Dr. A.K. Pradeep and his lovely assistant showing off the new Mynd mobile neuromonitoring headset at the ARF re:Think 2011 Convention
Next up in our series of interviews with presenters at the Technology Driven Market Research event is the Keynote Speaker: Dr. A.K. Pradeep, CEO of NeuroFocus. I was going to sit on this one for a bit longer, but based on the huge response to my post on the ARF NeuroStandards initiative it seemed like a good idea to go ahead and post it. We touch on the topic of the ARF program during the interview and getting a direct perspective from one of the key players in the debate strikes me as useful.
Since I am tying this interview into the ARF post it seems only fair to give other stakeholders a chance to be heard too. With that in mind I have reached out to Keith Winter, CEO of Emsense and to Ron Wright, CEO of Sands Research to conduct interviews with them as well. Hopefully those will be forthcoming soon and will add to the dialogue on this important topic.
Now, how do I introduce Dr. Pradeep? I met him in 2009 in Cairo when I had an opportunity to spend quite a bit of time with him and his team during a Nielsen event I was attending. My impression of him was that he was part PT Barnum, part Carl Sagan, with a dash of Bollywood flair, a bit of Steve Jobs and a whole lot of intelligence wrapping it all together. At the time I told him that he reminded me of Jeff Goldblum’s “Rockstar Scientist” character from the Jurassic Park movies and I think that is an apt comparison. He is obviously passionate about his company and their business, and is deeply knowledgeable about the topic of neuroscience and it’s applications for research. Based on the success of NeuroFocus he is also a darn savvy business professional. I think all of this shines through in the interview below; I hope you enjoy it.
This interview was conducted via email over the course of a few weeks.
LM: Biometric techniques for research have been around for awhile, but Neuromarketing has really just begun to emerge as more than a niche segment within the broader market research space. Why now? What’s changed that has fueled the explosive growth of Neuroscience in market research and for NeuroFocus as a company?
AKP: In fact, biometric techniques are not the only biologically-based methodologies that have been in use for many years. EEG-based brainwave activity measurement has been conducted for decades in medical facilities and neuroscience labs worldwide.
That said, there are three key factors that have spurred the creation and rapid adaptation of neuromarketing today. First is the well-established fact that conventional consumer research methods have inherent, structural flaws and shortcomings. That doesn’t mean that they’re not useful or that they have nothing to contribute—but the fact remains that because surveys and focus groups must by definition rely on ‘articulated responses’, they are subject to certain core shortcomings. This is common knowledge among researchers, and it has driven the desire among marketers and researchers alike for improved means of gathering accurate, reliable information.
The second key factor in neuromarketing’s development and global application has been the technological explosion over the past several decades. It was possible to gather brain-based data before the advent of extremely fast digital data collection, processing, and large-scale storage—but the ability to analyze it was very limited, compared to what we can do with today’s computer technology. So it has been the amazing advances made in processing power, both on the collection and analysis side, that have helped drive neuromarketing’s birth and growth.
The third leg of the stool is the dramatic expansion of neuroscience’s understanding of brain structures and functions. The advances made in these spheres in just the last few years represent quantum leaps forward from where the state of knowledge was even fairly recently. We have gained amazing insights into how the brain works, in many cases in very great detail and specificity. That’s not to say that we don’t have much still to learn—but what we already know now enables us to capture the brain’s activity in real time, understand key aspects of it, and distill that knowledge into accurate, reliable, and actionable market research findings.
As always, it’s ultimately the marketplace that determines if, how, and when a breakthrough technology like today’s EEG-based, full-brain measurement will be accepted and successful. Clearly, the marketplace is giving it a very enthusiastic endorsement, exemplified by how many of the world’s leading companies are rapidly integrating this research into their operations, from new product design and packaging to branding, retail marketing, advertising, and more.
LM: Looking ahead 3-5 years, what does the market research space look like to you and where will Neuromarketing fit into the new scheme of things?
AKP: I’d use my last point as a springboard in answering this question. What we’re seeing already is a large-scale adoption of neuromarketing by many companies across dozens of categories in every region of the world. The growth rate is exciting and frankly, a little amazing even for us who have been involved in the field for the last few years.
I think it speaks to the basic need that I mentioned above: the desire for improved accuracy, reliability, and ‘actionability’ on the part of marketers everywhere. It is so expensive—and risky—to invest in new products, brand extensions, new package designs, new ad campaigns, store designs, logos—the list goes on and on. And we’ve all seen high-profile examples very recently where major marketplace failures have occurred in some of these categories.
The scientific foundations of what we at NeuroFocus do—EEG-based, full-brain measurements of brainwave activity—address that need, and offer solutions to those problems and challenges. It is possible now to know, with very high degrees of precision and confidence, how consumers respond at the subconscious level to literally anything that they can experience through any and all of their five senses. I’m often asked, why is measuring the full brain at the subconscious level so critical? The simple answer is 95%. That’s a widely-accepted scientific estimate of how much of our daily decisions are made at the subconscious, not the conscious, level of our minds.
As marketers and researchers gain understanding of that fact—and the extremely important corollary, that fundamental marketing objectives like initial product interest, purchase intent, and brand loyalty are formed at the subconscious level—they are turning to neuromarketing in fast-growing numbers. What we’re seeing is marketers and researchers responding to a clear and very significant advance in the field of consumer insights. We don’t see any impediments to that rapidly-growing acceptance—quite the opposite, in fact. As neuromarketing findings become integrated into these companies basic operations, it will be more and more an ‘organic’ process for them.
LM: With much of the focus within market research shifting towards “listening and observing” rather than “asking” through channels such as communities, social media analysis, mobile ethnography, etc.. where does Neuromarketing fit into the new continuum of techniques? How are your clients integrating it with other methods?
AKP: We describe what we do as ‘listening to the brain’. When you realize that the subconscious is the source for as much as 95% of our daily decisions, it becomes clear that measuring neurological responses to stimuli at the subconscious level, before they are affected by the external factors that can influence and distort ‘articulated responses’, is the most accurate, reliable, and actionable form of marketing research.
EEG-based full-brain measurements can be and are relied on exclusively, and they are also part of some companies’ overall approaches to marketing research, combined with other research means. There really is no ‘one size fits all’ that accommodates every business category, different market needs, areas of interest, corporate strategy—the ultimate point is that marketers now have a modern, neuroscience-based tool that can give them deep insights and actionable findings which are sourced at the subconscious. There are an almost infinite number of ways in which companies make use of neuromarketing, but that underlying core is the connective tissue among all of them.
LFM: There is a lot of debate in the industry regarding best practices and optimal approaches, with you and your primary competitors all laying claim to the “best model” for utilizing Neuromarketing within a research context. Even the ARF has gotten involved with their initiative to standardize and codify best practices, an effort that NeuroFocus has sidestepped by releasing your own guidelines. For clients who might not have the appropriate experience or depth of knowledge to decide for themselves who really does have the “better mousetrap”, how can they make an informed choice with so much competing information out there?
The best answer is direct: seek out the best science. Look at the foundations of companies offering neuromarketing services—are they built upon universally-recognized and applied forms of brainwave activity measurement that the world’s leading neuroscience laboratories use? Do they measure across the full brain—which is absolutely essential for valid and meaningful neuromarketing research results? Do they have highly-acclaimed neuroscientists on staff and on Science Advisory Boards? Have those neuroscience experts published papers in their field of expertise? Is their technology, equipment, and methodology endorsed not only by the world’s largest companies, but also by major independent science-based organizations? Do they operate NeuroLabs that adhere to and are certified to strict Six Sigma standards?
Those and other basic questions are ones that companies considering using neuromarketing should ask, because they are directly indicative of the quality of the underlying science. Without the best science, it follows that the research findings will not be the best in terms of accuracy, reliability, and actionability.
In fact, I’ll take a giant step back and recommend one even more fundamental question for potential clients to pose: do they measure the brain itself, and not biometrics exclusively?
LFM: You might recall that when we met in Cairo in 2009 at the Nielsen “Next Big Thing” event I told you that you reminded me of the “Rockstar Scientist” character Jeff Goldblum played in Jurassic Park and you took it as a compliment (which I meant it as!). That persona and dynamism has seemed to work very well for you and the company, even earning you a place on his team during President Obama’s “bridge building” trip to India last year. It has also earned you some criticism from folks who claim your very accomplished showmanship overshadows the substance of what NeuroFocus offers. How would you respond to those critics?
AKP: NeuroFocus was founded on one bedrock principle: the highest neuroscience standards. It stands to reason that without that at our core, we would not have attracted the caliber of neuroscientists that we have, for both our own staff and our Advisory Board. Without those world-class experts, and our market-proven technology and methodologies, we would not have attracted the caliber of clients that we have—who demand the highest standards, and who in several cases have conducted very stringent due diligence before selecting NeuroFocus as their neuromarketing research partner.
Nothing overshadows that fact. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but we have a policy to stick to the science, stick to the facts. Being the leader always means you’ll come under criticism from some corners. We don’t let that interfere with our focus on what matters most to our clients, which is harnessing neuroscience to help improve their brands, products, packaging, retail marketing, and advertising.