NEUROSCIENCE IN MARKETING: HOW TO SPOT THE SCIENCE FICTION

In recent years there’s been a dramatic increase in the range of measurement techniques available to advertisers but despite some of the most radical claims on the future of marketing, advertisers are a long way from being able to read minds. That said, many do now use sophisticated techniques such as neuroscience to understand what consumers really think about their campaigns. Neuroscience techniques assess brain activity to reveal subconscious, emotional responses that are difficult to measure via traditional research.  But businesses considering neuroscience may be unsure how to separate fact from fiction in a field that, for many, still seems like a vision of the future.

FICTION: NEUROSCIENCE CAN READ MINDS
So how close are neuroscientists to reading minds?  Actually, not very close at all; but they can track different types of brain response.  So, rather than revealing exactly what people are thinking, neuroscientists use technology to identify which parts of the brain are active at a given time. Practitioners’ understanding of distinct brain regions is combined with readings of those areas’ activity as people interact with different types of content in order to provide insights about their impact.

FACT: NEUROSCIENCE ADDS VALUE ON TOP OF TRADITIONAL RESEARCH METHODS
It’s sometimes suggested that neuroscience can’t teach us anything that traditional research techniques don’t already offer. While there is still, of course, a valuable role for interviews, surveys and the rest, measurement of audiences’ brain activity provides clarity on issues that people might not be consciously aware of, or which they would find hard to articulate.  It can help identify emotional responses and, crucially, what is being stored into memory on a second by second basis as people engage with content. The increased accuracy that neuroscience-based research can deliver avoids any tendency towards response bias and some of the inexpressible aspects of our tastes that we may struggle to convey with words.

FICTION: MEASUREMENT AND ANALYSIS WILL STIFLE CREATIVITY
The insight given by measuring a respondent’s brain activity when they are watching an ad can give detailed, second-by-second feedback on how it is impacting people at a subconscious level that allows clients and agencies to better understand the impact of an ad’s proposition, creative treatment and execution. These insights can influence edits, casting choices and script rewrites, or even the media with which a message is conveyed, but there is no set “formula” for great advertising, and neuroscience often highlights the effectiveness of highly creative ads, that can be undervalued by more rational methodologies.

FACT: MEASUREMENT OF MEMORY IS CRUCIAL TO ASSESSING AD EFFECTIVENESS
Our brains are highly selective and only a small amount of what we see is stored into long-term memory; but if information isn’t stored in this way it’s literally nowhere in our heads, and can never influence our choices.  Therefore, successful memory encoding has a strong correlation with decision-making and purchase behaviour, and is the most important metric that neuroscience can report on. Emotional response is also crucial – but if a brand creates an ad that elicits strong and positive emotions without good levels of memory encoding what it has created is great entertainment rather than great advertising.

FICTION:  YOU ONLY NEED A SMALL SAMPLE WHEN USING NEUROSCIENCE
Some neuro-marketing practitioners claim that neuroscience research only requires a small sample, because all our brains are essentially structured in the same way.  This is true if you are doing basic research to identify what part of the brain does what; after you’ve looked at a dozen people or so, results won’t vary much from then on.  However, if you want to know how a group of individuals are responding to a particular piece of stimulus, every person will be characterised by a different pattern of response and, as with any research methodology, you need a big enough sample to be representative of your target audience.  This usually means samples of around 50 people as a minimum cell size.

SO WHERE CAN MARKETERS GO FROM HERE?
Neuroscience research can offer invaluable new insights but, as with any relatively new technology, it is sometimes hard for marketers to separate out the fact from the fiction. For businesses looking to make the most of this new wave of research, be prepared to quiz providers about the strengths and weaknesses of their approach versus other methodologies (both neuroscience and traditional).  Ask for the scientific research underpinning it, and make sure that papers provided are published and peer-reviewed.  Ensure that providers offer a big enough sample to be representative of your target audience (and ask for statistical evidence to back up the sample size they use). As with any research, be clear on what you want to find out and be single-minded about what the most important outputs are in order to get the most from an exciting new area of research.

ABOUT NEURO-INSIGHT
Neuro-Insight is a market research company that uses unique brain-imaging technology to measure how the brain responds to communications. It is the only company in the world licensed to use this patented technology, enabling the measurement of second by second changes in brain activity. Neuro-Insight delivers unique insights into how a piece of design or advertising is affecting people at both a rational and an emotional level.

Written by Heather Andrew CEO Neuro-Insight UK

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