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neuro-marketing-conceptI was compelled to reply to a blog post at ESOMAR, as seen here, and would like to share the comment here, with a few additions:

  • Neuromarketing is not a unique and novel application of neuroscience outside it’s domain of origin. Psychology has used neuroscience for decades now, aka neuropsychology, and with great success in understanding and predicting behaviour. Neuroscience and physiology was the very part of the origin of psychology since the times of Fechner and Wundt more than a century ago. Why should this not be the case for understanding consumers and communication effects?
  • We understand much more than the basics, but even for the basics, there is much added value. For example 1) knowing where people actually look (we are poor at knowing ourselves); 2) how we respond emotionally (also often unconsciously); and 3) how such initial responses predict likelihood of purchase/click/behaviour-of-choice. These are very straightforward questions that are “easy” to answer with neuroimaging and related measures, and yet can have profound insights to marketers.
  • Whether neuromarketing works is actually not something that should be determined as a beauty contest. It’s an empirical question. Today, we see an increasing number of studies showing that neuromarketing predicts actual behaviour.
  • On criticism from Wilson & Trumpickaite, it is true that many measures are bivalent, i.e. cannot tell us whether an elevated response is due to positive or negative responses. However, novel measures now allow better determination of this; and even for traditional measures, we usually operate in the neutral-to-positive scale, rarely we see customers run away screaming… This means that arousal responses are typically a signal of the positive relevance and appeal that a person ascribes to a stimulus
  • Thinking neuro informs your psychology: the way you use terms such as attention, memory, preference and choice are highly informed by the combined efforts of economics, psychology AND neuroscience. For example, there is solid evidence from neuroscience that we have (at least) two motivational systems with distinct speeds and processes. Not exactly the same as dual process theories, but then again converging evidence as such.
  • Fishy studies abound, but more than anything, this demonstrates an honest appeal to rigorous methodology in neuroimaging measures, not something that is problematic for neuromarketing only. Then again, if we are left with surveys, interviews and focus groups, then let’s take the discussion of validity here, too. We know that is a contentious topic
  • Finally, while neuromarketing comes very much across as an assessment toolbox, it is so much more than this. When used properly, it is a strategic tool to shape the way information is conveyed to the recipients, how a brand is construed, and the way companies communicate. Think of neuromarketing not as something different from marketing, but a new leg to stand on that is based on rock solid science

I may be coloured on this aspect since I have spent the better parts of my life devoted to these questions. But I firmly believe that when we are able to sort out the snake oil and false promises in neuromarketing, and other places where neuro is used, we can focus on the true insights that can be gained. It’s a learning process for all sides, and I find that added value can be made on every step of the way for all participants.


7 Responses to “So does neuromarketing work?”

  1. Diana Lucaci says:

    Fully agree with you, Thomas! This is particularly well put: “Think of neuromarketing not as something different from marketing, but a new leg to stand on that is based on rock solid science”.

    As Marketer, I think neuromarketing may one day become part of the media planning and buying process. It should be used as an advisor to all departments within an organization, from product development to social media and analytics.

  2. tzramsoy says:

    Hi Diana,

    Hope all is well, and that the chilly Torontonian winter is letting go soon.

    Yes, I completely agree. Neuromarketing should be front-loaded and back-loaded in every step of the way. I find that marketers use psychological terms in such loose ways that just updating them on the actual meanings and heterogeneities of concepts such as attention and memory leads to huge leaps in precision and ROI to them.

    I hope, and expect, that neuro will fade away and become a more natural part of marketing and consumer research, just as it is almost redundant to say “neuro” in psychology today.

  3. David Bowyer says:

    The potential of neuromarketing in future use in the world of business and economy is great. I think this would be a powerful tool that will be used by everyone for marketing. Understanding the behavior and mind of an individual is what marketing is all about.

  4. NR Sign EEG says:

    Always looking for a new approach, something testable that shows measurable gains over existing strategies. Not too worried about the definitions and labels, as long as the results are there.

  5. Russ Wilson says:

    Hi! This was very much a debate amongst amateurs rather than informed experts, so I of course defer to your greater experience in the domain! As an arguer against, my position was really that there is a hell of a lot of potential, but also a lot of snake oil being sold… and at the moment people are probably buying potential as much as reality!

    Also, I wouldn’t entirely disagree that other methodologies are flawed! But I’m not sure that constitutes a justification for an additional (currently) flawed, but many times more expensive approach. Also, the greater depth of experience with other semi-flawed approaches means that we have developed ways of working with them to mitigate against inherent flaws. I’m not sure the same is yet true for Neuro?

    Anyway, thank you for taking the time to respond to the post and for joining the debate!

  6. tzramsoy says:

    Hi Russ
    Thanks for your comment. I believe we’re on the same page here. Neuromarketing, despite all its promises and principal utility, has more or less drowned in snake oil! My own work is very devoted to debunking this and at the same time demonstrate the actual ROI of neuromarketing. Quite literally, I have converted my one-man company over the past years, into a new company. If you go to http://www.NeuronsInc.com, you can see more.

  7. Vile Jiran says:

    Yes, I think it is needed to write and think more about those issues. I like even the term neuromarketing!

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