If you let Dr. Yoram Levanon, 59, listen to you while you’re talking freely, even for just 30 seconds, he says that he can find out more about you than you know yourself. Levanon, an Israeli inventor, is currently registering a patent on his method of diagnosing dyslexia, autism, and other medical and psychological problems using a voice sample. His method utilizes computerized diagnosis. You talk, and the computer makes the diagnosis.
If Levanon is right, his invention may prove greater than the polygraph. In contrast to the polygraph, Dr. Levanon’s machine does not investigate what we know, but what we sometimes don’t know ourselves: our personality structure, at the most basic emotional level. The machine asks, and, according to its inventor, also answers, far more practical and day-to-day questions than those asked in a police interrogation: what excites you, what motivates you, and how this knowledge can be exploited to market a new magazine, computer program, or yogurt to you in the next 30 seconds. Also, whether you’re dyslexic.
Levanon objects to the comparison to a polygraph. He emphasizes that he does not purport, nor is he willing, to forecast people’s fates. “I’m not an astrologer or a graphologist,” he says, while reading a graph analysis of customers’ voices, and using it to give a clear description of them and their world. Without having heard their voices himself, he outlines the characters of famous people whose voices I brought him, according to analyses performed by his devices. For example, former US President Bill Clinton proved to be a typical man driven by desire, with unlimited ambition, who is more of an order-giver than a doer. In United Mizrahi Bank chairman and former Israeli Security Agency (ISA, formerly known as the General Security Services or GSS) head Jacob Perry, Levanon finds strong survival ability, a high degree of self-control, and a sense of mission. “He’s willing to follow things to the end, and forego love,” Levanon says, pointing to a point on the frequency curve.
In contrast to a polygraph, Levanon’s personality x-ray accumulates experience at marketing divisions and customer service centers, where a machine would be welcomed if it can do the equivalent of the Biblical "search of heart and kidneys." The results of his diagnosis are usually not black and white like a polygraph’s results, but they enable networks handling a large number of customers to mass-produce intuition about their customers at an affordable cost.
Levanon says that sales department of Microsoft Israel examined how the emotional marketing (EM) method changed the productivity of the company’s sales personnel. As part of a simulation, an initial telephone conversation with “customers” (in this case, personnel from another company department) was recorded, and then analyzed by Levanon’s voice analysis program. Following the analysis, the program recommended a sales strategy suitable for that customer’s emotional profile.
Levanon’s analysis is based on comprehensive research, which found that “every person has three parameters: survival (S), homeostasis (balance or persistence H), and growth (G). A sample recommendation for customers with high G and S values is “Marketing that relies on taking risks for the family. Marketing that offers people the chance to be first in the field, to talk about initiative, to be pioneers and innovators. A personal and individual appeal, together with an appeal for the good of the family. Aggressive marketing puts these people up against a wall, and forces them to make a decision. Smart and practical marketing with a lot of spontaneity in it. Don’t be afraid to change things and improvise. Marketing here and now. Everything immediately and quickly obtainable. Marketing that requires customers to be extremely active, with immediately visible results.”
Tomer Chen, who was Microsoft marketing manager for small and medium-sized business customers until a year ago (and is now CEO of Softsale), made the experiment as part of his BA final project in business administration. He discovered that when a sales pitch uses the emotional approach recommended by the program, 2.4 times more sales were achieved, compared with a control group that did not use this smart analysis. Salespeople also reported to Chen that their personal interaction with the customer had also improved. “40% of customers in the control group asked to think before making a decision, compared with only 7% in our research group,” Chen reported. “When we knew how to approach customers, we kept them from procrastinating. We gave them confidence in buying by appealing to needs to which they were naturally inclined. The ratio was almost six to one.”
When sales pitches to customers take their emotional profile into account, Levanon explains, fewer customers ask “to think it over,” because at the emotional level, they already “feel it.” For now, as in the Microsoft experiment, the program does not yet work in real time. It requires time in order to analyze a 30-second voice sample. When software and hardware development make it possible to expedite processing and achieve a voice analysis in real time, during a conversation, however, the applications will be far reaching. The program can be a basic element of call centers, sales departments, and insurance companies, police departments, Internet dating engines, and so forth.
Artificial emotional intelligence
Telematic Cross Media CEO Avigdor Olshanski, who was once in charge of information systems at the Ministry of Finance budget division, is negotiating an investment in various developments based on Levanon’s invention. Olshanki is interested in content and media applications. Among other things, he is also a director and entrepreneur of Screenpeaks, which develops products for transmitting cable and satellite content.
”If Levanon has divided humanity into a number of categories in a way that covers 90% of all people, and if there are 27 kinds of populations, each with its own characteristics, I can bring information for each one of them,” Olshanski says. “The ability to orient yourself to those types of populations makes it possible to ensure that people get the best content for them, and the most suitable advertising. I see information or entertainment content adapted to a subscriber’s individual criteria through the media of digital television, cellular, radio, etc.
”The second questions is timing. One example of incorrect timing of information is when you’re sitting with your girlfriend in a restaurant, and the last thing you want to hear is that your bank account has been restricted.” Olshanski says that Levanon’s personality analysis can be used to devise mechanisms that will make it possible to give such announcements to the subscriber at a better time.
Of course, another future vision is telephone services with artificial emotional intelligence, which will be able to predict what is suitable for every type at every moment. Levanon found his way to such futuristic ideas, which combine psychology, high-tech marketing, and physics, through the exact sciences. He earned a BS and MS from Hebrew University in physics, mathematics, and statistics, and his doctorate from The Technion - Israel Institute of Technology with a thesis in marketing operations research. Levanon’s thesis proposed an innovative way of making decisions according to multiple criteria.
Operations research was also Levanon’s field of endeavor in the Israel Defense Forces. He went from there to systems analysis at Contahal. In the early 1970s, his job was to establish infrastructure for enterprise work procedures for the investigations and detective operations of police intelligence, including the central unit. He was deputy CEO at Contahal when he resigned. At the end of the 1980s, Levanon was chief scientist of the Eisenberg group. Since then, he has managed MSR Marketing Strategy and Research Ltd., the company he founded, for fifteen years. At the same time, he is a senior lecturer in marketing at Bar Ilan University and a senior lecturer in business administration at the Netanya Academic College. He has also been a guest lecturer at Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Levanon found the academic world a frustrating experience, however. “A few years ago, I reached the conclusion that I was teaching students decision-making theory, not how to make decisions in the real world.”
Concentrating on the exact moment when a decision is made led Levanon in a new direction: psychology. He waded into neuro-psychology seven years ago, when he met Dr. Lan Lossos, who claims to be Israel's only practitioner of marketing-related neuro-psychology. Over the past two years, Lossos has been doing post-doctoral work at Harvard University, while lecturing in neuro-psychology at Hebrew University and the advertising school run by the Advertisers’ Association of Israel. Lossos listened to Levanon’s ideas and conjectures, and found a neurological basis for his intuitions. They began working together.
Love at first sight? Not just love, Levanon says. “People create an emotional relationship to an object the first time they meet it,” he explains, “whether it’s a person, a product, an advertisement, or a musical sound. Research shows that an emotional relationship is created within 120-150 milliseconds, while the cognitive process begins with most people only after half a second. We have an emotional system that works faster than the cognitive system. It’s located in the limbic system in the brain, below the cortex. Only 5-9 items can enter our short-term memory in the brain. As a result, a selection system is necessary, to choose what ‘makes it to the finals.’ That’s what the limbic system does. Then we told ourselves, ‘If we knew how this works, how people make their initial decisions, we’d be able to do a better job of influencing people.”
In order to understand how our limited databases work, Levanon examined how decision-making processes work in babies, who have extremely limited databases. “In professional literature, I distinguished three stages among babies: the survival stage, in which the main concern is breathing and eating; the discomfort crying stage -- “my diaper is wet, my blanket got moved,” etc. -- and the boredom stage, in which babies bother you because they’re bored, so that you’ll bring them something. I applied these ideas to adult decision-making, and I saw that the model worked.”
Since 1998, over 17,000 people have answered the questionnaires of Levanon and Lossos. Those interviewed were asked to express identification or disagreement with statements like “I want to continue working until the end of my life,” “I like new things on the menu,” and other seemingly innocuous questions that reveal the emotional dimensions of a person’s personality.
Following this research, Levanon and Lossos devised their emotional marketing method, based on three parameters in every person: survival (S), homeostasis (H), and growth (G). “People with an extreme S value fight everything that moves, or the opposite they run away from everything that moves,” Levanon states. “We believe that this parallels the presence of adrenalin. H reflects a fixation, and a person with low H is always restless. A person with high G is motivated towards personal growth, and someone with low G is depressed and introspective. We believe that the G value is linked to the presence of dopamine, a neurotransmitter. When I know what every person’s S, H, and G values are, I can influence them.
"Globes": This sounds like trendy new-age literature, such as the nine personality types of the Enneagram method, and perhaps also the Myers-Briggs types, a personality classification method that purports to originate with Jung, who wrote his book, “Psychological Types”, in 1921. Does the world really need another personality analysis method?
Lossos: "One difference is that emotional marketing is a very scientific method, based on the science of the brain. Most other methods have a sociological or psychological background. The past decade has been the decade of the brain; medical research suddenly began to analyze it. I believe that it’s now time for marketing. Another amazing thing about the EM method is that not only decodes behavior, it maps preconscious motivation.”
Levanon adds that there is also a difference in the bottom line cost. “My point of departure begins with marketing, and from the question of how I can discover a person’s character for the least amount of money. I can question people by sitting with them for two hours, or I can spend months analyzing enterprises. My model, by contrast, may be less than 100% accurate, but the time and cost that it consumes are negligible.”
After getting bored with analyzing questionnaires, Levanon looked for another way that character expresses itself, and found the human voice. “The limbic system operates spontaneously,” he explains, “and its messages must be in body language and in the voice, both of which are spontaneous, gut-level responses. It’s hard to work with body language and preserve the data, but it’s easy to collect voice recordings, and I can keep them, and analyze them at my leisure. Levanon and Lossus have, in fact, begun to record people, and analyze their voice characteristics.
One of their interesting goals is to consider possible applications in dating services. Levanon says, “We asked ourselves whether, just as I match a person to words, or to a product, I’d be able to match one person to another. We looked for the connections between people.”
In psychological studies, Levanon and Lossus found five main guidelines for successful couples. “We examined the guidelines for hundreds of Israeli couples through a questionnaire, and through voice analysis,” Levanon says. They developed a model for marital compatibility, but it was a bug in their matchmaking killer application that led them to their real breakthrough. “While building the model, we discovered that a series of errors was recurring,” Levanon relates. “There was a kind of gap in the voice frequency. We tried to understand what it was, and we discovered that these gaps were typical of people with dyslexia. We later learned that dyslexics can't hear certain frequencies.”
What’s the connection between voice frequencies and dyslexia?
Levanon: ”It’s definitely possible that dyslexics have ‘blind spots’ in their hearing for sounds at certain levels. You can’t produce what you don’t hear.”
Levanon is less excited about preventing fraud on psychometric tests than about early diagnosis. “The significant contribution that I can make here,” he says enthusiastically, “is in health and proper treatment. In the current situation, children go to school, and eight years later, it turns out that they were suffering terribly from problems of concentration and listening, or from undiagnosed dyslexia.”
”In contrast to a polygraph,” Lossus says, “We don’t check truth and lies. We don’t use machines, and we don’t measure body heat. We don’t examine physiology. On the other hand, the emotional x-ray metaphor is valid. Actually, there are two recognized devices in neuro-psychology and neurology: functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) scan. That’s what we actually do, and that’s more than an x-ray can do.”
”It’s the beginning,” Levanon promises. “At one hospital, they’re beginning to research Alzeimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease with us, and autism at another. In another place, it’s juvenile diabetes, while another hospital is looking into indications of heart disease.” Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is another possible research direction. Along with everything else, Levanon is also proposing that the model of the limbic system be redrawn as a flow chart by the trained hand of an operations researcher.
This explains why Levanon has no problem placing himself in one of the three categories of babies he mentions. “I’m the third type,” he says, “a bored baby.”
Published by Globes [online] - www.globes.co.il - on May 26, 2005