Hannes De Wachter, Co-Founder & CEO, MindspellerHannes De Wachter, Co-Founder & CEO
What is it that makes one decide in favour of or against a brand or a company?

Is it the explicit marketing claims for that specific brand that compel an individual to make up their mind about whether or not they prefer it?

In most scenarios, the answer to this question remains a ‘no’.

Instead, it’s the implicit brand associations that come top of mind, below conscious awareness that drive decision making for 95 per cent. Unfortunately these implicit associations are ‘noisy’. Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel prize winner in Behavioural Sciences in his latest publication, Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgement, precisely defined this. Kahneman emphasizes that noise—the variability in decisions arising in systems meant to produce uniform judgements— leads to varied human judgements about the same subject or brand. However, what if there is a way to decode implicit brand associations that an individual has formed and better understand behaviour?

This is precisely the area that Mindspeller decided to explore using AI to get into the customer’s mind. The company brings a neuro-semantic AI solution that reduces harmful, unintended noise in marketing communication by tuning campaign content to signal only the intended brand association. Tuning is done by tapping into Mindspeller’s interactive implicit association mind map, which represents a unique model of the subconscious consumer mind, and correlates with split second electrical activity in the brain. This revolutionary AI solution is an outcome of Professor Marc Van Hulle and his research team’s efforts that led to the development of a novel Brain-Computer-Interface (BCI), enabling patients with locked-in syndrome to communicate by mentally spelling a word via an EEG headset. This technology had the neuro-semantic AI at its core that enabled association-based communication for locked-in patients, which also proved relevant in consumer neuroscience. Hence, to make the best use of this technology in the field of retail, Mindspeller was founded in 2015 by Professor Marc Van Hulle and Hannes De Wachter, the company’s CEO, as a spin-off from the computational neuroscience lab of KU Leuven, Europe’s leading university in the Reuters.com innovation rankings.

Mindspeller enables both new and incumbent brands to access the world’s largest interactive brand association mind map, validated with Professor Van Hulle’s Brain- Computer-Interface


Mindspeller enables both new and incumbent brands to access the world’s largest brand association mind map, validated with Professor Van Hulle’s Brain-Computer-Interface. The company asks real humans what they associate with a specific brand or campaign stimuli, such as logos, landing pages, jingles, billboards, banners, blogposts, and so on. The AI solution then puts these brand assets on the map based on the spontaneous associations sourced from the crowd. The mapping then allows Mindspeller's AI to reveal prejudice and biases that prevent the brand from connecting with the target audience on a deeper level. “Our mapping protocol requires nothing more than asking a few spontaneous brand associations to at least 200 respondents. This gives us a dataset that allows us to position a brand in the world’s largest subconscious brand association network,” adds De Wachter.

Unlike the method prevailing in the industry wherein co-occurrence statistics are captured, by measuring how often words occur next to each other in texts scraped from the Internet (newspaper articles, social media), Mindspeller adopts a more realistic way of gathering semantic data. It captures all the possible associations with the help of its human-centric AI. “By mapping the entire vocabulary, our solution can compute the strength with which a brand asset is eliciting certain associations. We do not need to restrict the respondent from choosing between an arbitrary set of pre-defined brand attributes, which causes priming,” De Wachter explains. Another factor that makes Mindspeller stand out is that it helps measure associations of words and all content that carries meaning, such as images, sounds, and even short videos.

To illustrate how Mindspeller’s mapping technology proves monumental for retailers, De Wachter goes on to talk about the company’s B2C prototype, an online fun shopping’ mood search’ platform that helps people discover original and authentic brands based on their current state of mind. “We are trying to offer a different kind of user experience where we try to match a brand’s identity with consumer moods. This kind of experience will be of interest to retailers that have a lot of brands in their portfolio,” remarks De Wachter. The company is even working with the most innovative European shopping destinations to create more elaborate and custom versions of this platform, including VR versions of the best matching content and experiences their cities offer.

Another association that provides in-depth insights into how beneficial Mindspeller’s AI solution can be for retailers is the one the company had with Antwerp City. The city’s marketing communication team brought Mindspeller on board to reposition their brand so that it would evoke associations with ‘creativity’, ‘flamboyant’ and ‘drive’ to better connect with their target audience. While these associations seemed noble, they were not very original as most competitive European cities too would want to be associated with them. De Wachter further elaborates, “Moreover, these intended associations especially ‘flamboyant’ represent relatively abstract associations that don’t stick very well in the consumer’s mind, which they understood is driving 95 percent of decision behaviour.” Mindspeller offered the city access to data analytics to revitalize a hidden gem campaign theme that was hidden in plain sight. The existing associations with “diamonds” (about Antwerp, the diamond city) turned out to reposition their brand based on this original theme, that was getting diluted in the long tail of their brand DNA associations. A “diamand” city represents the more abstract associations yet connects with their brand DNA and brings their brand right on track as everyone’s favourite shopping metropole where one can find that hidden gem. The client’s team now employs Mindspeller’s applications to ensure that all their marketing communication is consistently tuned to evoke the intended association with the diamond theme.

There have been many such instances where Mindspeller has helped its retail clients reposition their brands and connect with their audiences in a better way. To further improve its portfolio, the team at Mindspeller has been consistently working to improve the UI and UX of its existing B2B applications designed to derive insights by tracking a brand’s position in the network. The company is also developing B2C prototypes that retailers can implement to engage their customers through novel user experiences, recommending brand assets and content in original and highly personal, intimate ways that increase the likelihood of maintaining direct access to 1st party user data in a cookie-less world. In a nutshell, Mindspeller has been exploring all the possible ways to help retailers use a revolutionary technology such as its neuro AI to better connect with their customers, which is every company’s objective.