Thursday, 17 January 2013

Neuromarketing – a look inside your audience’s head

Ask Apple followers why they love their iPads and they will answer: design, convenience, versatility etc. But what if they are just rationalising their choices? What if the choice was made based on emotional associations with the brand, other users and memories that they are not even aware of? And what if Apple had access to this knowledge and tailored its communications to induce more of those warm fuzzy feelings its users experience when interacting with the products? You may be surprised to find many companies are already doing this.

Neuromarketing is a fascinating new field specialising in understanding people’s emotions and attitudes towards brands, products and services by combining neuroscience, psychology and marketing tools. These tools go beyond conscious thought and identify non-conscious responses in the brain. What makes this so relevant is the fact that 75 to 95% of the brain’s processing goes on below conscious awareness, including emotions and feelings.

Current research on consumer behaviour suggests that most purchase decisions are based on minimal conscious thought and are largely driven by emotional responses and feelings. A recent study conducted by the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences revealed our decisions are made up 10 seconds before we become aware of them. John-Dylan Haynes, the co-author of the study, stated: “Your decisions are strongly prepared by brain activity. By the time consciousness kicks in, most of the work has already been done.”

With this in mind, traditional research measures, which rely on the conscious level, are missing a large portion of what drives purchase behavior. Because emotional responses are unconscious, it is practically impossible for people to identify what caused them through conscious methods such as surveys and focus groups. It is also known that by simply asking a person to tell you how they feel automatically changes the feeling. No wonder eight out of 10 new product releases fail regardless of the estimated $4.5 billion USD global annual spend on qualitative market research.

So how are these emotions and feelings measured? Researches essentially put a cap covered in electrodes or magnetic scanners on people’s head, which measures brain impulses and continually tells how much attention they are paying, what emotions they are experiencing and what memories are being retrieved. Neuroimaging is also combined with biometrics such as eye movement, face reading and heart rate to paint a more accurate picture. This knowledge is then used to support a myriad of marketing activities, from new product design to what type of scent to use in a store as well as the effect of celebrities in advertising.

The Nielsen Company, a global leader in market research, bought California-based NeuroFocus in 2011 to tap into this fast growing market. NeuroFocus exhibits a list of high profile clients such as Google, Microsoft, Intel, Facebook and PayPal. The latter was admittedly sceptic about the new method to start with; however, became convinced after seeing click-through rates improve by more than three times, something unheard of in the world of direct marketing. Other companies like McDonald's, Unilever, Procter & Gamble and GlaxoSmithKline have also jumped on the neuromarketing bandwagon with the rival UK consulting company, Neurosense.

The question in everyone’s mind is what are the ethical implications of this? As fascinating as advances in neuroscience do sound, when combined with marketing, it can get a little scary. Neuromarketing has been largely criticized on the basis of manipulation; however, late last year the industry Code of Ethics was announced by the NMSBA as a first step in adopting international standards for applying neuroscientific methods to advertising campaigns and product design.

This topic can go on and on, there is so much that can be discussed on the implications of this research. We will definitely come back to this topic on future posts. But for now, do tell us your views on it from a consumer as well as a marketer’s perspective. As to how you feel about it... well we would have to get some brain scanners to really find that out!

Adriana Heinzen
Current student in the Master of Marketing program at the University of Sydney Business School

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