By Artem Violety, Vice President
Exciting new techniques are emerging within the advertising and technology industries, creating fresh disrupters in market research and opening new doors to more opportunities and insights than ever imagined before. However, as with most new findings, additional research and confirmation is needed before these techniques become relevant and widely accepted.
One new field of study that has emerged is “neuromarketing research”- an attempt to leverage learnings from neuroscience to better understand the brain’s responses to marketing stimuli, and thereby better understand consumer behavior. I had the pleasure of appearing on a panel discussing the topic at the ad:tech conference in New York, held November 2-3, 2016.
The panel discussed how face recognition software could uncover consumers’ emotional states; how biometric markers, such as skin conductance, heartrate, and respiration could be used to detect non-conscious response to stimuli; and how brain imaging techniques, including functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and Electroencephalography (EEG) could potentially uncover consumers “true” reactions to marketing stimuli by measuring actual brain activity.
These techniques are obviously very attractive to marketers. Imagine being able to peer into a consumer’s mind and see how interested they are really in a product, or which of two marketing messages better resonates with them, all without having to rely on what they tell us.
Neuromarketing’s focus is on consumers’ “unsaid” thoughts, so in essence, their inner, unedited, potentially unconscious thoughts and feelings. This is generally called “System 1” or “Fast” thinking, and it refers to a consumer’s automatic response to a given stimulus; it’s a potentially vital aspect in decision-making but by no means the only one.
In contrast, more traditional market research focuses on what is explicitly reported by a consumer. This is called “System 2” or “Slow” thinking, and refers to the more deliberate, logical or conscious aspects of decision making.
As one can imagine, both types of responses are worth considering when trying to understand how the consumer feels about a product or service. Unfortunately, the excitement that usually accompanies a discovery of a new set of tools or techniques often overrides not only previously accepted learning but even basic logic.
For example, the notion that there is a metaphorical “buy button” in the brain that can be accessed via neuromarketing is promise boldly made by some practitioners. However, this claim is akin to those made by proponents of using hypnosis or subliminal messages in commercials – highly attractive but without much merit. Since the brain is an organ that evolved over a much longer period of time than humans have engaged in commerce, there wouldn’t have been an opportunity for a “buy button” to be part of the biology of the brain. There are surely “approach or avoid”, “fight or flight” functions built in, but those reflect a need for basic survival, not the desire to buy a shiny new phone or another pair of shoes.
In order to be useful, neuromarketing research must be placed in the proper context – it’s a tool that can be used in conjunction with other traditional techniques, but it’s not a panacea for all marketing questions. As neuroscience evolves and is able to better explain human cognitive abilities, it will surely play a larger role in how we all conduct marketing research. However, it is unlikely it will ever completely replace the need to actually talk to people in order to understand them, something we humans have a good deal of practice doing.