Marketing is a science and practice to expand company’s sales. But how to do that when all companies are trying to use the same well-known strategies, ideas, and methods? One answer is neuromarketing, which can provide tools and techniques like no other.
Neuromarketing or consumer neuroscience can identify primary knowledge of why people love particular products or services, and how they really feel about them. On the other hand, there are practical and moral questions related to such practices: is it safe, how “deep” a marketer should go, what information can be extracted, is this field of research corresponds to ethical aspects, does neuromarketing indeed bring emphasized value? Let’s dig into that!
What Is Neuromarketing and How Does It Work?
The field of neuromarketing allows businesses and other entities to examine and receive valuable information about the motivation behind a purchase decision, hopefully, leading to more sales. To get that information, various methods and tools are used: EEG – electroencephalography, eye tracking device and AI-based software, or fMRI – functional magnetic resonance imaging to name a few.
The main principle here is to calculate and compare signals: electro-impulses, sweating, heartbeat, skin conductance, eye glaze or bloodstream changes in the brain within set methodological implications and thresholds. Interpretation of such signals is quite reasonable, hence meaningful conclusions can be drawn quite easily. These medical technologies were used because a new approach to examining human behaviour in selecting goods and services was introduced in the mid-XX century.
70 years ago, McGill University has found a very important human brain centre which was called “the pleasure centre”. The brain is responsible for having a sense of pleasure in doing some selection, behaviour, and acting.
The centre activates itself whenever it can. According to this methodology, making certain purchasing decisions could be measured and that is why all different kinds of tools are used to calculate and depict what is stimulating people “from the inside” and what brings just too low signals and motivation.
Another way to look at this is the understanding that people often are not able to describe themselves what they find really attractive in a particular good. They just select one brand instead of another from the same store display. This is why neuromarketing enables companies to scientifically test consumers’ feedback related to advertising, products, packaging, and marketing itself and do it in a more precise manner than just simple self-reporting surveys, target groups or anything old fashion.
With neuromarketing, you can calibrate and tune up your target message to create the desired response! Neuromarketing is a powerful blend of marketing, psychology, and neurosciences. There is a lot of knowledge addressing this field of research like one was done in 2017 when the “Advertising Research Foundation” published a large-scale academic study of what is the differences between neuroscientific tools versus old fashion ways to see if upscale tools can be indeed better at predicting market-level decisions.
Scientists at New York University and Temple University measured traditional methods versus eye tracking, heart rate, EEG, skin conductance (GSR) and fMRI. The summed analysis demonstrated that fMRI provided the best case for improvement in predictive power over traditional methods as well as other tools were indeed useful for improving advertisement creativity, attractiveness, and overall effectiveness.
Toolset of neuromarketing
Technologies for neuromarketing
The most common tools to scan brains are EEG and fMRI, but these are the most invasive. On the other hand, everything depends on the goals: what exactly the company is trying to unfold by implementing such technologies. There is a good cheat sheet where anybody can see what possible values a specific method has to offer. For example, if a company wants to see what video clip scenario most probably to intrigue then expensive and invasive EEG or fMRI is not really a go-to here. Instead, fast, and relatively easy biometrics can show levels of engagement when people are watching different scenes of that video.
The biometrics scan various simple signals like heart rate, respiration or skin conductance which can be easily transformed into data that should clearly show what particular, let’s say, advertisement content is engaging and stimulating or not. Also, it can be seen if that stimulation is positive or negative.
Taking another common example – everyday decisions about product packaging, landing page engagement, Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO), design aspects of different versions – all of that can perfectly be tuned and improved with eye-tracking. Of course, it cannot monitor your emotions, but attention evaluation mechanisms still can-do wonders.
Nowadays eye-tracking is available as an easy to use, not expensive, fast, and precise service like Attention Insight . This example is a good demonstration that a single neuromarketing method can be addressing most marketers’ daily tasks. To put it simply, if you have two or more versions of the same design idea, tools like Attention Insight can show you a scientifical answer to which one is better.
Of course, it is always better to use different tools at once, because it can bring depth to your analysis and make better choices based on the rich data. For example, eye-tracking accompanied with biometrics, like skin conductance, can bring a deeper understanding of what is really catching an eye and what kind of emotions it evokes. If the budget is quite flexible and your company wants to start a new brand campaign, rebranding strategy, or planning to introduce to the markets something big and international, then the best possible tool is needed to get the most precise information.
Primary analysis with fMRI can in depth demonstrate how brains are reacting, and what interaction levels are. All of this could significantly alter the initial design pattern. An even better option is to use CBC or cross-brain-correlation which means synchronized scanning of a group of people with as many different backgrounds, and preferences as possible. In this case, the base signal can be identified, and the most proven interpretation can be formulated.
How to select the right neuromarketing technology?
The decision to improve your case with a neuromarketing toolset can be very powerful, but how to know if the company which is trying to sell you their neuromarketing services are legit? How to be sure that the money spent on this analysis will work? There is an advice map to follow:
- If possible, hire a neuroscientist to work in-house
- If the budget and goals are not on that scale, then check if actual neuroscientists are involved in the processes from the side of a service provider
- Are there any scientifically linked references to the hardware and software of the service provider
- Is the subject pool representative (very important for global brands)
- Can you find enough proof that other companies have used that service provider and the results were adequate to previously declared a value proposition
- Can neuromarketing service prove that their toolset is better and more effective than traditional methods
If these questions show that the service provider is legit, then take a chance and make a small test case to finalize your expectation for further analysis. Try to write down the most important and less important questions you want to answer. Darya Jandossova Troncoso suggests some examples of such questions: “
- Write a short text about yourself. It should be a single phrase that succinctly formulates what you specialize in.
- Write a little more lengthy text. Explain what makes you unique.
- Describe the benefits. Tell what your customers get when they come to you, give details.
- Think about headlines. People are often too lazy to read solid text, and headlines are effortless to read, so write the gist in your headlines.
- Take testimonials. Ask your clients to say a few words about you.
Neuromarketers are working hard to prove their legitimacy and usefulness but there are still many misconceptions and fears that this kind of technique is just wasting of time and money. It was once famously stated by professor, economist, and high profile USA state figure Alan Blinder “neuroscience either tells me what I already know, or it tells me something new that I don’t care about “. Is it really the case?
Current fears and their deconstruction
Now and then: how the perception of neuromarketing has changed?
Several years ago, neuromarketing was a bit too early to enter the marketing sector by overselling the concept as “the one and the only” tool to use and your business will be successful for 100%. That is simply not true. Especially it was a case when methodologies and data interpretation was not good enough to project real value and guarantee…
This was a great story in 2011 when branding consultant Martin Lindstrom published an article in which it was stated that fMRI data shows “romantic love” feelings of Apple customers for their iPhones. As it can be easily imagined, this information was accepted with huge criticism among academics and the neuromarketing field was hit hard in a reputational sense. These early times were mostly trial and error, therefore general scepticism echoes until today.
The thing is, that neuromarketing these days can offer much more sophisticated, elaborated, and verified methodologies, better equipment, and deeper knowledge of how these things work in real case scenarios of businesses. What is funny, is that the previously mentioned “iPhone and romantic love” theory was checked quite recently at the University of Pennsylvania where Michael Platt, a leading person in the Wharton Neuroscience Initiative, discovered and verified that this theory is indeed right and people “do love their smartphones at a neural level”.
Another major advantage of using an upscale neuromarketing toolset is getting better results than it would have been collected in old fashion way with focus groups, traditional market surveys. A bunch of high-profile academic studies have already demonstrated that data-driven or brain driven picture is 20-30% more accurate and more valuable for marketers.
Argumentation is quite simple: by using traditional methods like focus groups, you have a person who declares one or another evaluation, but human memory is often biased on the situation, basically flawed recall without understanding how memories, related feelings, preferences are changing over time. Also, people tend to lie if answers are not very satisfying to state. All that signal “noise” can be avoided with direct analysis of the brain and its reaction to a product, story, or idea.
So, if the technology and its data interpretation are getting better, whether it means that neuromarketing has really become a new normal for marketers? Again, not quite so.
The real value of neuromarketing?
Another problem is not about technology and scientifical soundness. It is more about attitude and perspective in general. If shortly – the majority of companies concentrate on having more visitors and more traffic for the website or social media channel, rather than focusing on all aspects of these numbers. Big companies, like Google, Facebook, or Microsoft, use neuromarketing to expand and grow their businesses having in mind the audience quality. They seek to have an in-depth analysis of how indeed customers are feeling and using their products and services.
Mid-size and especially small companies tend to skip such possibilities and that is a big mistake for them. Neuromarketing opens a different perspective – not a quantitative approach but rather the quality of that traffic, and all marketing strategies should be seen as one united view for making products better and selling processes faster. At the end of the day, we need to do more sales not just nice numbers in the traffic analysis!
The ethical aspect of neuromarketing
Lastly, there is a problem of ethics in measuring and using data reproduced from human body feedback. It is sometimes perceived as not ethical or shady practice in general. That is a most difficult question because any person has a different opinion, and it indeed can get a bit creepy when someone is targeting your brains with instruments to collect some knowledge that will be used “against you”.
If neuromarketing sounds like that, then it is difficult to embrace someone to be tested or some business to use such tools. Maybe it stands solely on personal decisions and perceptions. On the other hand, there are The International Neuroethics Society, conferences, academic papers, and recommendations on Neuroethics. Hopefully, with good regulation and education, all members of society can make knowledge-based decisions.
Perhaps neuromarketing analysis and usability soon will be treated like our other digital data, like browsing history, clicks, shares and preferences in social media which are constantly collected with our consent (at least it is stated that way). Or we can use tools and services with minimum tracking. Reasonable, clear and privacy-oriented neuroactivity regulation could be a key here.
Future of neuromarketing
Stepping back from technology and usability issues it would be interesting to see what possible outcomes it could bring to services and applications. Just imagine, you share your biometric data and instantly receive something that you really need at the moment. Like music… Oh, wait, Endel is doing that already.
If scanning and sharing your heart rate is not cool enough, let’s see what Virtual Reality and neurotechnology can offer. Open BCI is creating various gadgets to collect brain activity information and implement that functionality into virtual reality glasses. That would be a big step further when you don’t have to have an expensive laboratory.
People can be connected from everywhere to participate in the analysis. This could go further by including eye-tracking and other easy-to-use biometric gadgets. Just imagine what kind of possibilities it creates for marketing industries. From that point, it can just be a case of imagination of how such technologies could be used. Perhaps testing your new physical shop or product testing in virtuality can be as easy, fun, and informative as just putting such a device on your head. But what if even these gadgets are not necessary to perform such stunts?
Neurolink is going much further and deeper by creating a computer and brain direct connection. Sooner or later, you will not have to use any equipment to receive brain information or to analyse what certain signals mean. Elon Musk wants to revolutionize the world by connecting humans and computers without any bridge. Sounds like a sci-fi movie but, it is going at a much faster pace than we can imagine:
“We’re designing the first neural implant that will let you control a computer or mobile device anywhere you go. Micron-scale threads are inserted into areas of the brain that control movement. Each thread contains many electrodes and connects them to an implant, the Link”
This would change everything. Neurolink has even created a surgery tool that will be automatically inserting this equipment into your head.
Well, if this is not promising for neuroscience and neuromarketing, then we don’t know what is.