So does neuromarketing work?
I 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.