Thursday, January 6, 2011

Mktg:Neuroscience adds value but it is not a mind reader

In spite of the title, “Making Ads That Whisper to the Brain,” a recent article in the New York Times by Natasha Singer, proved to be a well-balanced review of the application of neuroscience to advertising and market research.
My only complaint was that she focused on firms that specialize in neuromarketing, and ignored ones likeMillward Brown that are seeking to combine neuroscience with established research techniques.
After all, that’s where the real value of neuroscience lies.
As suggested by Dr. Robert T. Knight, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Berkeley, neuroscience is not a mind reader. As he states in the New York Times article:
We can only measure whether you are paying attention.
That comment stands in direct contrast to this statement made earlier in the article:
Neuromarketers believe traditional market research methods — like consumer surveys and focus groups — are inherently inaccurate because the participants can never articulate the unconscious impressions that whet their appetites for certain products.
I am not going to argue that established techniques can identify the non-conscious influences on decision making, but I do challenge whether neuromarketing firms do much better.
Like Joseph Turow, a professor of communication at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, also quoted in Natasha’s article, I believe that the current intense interest in neuromarketing reflects a continued desire for a magic bullet: one that will magically dispel the growing challenges facing marketers today.
If so, marketers who use neuromarketing techniques in isolation from established techniques are going to be disappointed. Most neuromarketing techniques are the neurological equivalent of Nielsen’s scanned sales data. They tell you what is happening. They do not necessarily tell you why.
Just as sophisticated marketers have found it necessary to complement sales data with attitudinal data to understand what is really going on in their category, so too we need to combine neuromarketing techniques with other research.
Just as you would never successfully complete a DIY project armed only with a hammer, no one form of research is going to give you a complete understanding of why people make the decisions they do. In fact, the most important tool is the insight brought by the researcher.
Marketers should put a premium on the experience and intuition of the researcher as much as the techniques they use. True insights derive from the ability to assimilate and cross reference multiple information sources, not from a specific technique.
Is neuromarketing useful? Of course it is. Any research technique that provides a new perspective on people’s motivations and decision making is going to be useful. But let’s not get carried away. The real value lies in being able to integrate the data from neuroscience techniques with well-validated and established research practices.
So what are your thoughts on neuromarketing? Are most of the claims hyperbolic, or has it added value to your research?

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