I had the pleasure of meeting up with RockIt Lab’s founder Alex Wall last week over a beer to talk about neuromarketing, what it is about and her thoughts on a few questions.
Let’s start with a basic definition of what is neuromarketing. Referencing Wikipedia for a thorough answer:
Neuromarketing is a new field of marketing research 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) and Steady state topography (SST) to measure activity in specific regional spectra of the brain response, and/or sensors to measure changes in one's physiological state, also known as biometrics, including (heart rate and 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.
Basically, neuromarketing measures (or uses established research of) people’s brain and physiological changes when presented with marketing material, to interpret that information then draw conclusions to guide the development of targeted marketing materials (logo, campaigns, packaging, etc).
Who is it good for?
This field of marketing has seen a growth over the past few years, even Nielson has gotten into the picture, acquiring one of the largest companies in the sphere, NeuroFocus. With an expanding body of knowledge, understanding and mapping of the brain (www.brainarchitecture.org/mouse/) and availability of reliable equipment to conduct the studies neuromarketing use is rapidly expanding. What impressed me about RockIt Lab, besides the genius of Alex, is their commitment to thus bring this new field of marketing research to the small and medium sized business starting with the local community (among their work with Fortune 500 companies).
To the haters.
There are commentators out there, including neuroscientists that say that while we can tell that the brain is experiencing a positive or negative emotion, we can’t exactly tell what positive emotion that was desire, amusement, content, etc . I wanted to hear Alex’s take on this and its possible implications for the field.
As Alex put it:
We don’t assume that studying brainwaves for a client’s campaign is the necessary strategy off the bat and it’s not the only approach. We attempt to make the most use of industry research, our company’s previous research and then specifically chosen tests (from fMRI to EEG, retina trackers or heart rate changes) to draw conclusions about people’s reactions to brands, imaging, colors, content and other aspects to create strategic marketing campaigns.
So, it’s not necessarily that the brain’s reaction patterns are independently influencing the marketing materials but that it’s taken into consideration with all the knowledge that already exists in the field. Take into consideration that focus groups have now been used for decades for which marketers have learned or been able to reinforce certain principles of marketing and that it is now expanding into studying the subconscious part of decision making – the part that people may not even recognize is influencing their decisions.
The implications and ethics of this type of marketing analysis have probably not even come to full fruition. Already questions have been raised such as privacy, use of the information and the power it gives marketers or individuals to understand how another makes decisions – which just might be more than the individual knows about herself – are all topics that will need to be addressed. To that extent, I’m reminded of a quote by Watson, which I’ll end with:
“The brain is the last and grandest biological frontier, the most complex thing we have yet discovered in our universe. It contains hundreds of billions of cells interlinked through trillions of connections. The brain boggles the mind.” James D. Watson — Discovering the Brain, National Academy Press, 1992.