Neuromarketing has become a hot topic in recent years, yet there are still many misconceptions surrounding it
Why, amidst all the books, blogs, and conferences on the subject should there be so many misunderstandings? I believe the answer is because most of the action is behind closed-doors. The companies doing the most work are often too busy to broadcast to the rest of the world what they are up to, too panicky about IP being stolen, or just have clients that don’t want their research discussed openly. The situation is compounded by the fact that academic Neuroscientists are accustomed to new findings being published openly. When asked to go on the record and comment on the state of Neuromarketing, they often have little inside-knowledge to go on, and therefore tend to give either dismissive or highly conservative responses.
The resulting public image of the industry is therefore somewhat skewed. Here are the top 7 myths that I hear most often.
1. It can’t tell you anything
Some just completely dismiss the whole enterprise. Usually their reasoning goes as follows: We don’t yet have a full understanding of how the brain works, therefore we can’t really draw any conclusions from the results of neuromarketing studies. This ignores the large amount of things that we do know about the brain. It also ignores the fact that many neuromarketing companies have done considerable amounts of work to understand highly specific areas of brain functioning, such as tracking attention moment-by-moment, or finding neuro signals which predict whether something is more likely to be remembered at a later date. Not everything about the brain has to be understood before some things can be measured.
2. It can tell you everything
The opposite myth is often heard too, albeit usually by some vendors. In reality, whilst it can be applied to a wide array of questions, a single neuromarketing study is not going to answer everything. Studies are usually designed to answer a limited range of questions. Often you still need to use multiple techniques through the course of your research programs to cover all your questions.
3. Neuromarketing technologies are like a camera
To many, brain-scanning technologies like fMRI or EEG can seem like magical devices that can tell you what a person is thinking. They might imagine that these devices are just like a camera, point them at an object (in this case, a brain!) and you will be able to get a meaningful picture. This analogy is seductive but misleading. These brain-scanning technologies only yield interpretable data when married with an appropriate and good test-design. Even then the data requires proper interpretation and contextualising. This leads onto the next myth:
4. The more sophisticated and expensive the test, the better
It’s not always the most expensive kit that yields the best data. Behavioural economics has taught us that people prefer to answer the question ‘how do I feel about X?’ than ‘What do I think about X?’. This is because it’s a short-cut that saves us the hard work of gathering all the facts and logically evaluating them. Similarly, clients too often get confused about all the competing techniques and simply gravitate towards the ones that sound most sophisticated or has the most attractive science-y gloss. The better question to ask is: will the outputs that this technique provides best answer my research question?
5. It’s all about advertising
Neuromarketing usually gets discussed as an advertising-testing technique, yet there are many other applications, including: packaging, concepts, in-store, products (appearance, interaction), touchpoint interaction, and branding. Even within each of these areas there are a wealth of questions that neuromarketing is being used to answer. For example, with in-store research there are questions about display layout, how packaging performs in-situ, signage, how to best communicate a price-offer, and so on.
6. Its all about fMRI and EEG
Whilst it’s true that fMRI and EEG dominated the early days of the industry, there is now a far wider array of techniques succeeding out in the research marketplace. The current growth is coming from online methods such as implicit response measures, facial emotion coding, and even online eye-tracking. The advantage of the online offerings are that they’re usually a lot cheaper and faster to run than their lab-based counterparts. fMRI and EEG still have a role to play, but the family of solutions has now grown.
7. Its incompatible with traditional research methods
Lastly, some market researchers assume that using Neuromarketing methods means abandoning their traditional research methods. This isn’t necessarily so. Whilst it is true that aligning and correlating new neuro-metrics with their legacy databases can be challenging for researchers, neuromarketing methods can be blended with other techniques. Indeed, increasingly the way that researchers use these methods is in combination, either with eachother, or with traditional techniques. To be able to compare and contrast conscious, explicitly articulated opinions with non-conscious neuro-type data is itself a revealing exercise.
This guest blog post was kindly provided by Darren Bridger, a veteran Neuromarketer, having worked in the industry for 15 years. He is currently a consultant at Neurostrata.com
Thom Noble, Founder of NeuroStrata, will be speaking at the upcoming Neuromarketing Briefing, taking place in London on June 26th.