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Deeper Insights, ROI and the Future of Consumer Neuroscience

Although consumer neuroscience was slow to gain acceptance, adoption is on the rise as the tools continue to provide deeper insights and greater return on investment.

Consumer neuroscience continues to get better at answering marketers’ most important, and often elusive, questions. How do consumers really feel about my brand? Is my creative really working – and are there individual moments or places where it’s breaking down? Are my ads lifting my brand, or (and we’ve seen this far too often) lifting the category at my expense? The more we understand the brain, the more we understand measuring nonconscious processing, the greater our understanding of consumers. And, with that, the more informed marketers can be about reaching these customers and improve their return on investment.

As the media landscape becomes more cluttered and the bar for engaging consumers rises, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) sought to understand current attitudes toward one of market research’s powerful but controversial tools: consumer neuroscience. In particular, the goal was to understand whether it’s a fad, the next big thing or something in between – by surveying its membership on attitudes, usage and ROI.

There are a lot of compelling findings in the survey results. Marketers are aware of the field (73 percent are familiar or very familiar) and strongly believe that neuroscience tools will either replace or complement traditional techniques (only 10 percent believe it is a fad). This suggests that marketers want to understand what’s happening in the brains of their consumers, and they’re increasingly investing in neuroscience as a tool in their toolbox for insights. And while neuroscience may never fully replace traditional research techniques (only 30 percent responded as such), what’s clear is that neuromarketing has crossed a chasm into acceptance and growth.

What we’ve found particularly interesting in the survey is that there’s a clear correlation between a brand’s familiarity with consumer neuroscience and revenue growth. Yes, you read that right. According to the survey, 80 percent of companies that saw gross revenue increase over the previous year were somewhat or very familiar with neuroscience applications to marketing. While correlation is not causation, it is easy to speculate that more progressive marketers are researching and experimenting with the types of technologies that increase revenue, and that do it most effectively and efficiently.

The survey also carried that through to attribution, which is a bit of a double-edged sword at this point. Most marketers cannot attribute revenue growth to the use of consumer neuroscience. But for those who did, it was sizable.

The results showed that of those marketers who could attribute revenue growth to the use of neuroscience techniques, they saw an average 16-percent increase, which equates to about $80 million in revenue. And for those marketers who classified themselves as Innovators or Early Adopters (two of the five personas, according to the Diffusion of Innovations theory and framework who use the technology first and most often), they saw an average 26-percent increase in revenue attributed to neuroscience. This translates into an estimated $130 million revenue impact from consumer neuroscience.

Attributing revenue to marketing initiatives is an age-old challenge for marketers, but clearly, the risk seems to be worth the reward for these progressive marketers and belies the common perception of neuroscience tools for marketing as being “too expensive” (the most commonly reported barrier to adoption).

At Nielsen, we’ve seen two trends fueling the increased adoption of and the shift in attitudes toward neuroscience techniques.
• The first concerns FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) companies expanding from occasional to “everyday” use. For example, one global, multinational FMCG company is now testing 80 percent of its ads using these tools.
• The second reveals the movement of acceptance beyond FMCGs and into financial services, technology companies, media companies, nonprofits and other verticals that are now beginning to use it more frequently.

What’s fueling this change? Availability at a global scale, ease-of-use and the unparalleled insights delivered are a few of the reasons. We believe that the incredible ROI, which makes the technology investment seem trivial by comparison, is also a major trend. The insights gained using consumer neuroscience are incredibly powerful – and after years of trial and concerns about the hype, the field is starting to deliver on the promise of understanding consumers at both the conscious and nonconscious levels.

As an industry, neuroscience still has much work to do, but acceptance is increasing, attitudes are changing and going deeper on insights into the minds of consumers is starting to pay off.

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One response to “Deeper Insights, ROI and the Future of Consumer Neuroscience

  1. The sales increases are, of course, on the ridiculously high side and I’m skeptical that one could attribute changes to adoption of any research technique. That said, should we researchers care about a survey of marketing people? If we think neuro is the right tool for the job, shouldn’t we be pushing that? Whether marketing thinks it’s a fad or not should be irrelevant – if that’s an obstacle, we need to better educate them.

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Dr. Carl Marci

Dr. Carl Marci

Chief Neuroscientist, Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience