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PhD student Dong Liu wears an EEG, which tracks and records electrical activity in the brain.

Do You Actually “Read” a Menu? New USF Lab Partners with Major Corporations to Get Inside the Minds of Consumers

A new lab established at the University of South Florida Muma College of Business is bringing together the findings of lab-based research and the practical know-how of sales and marketing. The Center for Marketing and Sales Innovation (CMSI) lab is one of the few labs in the world that combines many sales and marketing disciplines to train students from a variety of disciplines including how biometric sensors can be used to investigate business questions and sales skills.

The CMSI lab has 20 stations set up with sensors used to detect how one engages with a selected product, personality or digital page and technologies to support sales training. Electroencephalograms (EEG) tracks and records electrical activity in the brain. Facial expression software captures facial expressions and can be interpreted as a proxy for emotion. Galvanic skin response (GSR) measures changes in the electrical resistance of skin, which reflect the intensity of emotion. Eye tracking software then determines where a person is looking and for how long. Combined, these technologies allow for far more insightful market research. The stations are also equipped with web cameras, soft phones and software to simulate real-world sales roles.

“We have the opportunity to test in the lab, take the findings out into the field and see an outcome. That’s research with impact,” said Robert Hammond, D.B.A., CMSI director and instructor. “With these kinds of assets, we are able to assist students develop the high demand skills that companies are seeking for digital marketing or neuromarketing, biometrics behavior analysis and sales skills.”

CMSI signed its first corporate research agreement with Revenue Management Solutions (RMS), an international company providing data-driven solutions and services to the restaurant industry. RMS will utilize the biometric research to study how today’s consumers review menus differently and how the medium matters. Eye tracking software pinpoints which item first draws their attention, the order in which they review the rest of the menu and how long they look at each section.

“Data is central to our work - helping the world’s largest restaurant brands develop menus that drive sales and profitability,” said Christina Norton, director of associate relations and talent at Revenue Management Solutions and USF alumna (DBA, ‘18). “Before this study, the research on menu navigation was sparse and dated back to the 1980s. With the capabilities of CSMI at USF, we can analyze what’s really going on when a consumer reads a menu and how that has changed with the explosion of the new medium – online and mobile ordering.”

A research participating wearing a brain wave monitoring device

A few of the other studies are currently being conducted in the CMSI lab include:

In addition to individual testing stations, there are five interaction rooms that include remote viewing and recording capabilities for focus group research and training. The CMSI is one of the largest academic biometric behavior research facilities in the world.