digital world, you really need to employ the best possible measure to ensure a good flow experience. Whether you are Vodafone or YouTube – connection matters!

MENTIONS AND LINKS TO THE STUDY

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