When confronted with a particular product or service, why do some consumers act one way, while others have a completely different reaction? This longstanding question is finally being answered by neuromarketing, a discipline that investigates the cognitive component of buyer decisions and uses various technologies and biometric data to understand how people react to different types of situations.
Neuromarketing combines various specializations, including neuroscience, psychology, and computational science. But the starting point of any neuromarketing study is always a desire to understand the brain. After all, the brain is the meeting point for emotions and reason—the two main factors that any brand marketing strategy must account for.
The design of a logo, jingle, image, or packaging can be critical in generating an impact on the consumer.
The brain decides
It is useful to understand the different parts of the brain and how they activate the individual in response to sensory stimuli. Key structures include the visual cortex, the amygdala, the nucleus accumbens, the prefrontal cortex, and the insular cortex, all of which play important roles in processing and assessing stimuli and planning future actions. Therefore, the design of a logo, jingle, image, or packaging can be critical in generating an impact on the consumer.
Neuromarketing techniques focus either on the metabolic and electrical activity of the brain or on biometrics associated with the peripheral nervous system (eyes, skin, etc.). These measurements yield information that is complex yet highly relevant to sales and marketing departments.
Eye tracking—currently the most widely used neuromarketing technique—measures eye movements to determine how much attention people pay to particular stimuli.
Four key techniques
The following are the most widespread neuromarketing techniques:
- Eye tracking—currently the most widely used neuromarketing technique—measures eye movements to determine how much attention people pay to particular stimuli. This technology allows us to analyze people’s eye movements to determine where they focus their attention. By aggregating individual responses, we can generate a heat map that shows where consumers (subconsciously) direct their attention while looking at an advertisement. This technique is also used in category management—the art of arranging products in a retail establishment to facilitate consumer navigation. Good in-store product placement has been shown to influence sales by as much as 40%.
- Electroencephalography (EEG) measures the frequency of the nervous system’s amplified electrical activity. This technique helps us understand how the brain is activated, on the basis of synaptic activity, as well as the valence of activation (positive/negative). These variables make it possible to determine what type of activation is generated in consumers (high or low) and what sorts of emotions they feel while, for example, entering a store or watching a commercial. Thus, scientific data are capable of conveying something that is very hard to express in words. EEG makes it possible to determine how engaged customers are with a particular product.
- Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is a common diagnostic technique that can also be used in neuromarketing. The system measures metabolic activity—glucose consumption in the different parts of the brain—and makes it possible to determine how the brain processes visual stimuli. For example, fMRI has shown that specific areas of the brain are activated when a person looks at a human face. Neuroscience has identified a specific area of the brain responsible for facial processing, which is essential for survival and the establishment of prosocial behaviors.
- Facial coding is a technique that analyses the micromovements of the facial muscles in response to a particular emotion. Different combinations of facial micromovements reveal the presence of emotions such as sadness, happiness, surprise, etc. Specific programs can be used to automate this process and determine how people’s emotions fluctuate while watching a 20-second commercial.
Since it involves the brain and various areas of specialization, neuromarketing clearly entails various complexities, risks, and challenges.
Risks and challenges of neuromarketing
Since it involves the brain and various areas of specialization, neuromarketing clearly entails various complexities, risks, and challenges. One such challenge is the fact that the information obtained through these techniques does not translate directly into knowledge. Information is always subject to interpretation, and this type of research is a continuous learning process. Similarly, it is difficult to isolate a specific cerebral reaction, since the brain simultaneously controls a multitude of body processes (breathing, motor control, etc.). Therefore, it is critical to establish baselines of activation and adequate controls to isolate the cognitive process you want to study. Despite these challenges, companies such as Google, Microsoft, Mercedes-Benz, and Facebook have used neuromarketing techniques to make their marketing campaigns more effective.
These and other brands that use neuromarketing go to great lengths to understand how the brain directs subconscious decision-making. This knowledge of consumers’ minds makes it possible to develop better campaigns and forecast sales more accurately. Without a doubt, it will continue to play a key role in the definition of new and increasingly persuasive marketing strategies.
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