“Measure what is measurable and make measurable what is not so.”
“Without data you’re just another person with an opinion.”
William Edwards Deming
Let’s start with what I have to do with and why I talk about neuro-marketing.
Because beyond the trend or exploitation we sometimes see, beyond the “marketing” of neuromarketing and all the “disciplines” that begin with the prefix “neuro-”, the development that this branch of neuroeconomics that fuses traditional marketing with neurology and psychology is having it does have interesting and important implications for me beyond those related to the progress of technical-scientific investigation (which I leave to expert colleagues) concerning marketing and the involvement or reconnection with people; themes close to me and on which I have some experience. I have a humanistic background and I have been dealing with communication for more than twenty years having always lived it as a relationship between the brand and the public; we communicate with people.
In Latin etymology, the term person (from per-sonar to sound through) indicates the theatrical mask that was worn by the actors to intensify their voice, making it sound, and be heard even by the spectators furthest from the stage. The concept of person is even more primitive than those of mind and body. The person is a social being and lives and communicates with others, has feelings that he shares with others, and in this sense the term individual which is often used as a synonym looks at the person with his distinctive and unique characteristics, but each individual is even a person.
Today people are far from the place of the scenic action, where important choices take place, and are relegated to a little bit apart and can only perform, or are considered only when they make, decisions or purchase actions (or vote) and are users or consumers (or voters, but increasingly often treated by the public).
An approach to marketing that also blends neuroscience and above all brings people close to companies and managers who make decisions (even only since the tools we will talk about soon rely on people’s bodies and come into contact with their physicality) can really act as a funnel or sounding board, out of metaphor can increase the resonance of the contribution of people and can ultimately improve the experience of the people who are in the most distant places from the stage of the modern brand theater, be it built in a site or in a store.
Neuro-marketing has to do with neurobiology, consumer psychology and marketing, but in the final analysis we can say with people (people who have to go back to being subjects of experience and not objects of study), their behaviors and their feelings (and in this sense, and beyond that, whether or not it is considered a discipline in its own right, it can definitely contribute to an anthropological and non-technological revolution in marketing, as it would seem to a rough analysis).
What then is neuro-marketing?
Well, neuro-marketing is not a thing.
What is now widely called neuromarketing (as a whole word), with perhaps more than some excess of enthusiasm or even overstatement (if not really instrumental or tendentious use, for jargon and precisely trends), are nothing more than applications of psychophysiological measurement techniques to the world of consumer study and analysis of user experience (users who we call, not surprisingly, people).
Neuromarketing, in its best sense, is one of the neuro branch (or even if we want of the decision neuroscience), but simply and empirically, is a discipline, or para-discipline, dedicated to the application of knowledge and neuroscientific practices to marketing, in order to analyze the unconscious processes that take place in the mind of the consumer (which we prefer to consider in the entirety of his person) and which influence the purchasing decisions (a relevant and pervasive aspect) or the emotional involvement towards a brand (an aspect even more important and widespread because the relationship with the brand goes far beyond the mere commercial relationship).
Perhaps neuromarketing does not exist then, let us see what is not and if anything because it is in any case preferable to call it otherwise.
If we understand what it is or could be, and above all if we want to recognize its applicative validity and outline in what river bed it is inserted if anything with respect to certain drifts, let’s try to clear the field and immediately take a position:
There are sciences and neuro-sciences, there is marketing and not neuro-marketing
As we have already had the opportunity to argue in the page dedicated to the emotional impact in the section of our Research on Experiences on our site, we prefer not to use this term for our activities, even if we realize that it is certainly worth clarifying better what is and what potential this new potential transverse “discipline”.
Let’s start with what neuro-marketing is not:
In fact, neuro-marketing is not a trend, it’s not just cosmetic jargon, not even a plethora of new tools or gadgets to analyze sites and campaigns.
Sometimes neuromarketing is presented as a tool to literally enter the minds of consumers, we would actually consider it just upside down: that is, as an opportunity to bring consumers, read as people, with their wishes, their fears, their own stories, in the minds of companies and people who work in companies. For this reason we prefer to talk about the reconnection between brands/companies and customers/users, that is people who realize goods and services to achieve better experiences for those people who will use those interfaces or products.
As you can probably understand from the other contributions that are on our site and concern the reconnection and the approach of the sixth W which is the WITH, it is important for us to consider the neuro-marketing, whether or not it has the statute of discipline on its own and beyond the trends of the moment, for the opportunities of analysis and improvement of the experience of the users, who for us are people, and of their life ultimately.
We could and would prefer to consider it a neo- or new marketing, anthropological rather than technological, and really user-centric, or rather people-driven, here it is worth perhaps only tangentially recalling my article on the 5th P of marketing of prof. Kotler which was the far-sighted People’s P.
Because the ne(ur)o-marketing more than other recent disciplines, brings people back in one way or another really to the center of the scene and can make the implicit come into the marketing (the not conscious or declared experiences of the individuals that influence on perception and on the experience itself) and to distance oneself from the obvious (the things that we often take for granted, for example: that people can be enclosed in numbers and that they are understand the experiences in a reductionistic way analyzing the navigation behavior).
As we have said then the activities that fall within the framework of the emerging “discipline” of neuro-marketing are neuroscientific knowledge and practices applied to marketing in order to analyze the irrational processes that occur in the mind of the consumer and that unknowingly influence purchasing decisions or on the greater or lesser emotional involvement with a brand.
This investigation activity, more than discipline, proposes a complementary solution to traditional market research, providing a solution to some problems and limits associated with the latter.
In fact, it is necessary to start from the assumption that individuals do not always say what they think: shame, prejudice or fear of the judgment of others, in fact, can influence the answers to questionnaires, opinion polls or market surveys in various forms and focus groups, which are tools that have had a certain spread with the development of consumer research in the second half of the last century. Traditional methods, however, can at most collect explicit (or conscious) emotions, but fail to detect the implicit (or unconscious) experiences of the consumer.
For marketing, the great novelty brought about by neuro-marketing does not only concern the use of neuroscientific tools and knowledge, but also the opportunity that it brings with it, inherent in its interdisciplinary nature, to take inspiration from other sciences that, in the years, have demonstrated their usefulness for consumer understanding. Indeed, it is common to find references in the literature and studies conducted in the field of decision neuroscience, to which we refer to define it in its breadth, references to knowledge belonging to behavioral economics and to cognitive and social psychology.
To these disciplines, in the approach with mixed methods that we apply in TSW, we add the influence and the contribution of other humanistic disciplines such as: ergonomics, anthropology and sociology that interpenetrate the indispensable skills of psychophysiology. This to date, but the sphere of influence and the widening of the field of application of the TSW listening model will certainly lead us to extend the areas.
The interweaving of these disciplines allows us to construct a much more complete picture of the consumer, which we remember is no longer read by us or considered as such alone, and on the unconscious motivations that guide daily choices. It is thanks to the enlargement of this framework that we therefore allow ourselves to say that users and customers do not exist and to talk about the broader spectrum of people’s experience.
I hope I have clarified why neuro-marketing should not be considered as a discipline in itself but rather as the convergence of approaches and research of different disciplines, and therefore seeing that we use other terms and other disciplines to define and better characterize neuro-marketing, as we should preferably write it, maybe it is better to define the meaning of the latter.
Neuroscience (or neurobiology) are the set of scientifically conducted studies on the nervous system. Being a branch of biology, neuroscience requires knowledge of physiology, molecular biology, cell biology, developmental biology, biochemistry, anatomy, genetics, evolutionary biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics and statistics, but unlike other biological disciplines they also draw from fields of study such as psychology, economics and linguistics. The field of neuroscience has in fact expanded to include different approaches used to study the molecular, cellular, developmental, structural, functional, evolutionary, cognitive, computational and even pathological aspects of the nervous system.
The neuroeconomics, or decision neuroscience as we have said, is a recent sector of neuroscientific research that studies the functioning of the human mind in relation to decision-making processes in the solution of economic tasks. Since it makes use of the contributions of many disciplines, such as neurology, economics, psychology, medicine, mathematics and biology, it is certainly possible to affirm that neuroeconomics has a marked interdisciplinary character. It was born from the insights of Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, from whom behavioral economics was founded, together with the discovery of innovative tools for visual representation of brain functions (brain imaging). The goal of neuroeconomics is to cross the body of knowledge of the economic sphere with those coming from psychological and scientific fields to determine how the brain behaves during the decision making processes.
We prefer to refer to neuroeconomics as a discipline for the research assumptions that animate it. The assumption in fact from which the neuroeconomic analysis in general starts is that – unlike what is affirmed by the traditional economy – man is not a rational animal, but acts under the impulse of automatic and very often unconscious neuronal processes, sometimes independent from his will. This ensures that human economic behavior is the result of a neuronal conflict between rationality and emotion, automatism and awareness.
Neuro-marketing, therefore, in this light is a promising branch of neuroeconomics, is a para-discipline, or if we mean an applied science, which, taking the interdisciplinary character of research from the science from which it is born, fuses traditional marketing (economy) with neurology (medicine) and psychology (behavioral sciences) and aims to illustrate what happens in people’s brains in response to certain stimuli relating to products, services, brands, advertising, shops or environments with the aim of determining the strategies that push purchase. The involvement of the central nervous system, and in particular of the brain areas active during the execution of the decision-making process, are at the origin of the composition of the name and of the prefix neuro-; to say the truth a little abused nowadays (about the criticisms of the excessive simplification see the following paragraph).
The term “neuromarketing” was coined in 2002 by Ale Smidts, Professor of Marketing Research at the Rotterdam School of Management (Shiv, B., Bechara, A., Levin, I., Alba, JW, Bettman, JR, Dube, L., Isen, A., Mellers, B., Smidts, A., Grant, SJ, & McGraw, AP (2005). Decision Neuroscience. Marketing Letters, 16 (3/4), pp. 375-386; the complete article), but in 2004 it was a study of Coca Cola vs. Pepsi, cited by this article on the scientific legitimacy of neuromarketing written by our researcher Maurizio Mauri, who really opened his eyes to marketers from all over the world (Samuel M. McClure1, 2, Jian Li1, Damon Tomlin, Kim S. Cypert, Latané M. Montague, P. Read Montague (2004). Neural Correlates of Behavioral Preference for Culturally Familiar Drinks, Neuron Volume 44, Issue 2, October 14, 2004, pp. 379–387; here is the complete article).
In these less than twenty years of history, neuromarketing has become a field of study that combines scientific methodology and technology and offers results with respect to marketing stimuli and the identification of communication channels from the cognitive, emotional and sensorial point of view.
If we wanted to try to provide a more concise definition:
Neuromarketing applies neuropsychology to market research, studying the sensorimotor, cognitive and affective response of consumers to marketing stimuli.
(Lee N.; Broderick AJ; Chamberlain L. What is “neuromarketing”? A discussion and agenda for future research.” International Journal of Psychophysiology. 63 (February 2007): pp. 199–204; here is the complete article).
Martin Lindstrom, the famous Danish marketer and speaker (author of the book “Neuromarketing. Brain activity and buying behavior” – Apogeo. 2009 in which a three-year research activity on 2,000 voluntary consumers whose brain was analyzed using fMRI, i.e. functional magnetic resonance imaging, when they were subjected to different stimuli) contributed to the planet’s diffusion of the name by highlighting the utility of neuromarketing for companies adding already over a decade ago however at the same time that this “discipline” intrinsically presents limits that concern the incomplete understanding that we still have of the functioning of the human brain (this is one of his contributions recorded last year at the PKMF in Bologna in which he presents an evolution of his research on neuromarketing and its tools in favor of small data and H2H or Human to Human marketing).
In addition to the intrinsic limitations of this para-discipline, there are those concerning the excessive simplification by the media, and some unscrupulous operators, of the real processes that underlie consumer decisions and behavior; often, in fact, to make information accessible to the public, inaccurate and simplistic news on the real functioning of the brain are disseminated.
For this reason some criticisms and reflections have arisen, within the scientific community of neuroscience and consumer psychology, by authors such as Hilke Plassmann, associate professor of Marketing at INSEAD in Fontainebleau, and collaborators who warn about potential problems associated with inaccurate interpretations of neuroscientific studies and discoveries (H. Plassmann, V. Venkatraman, S. Huettel, C. Yoon. Consumer Neuroscience: Applications, Challenges, and Possible Solutions. in the Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. LII, August 2015, pp. 427–435, here is the complete article).
The first decade of research on consumer neuroscience has produced revolutionary work in identifying basic neural processes underlying human judgment and decision-making, with most of these studies published in neuroscience journals. However, for the consumer neuroscience sector to flourish in the next decade, the current emphasis on basic scientific research must be extended to marketing theory and practice.
Regarding the theme of simplifications, think of metaphors such as the “purchase button”, and what appears to be an excessive simplification of the real processes that underlie consumer decisions and behavior.
Although there has been a growing awareness for some years and greater prudence in talking about these topics, some criticisms have been raised by some elements of the scientific community belonging to the field of neuroscience and consumer psychology. Plassmann and collaborators (H. Plassmann, TZ Ramsøy, M. Milosavljevic, Branding the brain: A critical review and outlook. In the Journal of Consumer Psychology 22 (1): January 2012 pp. 18–36; here is the complete article), for example, they make an explicitly critical distinction between consumer neuroscience and neuromarketing. While the first concerns the «intercession of neuroscience and consumer psychology in academic research, neuromarketing instead concerns commercial interest in neurophysiological analysis tools such as eye tracking, skin conductance, electroencephalography and functional magnetic resonance in order to carry out research market-oriented companies».
On this same line of thought, let’s say critically, there were several experts in the field, including Marlene Behrmann, professor of cognitive neuroscience at Carnegie Mellon University who states: “… despite decades and decades of research, we still have a rudimentary understanding of brain functions”.
The research we carry out is aimed directly at people, who become users/participants of our tests, to understand, record and understand their experience. These people are a representative sample of the target, that is of individuals who are not only targets of marketing activities, but consumers, producers and reproducers of experience with us, prosumers in the true and original sense of the term (see Marshall McLuhan M., Nevitt B., Take Today: The Executive as Dropout., In The Library Quarterly, vol. 43, No. 2, 1973, page 4, here is the complete article).
A common way to deal with the emotional and cognitive aspects during a user experience test today is through a technique called think aloud, a method that consists of recording and analyzing what said by a user who has been asked to verbalize his actions and thoughts during the use of the analyzed product or service, and a retrospective self-report in which users are asked to describe or answer questions about their experience, both verbally and through a written questionnaire. While these methods are commonplace, they are based too much on the highly subjective nature of the participants’ interpretation and on the memory of their emotions. The reality is that the participants tell us what they think we want to hear and/or selectively signal their emotions. Sometimes they can’t even interpret their feelings well enough to tell us about them. Physiological measurements reduce subjectivity in assessing the user experience based on quantitative metrics that are the output of devices that primarily measure involuntary responses to stimuli.
The great advances in technology in the field of neuroscience, which have occurred in recent years, allow us to obtain high-quality images of the human brain and its activity in real time, through functional magnetic resonance imaging or electroencephalogram. Unfortunately, the progress achieved in obtaining this level of quantity and quality of data does not go hand in hand with the ability to interpret these same data. It can be deduced, then, that progress in the field of neuromarketing is closely linked to the evolution of cognitive sciences.
We have seen how the development, the miniaturization and the diffusion of psycho-physiological measuring tools and techniques to obtain insights on the consumer (who we prefer to call a person) and on the decision-making process, has allowed the introduction of this methodology research in multiple areas.
But we really want to emphasize and we never tire of repeating as in our approach and with people:
the solution will never be technological, but will always be anthropological.
But we must recognize and we have also already emphasized how an important part can be played by the instruments and methods, especially in the detection of the implicit and of the bio-metric data scientifically found in a repeatable experiment.
Now let’s see what the tools are in particular:
The brain imaging we talked about before and the detection of brain activity take place through methods such as electroencephalography (EEG-ElectroEncephaloGraphy) and functional electromagnetic resonance (FMRI, Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), both tools that allow us to discover the real a person’s cognitive-emotional reactions. The difference between these two methods is that the latter, despite having many more application difficulties, allows a more in-depth investigation than the first, even if the former is simpler and cheaper and more easily transportable.
These two techniques, in particular the first (which we remember is more easily transportable and not very invasive), together with Eye Tracking, are the main investigation methods that a neuro-marketing research usually uses. The eye tracking is now also available with glasses and therefore these eye-tracking glasses are easily portable instruments.
The three techniques seen before linked to the three methodologies or tools that we list below cover most of the tools that are put in place in most studies.
To all the previous instruments or methods (which we remember concern bio-medical and behavioral aspects and are carried out by physically bringing people and their bodies into play) we must add in our model at least a mastery of Cognitive Psychology and Behavioral Sociology techniques, precisely because we have seen how our subconscious behavior takes over most of the time over our conscious and rational behavior.
None of the measurements discussed can, by themselves, completely capture the user’s emotional experience, who, as we have repeatedly emphasized, we prefer to consider as a person. The tools and protocols must be considered complementary and, in some cases, supplementary. The advantage of using multiple types of biometric devices is that we can learn different things from different devices. Valence is a measure of the positive or negative nature of the participant’s experience. Using EEG and analysis of the facial response, we can measure whether the participant is having a relatively good or bad reaction. GSR and heart rate are not the best tools or indices to measure valence, but they are good indicators of a participant’s level of excitement. By combining the benefits of each type of measurement, we can identify specific types of emotional experiences.
Using a combination of eye tracking, EEG, GSR and facial response analysis it is possible to identify when certain emotions are felt. The main advantages of this approach include:
Understanding what attracts and attracts attention.
Using eye tracking, we can determine:
Understanding emotional involvement.
Using EEG, GSR and analysis of the facial response we can determine:
Using post-experience self-report methods we can understand:
In a usability test (an area for which TSW has a decade of experience and which I have already written in this article), including the ups and downs of a user’s emotional journey in comparison with a digital interface, otherwise known as a website, a team can optimize design features to minimize specific pain points and emphasize elements that provide a positive experience.
Neuroscientific techniques allow us to analyze consumers’ emotional involvement with brands, advertising, experience or any other stimulus. The eye-tracking glasses and the electroencephalogram, in particular, allow to carry out tests even outside the laboratory context, such as inside shops to measure the impact of the in-store experience on the consumer and to understand how to improve it, identifying those elements (sound, olfactory, visual or tactile) that lead to a greater emotional involvement of individuals.
It is possible to improve the customer experience by increasing the emotional involvement of the customer towards the brand, in fact, not only inside the store, but also through the analysis of the user experience, studying the responses on a physical, psychological and emotional level that occur before, during and after using a product.
We first saw as through the biometric measurements we can measure the emotions (of users), their positive or negative value, the level of arousal, the heartbeat and have a concrete idea of what they really feel, rather than just rely on what that tell us about the browsing experience, or the use of a product. These types of techniques are useful for analyzing a series of factors relating to the degree of attention and involvement of the user, but also possibly to the level of stress or frustration in performing a certain task within the site or in using specific product features.
The use of biometric analysis tools to analyze the physiological responses of users in real time allows:
The data obtained are then compared with the answers provided by the participants during in-depth interviews on usability and on the relationship with the brand/product, to obtain a more complete picture of the real perception of the on- and potentially off-line user experience.
In short, I don’t know if I managed to explain myself as I move, I am sure you will understand, in a terrain that is not really mine, but what I want you to know, understand or aknowledge is that: to be user-centric or to use bio-metric techniques, to worry about UX or to deal with neuro-marketing, today it gives us a sea of extra possibilities that I hope to have summarized well in the previous paragraphs, but the possibility that I care of more and from which I think emerges the greater value is the reconnection or proximity to people, which techniques of this kind intrinsically carry with them. Techniques that bring people and their bodies back to the researchers, so close to touch them to make them wear: a helmet, a pair of glasses, a ring or a sensor and in some way let them elicit tangibly their lively experiences and let the managers of the companies, who may have forgotten for whom they made products or services, see first hand what the people have to say.
We talked about people and improving the quality of their experience, but what we mean by improvement and why we can argue that neuromarketing activities and especially the direct involvement with people in the co-creation of better experiences can generate a circular and sustainable economy, a systemic thought or approach to social relations, flows of goods and services and life itself.
Because our goal: to improve people’s lives, taking care of the value and not of the profit (the second follows the first and not vice versa), having as a guide the quality and not the quantity of their experiences at all times, and finally the people of the which we talked about, I recognize it also in a redundant way or with a repeated evocation, they are not only users seen as…, but also employees experienced as…, professional partners understood as… people.
And PEOPLE, by their intrinsic nature,
if they are listened:
will be DISPOSED,
if they are involved:
will be ACTIVE,
if they are enabled:
they will be POWERFUL,
and if therefore they are powerful:
will be LISTENED,
and if therefore they are disposed:
will be INVOLVED
To be involved, this is in summary the profound value of the WITH which is the sixth W and for us an essential approach to life and business.