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A Zombie Walks Into A Neuromarketing Lab….

Two of my passions had an interesting intersection point recently. I’ve been a fan of Neuromarketing since last year when I met several of the senior team of NeuroFocus in Cairo while attending an all day seminar by Martin Lindstrom. I’ve also become addicted to the new AMC show “The Walking Dead“, which is about the trials and tribulations of a group of survivors of a “zombie apocalypse”. Needless to say, my interests are eclectic!

So what do zombies and neuromarketing have in common? Well, I suppose I could make jokes about “research zombies” being stuck in the same rut of “traditional” methods, but I would never do that! In the clip above we see a scene from the show where a scientist from the CDC is explaining the changes in the brain that occur during the transformation into a zombie. What struck me is that although I am pretty sure the technology to give that detailed of a view of the brain is not a reality today (someone please let me know if I am wrong!), I suspect that we’re not too far off from it, and when it does come my bet is that neuromarketing will be a major player in the development and use of it.

Imagine being able to observe in real time not just EEG data, but actual 3D schematically presented measurements of specific neurological activity at the synaptic level as a means of conducting research! For those not familiar with this burgeoning arm of the market research family, here is what Wikipedia has to say about it:

Neuromarketing is a new field of marketing that studies consumers’ sensorimotor, cognitive, and affective response to marketing stimuli. Researchers use technologies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure changes in activity in parts of the brain, electroencephalography (EEG) to measure activity in specific regional spectra of the brain response, and/or sensors to measure changes in one’s physiological state (heart rate, respiratory rate, galvanic skin response) to learn why consumers make the decisions they do, and what part of the brain is telling them to do it.

Marketing analysts use neuromarketing to better measure a consumer’s preference, as the verbal response given to the question, “Do you like this product?” may not always be the true answer due to cognitive bias. This knowledge helps marketers create products and services designed more effectively and marketing campaigns focused more on the brain’s response.

I think you’d have to be a zombie yourself not to see the potential for deeper insights into consumer behavior through the various applications of the neuromarketing family of methods! In fact, I believe the growing attention being given to neuromarketing by corporate marketers is absolutely in line with other trends impacting market research:

  1. Client demand for faster, more actionable insights
  2. The drive to understand consumer behavior via observational techniques vs. thoughts and intent
  3. The desire to utilize multiple data points to produce true insight into key drivers of the consumer experience

I think hypothetical advances like the visual observations of brain activity in the above clip are likely to come, at least partially, from the neuromarketing field since it is culturally aligned with innovation and experimentation. The three major players in the Neuromarketing space (NeuroFocus, Sands Research, and Emsense) all sprang from academia and healthcare. They have extensive scientific advisory boards and are intimately connected to the scientific community. In fact, these firms give a whole new meaning to the term “marketing science” based on the impressive level of sheer scientific brainpower employed by each! With that type of corporate culture, I think the idea of scientific advancement beyond what we see in other branches of market research is almost a given.

This is a deeply technical subject and there are as many opinions about best practices, optimal methodologies, and utilization of the results as there are people involved in the industry. I’ve found the Neuromarketing Group on LinkedIn is one of the best resources for information and lively debate around. As an example, over the past week there has been one topic thread that has delved deeply into sampling science, comparisons of different technical approaches by major players, and general best practices. With over 1,000 members I think it serves as a testament to the growing appeal of the approach as a whole.

Until we can see directly into the brain like the hapless survivors in The Waling Dead had a chance to do, it seems that the approaches being pioneered by neuromarketing give us the best option to understanding consumer behavior at a level not available through traditional research techniques.  Based on the level of media attention on the topic and business success of these firms, the rest of the market research industry could learn a thing or two from these companies!

And by the way, in no way do I think neuromarketing is a replacement for other research techniques; I think each method has unique uses and a place in the research tool box. That said, I do think there is a reticence within the MR space to get out of our comfort zones and embrace new approaches. The success of companies that have  overcome that bias should be proof positive to us all that yes indeed, change is good! It’s only by experimenting with new techniques that we can be participants in innovation and chart the future path of growth for market research!

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